Writing Right with Dmitri: Beyond Words
We are such stuff as dreams are made of…
Sometimes, it seems that we are made of words. That's what writing is, right? Just words. We plot, outline, write dialogue, and describe, describe, describe. We express our opinions about everything under the sun – and possibly a few things beyond it.
Don't you get weary of words, sometimes? I know I do. I used to talk for a living. That is, I taught languages and literatures. I also did radio announcing. I talked and talked. When I came home, all I craved was silence. The same happens with writing. Often, your mind aches for the silence beyond the words: some kind of meaning that doesn't need a topic sentence to convey it.
Can this be done in writing? I think it can. Oh, sure, you're still using words. But you can get past the verbiage and down to the meaning, if you're really careful.
What am I talking about? I'm trying to suggest that you can go past verbal argument by creating a scene, a mood, and a setup that allows the reader to find the meaning beyond the words. Perhaps, even, hear what you're not saying…an emergent property of thought, something more holistic than mere words.
True wit is nature to advantage dressed, what oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed.
I'm going to disagree with Mr Pope here. (That's safe, he's dead.) While 'wit' may be that, it's not finding the mot juste that we're trying to do. It's finding a way to say what, perhaps, no one has found a way to say before. Because we're not quite sure it's there. We've just glimpsed the meaning out of the corner of our eyes, so to speak. Let me see if I can manage it.
Jim stood by the edge of the lake in the evening. The light was waning, like his own light, inside, where Maddie used to be, and now was not. He didn't want to think about her absence, about where she might be, now that she wasn't here. Jim didn't want to think at all. He wanted to breathe in and out. He wanted his mind to be as still as this water.
The smooth surface of the lake was disturbed. Jim followed the ripples, annoyed. A duck quacked to her brood – a vulgar, comic sound – and they fell in behind her. With absurd dignity but astonishing grace, they swam in a V after the duck, then, when they reached the shore, glided out of the water – only to flop awkwardly up the bank, shaking their ridiculous tails. Just as if they belonged there…as if it were completely appropriate to change mediums from water to land, to be so at home in one place, and so ungainly in another, as if that were natural…
Jim caught his breath. And then, without knowing he was going to do it, he dove into the twilight water.
Now, I don't know if I've managed to do what I wanted to do, which was convey a thought in between the words. I wanted to let the reader do the thinking and guessing. I'm serious: not so much about whether you think I've succeeded, but whether you'd like to try it yourself. I'm sure you can do better than that.
Plenty of room at the bottom of the page.