Mad Dogs and Englishmen

At the risk of sounding like a tabloid headline writer, crickey, it’s hot! Hotter then Hawaii, apparently, here in sunny Norfolk. Which adds a whole new set of complications to the writing experience; the hunt for that bon mot pales into insignificance when compared to the search for a cool place to sit and cogitate. My brain has the thinking capacity of marshmallow and I feel as if I’m melting by degrees, like the wicked witch of the west.

It won’t last, the forecasters tell us, which is a bit of a shame since this has been the wettest, coolest summer hereabouts since people started recording these facts. You guys on the other side of the Atlantic are probably wondering why I’m making such a fuss – it’s only weather. And I agree with you. Still, I look forward to the approach of autumn.

Following on from last week, it seems that we don’t all have the same attitude to similes and metaphors. Last week I presented a piece to my regular writing group in which I compared a man to a gorilla. My wording was:

‘You’re not from round here,’ the gorilla behind the bar grunted when Jimmy ordered a pint.

Not jaw-dropping prose, I admit, but it served its purpose. Some members of the group suggested that I should have qualified the sentence by adding ‘the man behind the bar who bore a stroking resemblance to a gorilla grunted’.

I argued that this was unnecessary; we all know that gorillas can’t talk, so the resemblance was implicit, obvious and didn’t need further explanation. By omitting the qualification, I was streamlining the sentence and cutting out all superfluous words. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but those who disagreed with my approach were mostly from the upper reaches of the age spectrum of our group – maybe this would explain their mindset.

I’m sure this kind of thinking is age-related; how we relate to the written word must have its origins in the way we were taught at school. But how much we read and what type of reading matter we choose in later years must also play a part. I read a lot, most of it very modern stuff and through this I get an idea of how writing styles are constantly changing. There’s no call, these crowded, time-deficient days, for long-winded descriptions or unnecessary qualifying statements.

A lot of what we get from reading is not actually there on the page at all; the meaning is often implied, understood or unspoken and it is for us, the reader, to infer the significance within the sparse prose. For the writer this presents a whole new set of problems: how to build a credible plot, generate narrative tension, and create believable characters without wasting any words.

I’m about to get a taste of this as I prepare to undertake a major project – editing my first novel and getting it ready to publish as an e-book. I’ll need to condense lengthy descriptions, cut out all extraneous narrative, get rid of minor characters altogether (which will mean a lot of rewriting), to hopefully end up with a taut and exciting story that someone will want to buy. I’ll keep you posted.

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6 thoughts on “Mad Dogs and Englishmen

  1. I would have put it the same way as you–I don’t feel the need for a qualifying statement. When I read it, I didn’t see a gorilla behind a bar, I saw a big, beefy man, one who could use a lesson in eloquence. Just like my teenage son when he grunts. 🙂

  2. Usually something like your sentence would not need qualifiers as long as it’s within context. Taking it out of context however, you can see how one might think they’d read something that belonged in a sci fi novel. I like the humor of your sentence and the image it evokes.

    Good luck with the editing stage!

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