By Palak Tewary
Contradictions add spice and flavour to our life, our experiences, and our understanding. Two things being opposites doesn’t necessarily mean that one is correct and the other wrong, and in this lies the absurdity of life.
Often, while I’ve been reading a piece to bring to you, I’ve felt what-if? What if we are wrong in our assumptions, our beliefs, or our views? I could insist I see the number six sitting at a table, whereas you, who might be sitting opposite me, would see the number nine, as it’s upside down. So sometimes it might just be a matter of changing our position to see a different viewpoint and sometimes it might just be a matter of keeping an open mind.
On this theme, I found Vic Howard‘s piece Less Is Often More very interesting. He argues that detail is unnecessary and authors should let the reader’s imagination take flight.
Less Is Often More
A cliché, I know, but it came to mind recently when wading through another 500 pages of unnecessary description of detail while reading a recent novel. Perhaps I shouldn’t mention the author, but I don’t really need to, since most authors today seem to think that 500 pages are the norm. More is not always better. Perhaps it’s the fault of publishers, who measure quality by weight.
Look at any paperback published before word processors and you’ll find they’re rarely more than half an inch thick. A good writer could say a lot in 100,000 words. Some of the most memorable books written were rarely longer. Who was it who said: After finishing your manuscript, go back and delete every adjective? Probably Hemingway. It sounds a bit drastic, but if the rest of your writing is well thought out and you have a good story, adjectives can be superfluous.
Just about any writer I can think of who I enjoyed reading, managed to put their thoughts into no more than 300 pages of normal text. I say normal text, because there’s nothing so annoying as a paperback where the text is too small and the lines disappear into the binding. Usually, this is because the publisher has resorted to photographic reduction rather than resetting the text to fit the page. Reading should be a comfortable pastime, not a battle with paper.
I’ve stopped reading several books recently, because I became fed up with long descriptions of interiors or actions that were completely superfluous. In some cases, it’s material the author has gathered while researching the subject and feels it would be wasteful to leave out. Writers who employ researchers are the worst culprits for including this sort of rubbish! Computers make it so easy to copy and paste.
The last book I abandoned was a PD James. I’d started it in desperation for some good writing, after throwing another Lee Child out of the window for describing each footfall made by his Jack Reacher. But even she, in her later years, fell into the trap of thinking that more words were more interesting. Not if they become boring to read, in my opinion.
There are some writers I can read simply because they use language so well. Le Carré is one of them. Like a painter who can flick paint onto canvas and make you think you’re seeing detail, a good writer can conjure a scene using their imagination. I once saw an interview with children where one young girl said she preferred reading to watching films because the pictures were better. Shakespeare knew a thing or two when he wrote: Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts.
Assume your reader has a strong imagination. Let them provide the adjectives. They might even think you’re a better writer than you thought you were!
© Vic Howard, 2023
Julie Dexter vividly captures different aspects of life and nature in her flash fiction An Old Man.
An Old Man
February. Snow piled high on the garden fence. Birds flying to their nests, searching for berries, nuts, or worms – no chance. Beneath the frozen earth, insects and creatures aren’t yet beginning to stir. I peer through the lounge curtains, warm in my slippers and dressing gown. I hear a crunch. I spy through the letterbox; a man clad in a deerstalker hat. I wonder what he wants. Why isn’t he in bed? Perhaps he’s befuddled. Looks frozen to the bone, with holes in his suedette shoes, or are they slippers? What does it matter? He looks cold just the same.
The door opens. I feel his breath in my ear. “Please help,” he begs. When he grabs me, I gasp.
As he takes me down with him, I hear a smack, then there is seeping wetness.
I make my hand a pillow between him and the cold floor. Stem the flow. I must get him inside, though I mustn’t move him.
The ambulance arrives but not quite before he’s turned blue. I go with him.
They won’t let me onto the ward. I’m not next of kin. So, I sit outside the door and wonder, does he have a family? A son or a wife?
The birds awaken, take to the sky. Before long, chiffchaffs return, camellias bloom.
I never found out his name, but he walked up the road again. And when people called, he carried on, going into the distance with a walking stick this time.
© Julie Dexter, 2023
Hongwei’s Suitcase is a poignant poem giving voice to uncertainty between the known past and the unknown future.
How many items could you stuff into a suitcase?
I had no idea.
Layers of clothes, from summer to winter.
Bags of snacks, padded in every corner.
And yet you knew no stop.
One more thing, you’ll need this!
You knelt down on the suitcase,
pressing it down and zipping it up,
with the full weight of your body.
I felt embarrassed by your clumsiness.
I lost patience with your ceaseless nagging.
Stop it, I’m not a child!
You wheeled the suitcase out
to the pavement and stopped a cab.
As you were trying to lift it up
I took it over, impatiently,
Let me do it, mum, you’re too old for this!
I got into the cab and waved.
Go back home! It’s cold outside!
You stood still, watching
the taxi pulling out of your sight.
I waved again, until you became
a small, black dot
pasted on the rear window,
so far, so close.
The suitcase went through a conveyor belt
into a cold and dark cabin.
After a hundred years of solitude,
After a thousand years of waiting,
it came out, into another conveyor belt
awaiting an unknown destiny.
I lifted the heavy suitcase out of the rolling belt
wheeling it towards my uncertain future.
The red tag you attached to the handle was
waving like a hand, your hand,
beating like a heart, your heart,
across miles and years.
© Hongwei Bao, 2023
Finally, Mary Walsh has written a beautiful nonet, Summer Heat, creating a lovely rhythm between hot and cold. A nonet is a nine-line poem where the syllables start with nine on the first line, then eight on the second line and so forth, down to one syllable on the last line. It can also be read in reverse. Try it!
Stretching like a feline soaking heat
I feel salt rivulets forming
Down my back pooling therein
My waistband stickiness
Jeans Velcro my skin
Shirt, wet and limp
Oh for home!
© Mary Walsh, 2023
Connect with Palak on www.palaktewary.com or Twitter/Instagram: @palaktewary
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