2 Sept 2015

On Writing and the Ark

Hail readers!

Today I bring to you my musings on the Ark. It is proving a difficult endeavour—as any such work ought be, in truth. However, one question in particular poses a special kind of difficulty—that being: in what manner ought the Ark be written? Should it be formal, and (were I unkind in my interpretation) full of flosculations? Or should it be tight, informal... but at the same time, lacking in eloquence and vivid description?

The question may be phrased in a different way: should it be mainstream, or literary?

Mainstream, Literary... or Both?

It seems I have fallen fowl to the apparent dilemma plaguing many a writer. On the one hand, I wish to write beautiful prose, and words of elegance and wit; on the other, I worry that I am too formal, too complex in my vocabulary and manner of expression. I worry that I am too dense.

The mainstream writers may say: but Alex! The realm of literary fiction is a small one; and what good are words, if they have no readers? Is is not the reader, who defines the poem?

The literary writers will no doubt reply: but even if your words find solace only among a few; even if you are not blessed with riches and fame and the adulation of the masses... surely it is worth bringing beauty and imagination to those erudite few?

Both arguments are to some degree valid. I, for one, am usually of the former disposition; I do believe that words are best when sampled by the many, not the sanctimonious few. And yet... aesthetic prose, and words written free of any consideration for audience sensibilities, can be powerful.

But to frame the discussion in such terms ignores a fundamental truth: that beautiful tales are formed both by beautiful words and expert execution. The novel is not the poem; it cannot partake in exercises of writerly practice, or of vain exhibitionism. Or in other words—it cannot be written purely for the sake of it. It must convey a story, a message within its lines and sentences.

But nor is a good tale composed merely of anodyne phrasing and lackluster prose. It is the strange nature of writing: it is not merely the what which creates the tale, but also the how.

To be mainstream and to be literary, therefore, is no contradiction. On the contrary: truly good novels possess the qualities of both.

But What of the Ark?

The Ark is in some difficulty as of present; for I now suspect that the language which it employs, and the manner in which it is written, is indeed too much of the literary and not enough of the direct. Here—an example:

For a moment, I’m surprised. Not because I didn’t see him as a poet—he’d have to be to quote Dante in Italian—but because there is something at once so inopportune, and yet so felicitous, about it, that I cannot help but laugh.

Are the latter clauses too keen to employ rare words? Is the expression too stitled, too formal; too High English, even for poetic Casey—a sixteen year old boy? There are numerous concerns as to what audience would be interested in both the premise and the manner of writing; and questions too, concerning the aspect of believability.

And yet, such questions aside, it must always be remembered that bad words may be taken away; but that good words cannot be invented by the editorial mind. Also, the Ark is no ordinary tale; and its characters are not ordinary teenagers. There is nothing ordinary about the brilliant. No great tale ever became great by being average.

So what are we to take from this? Perhaps some of these phrasings will be altered; some words replaced with simpler equivalents. But nor is this to say that the words of the Ark, and the tale brought by its words, need careful manipulation by cynical purveyors of finance.

A tale is a tale is a tale—to paraphrase Gertrude Stein—and it must be written both for greatness and for readability. The two are not contradictory, and neither can one come at the expense of the other; true brilliance lies in both.

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