fog treesPart of writing a book is deciding what you want to say. I’m pretty well there now. Another part is deciding how to say it. I’ve taken Barthelme’s 39 Steps to heart, and also the advice I just found from Elmore Leonard. So now I know better than to mean too much, and to spend too much time trying to set up the story and the characters, and instead let the characters’ actions, and dialogue, tell the story naturally. That will take longer, but it’s the only way to go. But I want to be able to write stuff like the following. I’m studying these passages and others like them, and also Barthelme’s personal advice to me on how to write compelling, realistic dialogue (basically, reading into a tape recorder and then transcribing it). I’m still not sure I understand what makes these passages so extraordinary, real, joyful — maybe it’s their world-weariness or their gentle perceptiveness — but I’m getting closer. Meanwhile, read these for the sheer pleasure of inhaling brilliantly crafted prose.

ONE: From Frederick Barthelme’s Driver:

The scent of countryside in the morning was in the air. The rear window was smeared with condensation, and the storefronts were that way, too, and it was hard to focus on the stoplights, because of the way they made rings around themselves.
            I went downtown, and it was like one of those end-of-the-world movies down there, with somebody’s red hamburger wrapper skittering across a deserted intersection. The sky was graying. I made a loop around the mayor’s Vietnam memorial, then took the highway running west, out past the city limits. The mist got thicker. Close to the road the trees looked right, but farther away they just dissolved. In the rearview mirror I could make out the empty four-lane highway, but above that it was like looking through a Kleenex.
            Finally, I turned around and drove back by my secretary’s apartment, saw her car with its windows solidly fogged, then passed the mall again. Some overnight campers had turned up in the lot, and their generators were chugging away. There were two Holiday Ramblers, cream-colored, squarish things, and an Airstream hitched to a once-green Chevrolet. I pulled in and stopped. The air was so wet you could feel it when you rubbed your fingers together. The sky showed bits of pink behind a gray cloud that was big above the eastern horizon. A bird sailed by in front of the car, six feet off the blacktop, and landed next to a light pole.
            These two dogs came prancing into the lot, side by side, jumping on each other, playfully biting each other’s neck. They were having a great time. They stopped not far away and stared at the bird, which was a bobwhite and was walking circles on the pavement. They stared, crouched for a second, then leaped this way and that, backward or to one side, then stared more. It was wonderful the way they were so serious about this bird. These dogs were identical twins, black-and-white, each with an ear that stood up and one that flopped over. I made a noise and their heads snapped around, and they stared at me for a minute. One of them sat down, forepaws stretched out in front, and the other took a couple of steps in my direction, looked for a sign from me, then twisted his head and checked the bird.
            The dash clock said it was eight minutes to six. I wanted to drive home real fast and get Rita and bring her back to see everything – the dogs, the brittle light, the fuzzy air – but I figured by the time we got back it’d all be gone.
            The lead dog took two more steps toward me, stopped, then stretched and yawned.
            I said, “Well. How are you?”
            He wagged his tail.
            I said, “So. What do you think of the car?”
            I guess he could tell from my voice that I was friendly, because then he did a little spasm thing and came toward me, having trouble keeping his back legs behind his front. I opened the car door and, when he came around, patted the seat. He jumped right in. He was frisky. He scrambled all over the place – into the backseat, back into the front – stuck his head out the passenger window, ducked back in and came over to smell the gearshift knob. The other dog was watching all this. I called him, then put the car in gear and rolled up next to him. He didn’t move for a minute, just gave me a stare, kind of over his shoulder. I made that kissing noise you use to call dogs, and he got up and came to the door, sniffing. Finally, he climbed in. I shut the car door and headed home. They were bouncing around, and I was telling them the whole way about the girl in the parking lot and about Rita and me, how weird we had been. “We aren’t weird now,” I told them. “But we were weird. Once. In olden days.”

TWO: From James Robison’s The Line

            I’m trying to organize. My faraway wife Olive once told me “Don’t talk all at once, Sam. Start at the top and go to the bottom, Remember to indent.”…
           My wife has left me the dog — a collie named June. When I arrive home, June and I are very happy  to see each other. June weeps, ecstatic with greeting. She stands on two legs to fill my ear with enormous chuffling noises. “Kisses me”, I say.
          Dinner is a sandwich and a pale bourbon. Waiting for my coffee water to boil, at the kitchen table, I wonder about the finished letter in my attache case. On the phone last night, our first talk for two weeks, Olive sounded a little softer than before.
          “You may write me”, she said. “But just say what you’re doing. Go slow, please. Contain yourself.”
          And beyond working, what have I been doing? Too much. Not enough. When you are suddenly alone, I think, you take of other people’s lives whatever you can. I mean, what’s not given I guess you just steal.
This entry was posted in Our Culture / Ourselves. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to POETIC PROSE

  1. Indigo Ocean says:

    Great links. I too am aiming for poetic prose. Professors have told me I have a gift for creating real life characters, which I attribute to the fact that they do come alive for me, then just say what they have to say. I discover the story as I write it, just like the reader. I have a harder time with plot though because of this. It is tricky balancing the spontaneity of character driven writing with the structure of intriguing plots. Have you heard about National Novel Writing Month? I am going for it. My hope is to have something to work off in the following months. It is hardest for me to start projects, easier to edit.BTW, I appreciate your link to me, but my blog’s name is actually Indigo Ocean not Currents of Mind. The currents thing is just my old tagline, before I added “Tales from a politically left, spiritually centered, life in Hawaii.” Best to ‘ya, Indigo

Comments are closed.