Working on the Ending
December 10, 2010 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Working on the Ending. Writer Gail Godwin reflects on the way she works now: "Inevitable for the old writer is the slowdown of word retrieval... All it once took was the slightest tug at the bell for the vigorous servant, accompanied by backup synonyms, to report for duty... You can rail at your 'senior moment' like those tiresome people who bring a conversation to a halt because they can’t remember the name of a place or person... Or you can leave a blank, to be filled in later... For me, a consolation prize of word delay has been an increased intolerance for the threadbare phrase. I don’t want anyone on my pages to 'burst into tears' or 'just perceptibly' do anything, ever again."
posted by ocherdraco (12 comments total)
The old are always thing about Being Old.
posted by Postroad at 12:55 PM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

The problem I have with "burst into tears" is that it adds a layer of imagery ("burst") without expressing anything that "cried" or "started crying" don't. I guess it adds a connotation of suddenness, but if it's important that something happened suddenly, you can probably afford to spend some more words describing that. And "burst" doesn't have much of an emotional association for me; it's similar to "explode," which is already kind of been-there done-that, only weaker and more noncommittal.

If you want to use simplistic prose, that's fine, it works. Best to keep it literal, then.

I guess I'll RTFA now.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:59 PM on December 10, 2010

I’ll ask myself, “How do you describe the way an old couple walk that shows they have been walking together for decades?” That in itself may turn out to be the best description.
posted by Alex404 at 1:17 PM on December 10, 2010

I liked that a lot.
posted by Alex404 at 1:18 PM on December 10, 2010

I haven't bothered to read Times articles since that registration wall went up, but I wouldn't mind reading this one.
Does anyone still have the login/password for the generic metafilter account someone created a while back?
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:40 PM on December 10, 2010 works, but it's got a quota system of some kind, so it sometimes takes several tries.
posted by Bruce H. at 1:52 PM on December 10, 2010

Awesome, thanks.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:55 PM on December 10, 2010

The young are always something something whatever it is I can't remember anyway they should cut it out.

sweet article, thanks!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:07 PM on December 10, 2010

Said. People say things. They don't press urgently, or cautiously solicit, or glommer ebuliantly. Just stop it.

I'm looking at you, people who write 'ELDRED SAGA OF THE FORLORN ERGADANI'S VORPAL TONGUE DEPRESSOR - Book Three of the Scintillating Lake of Mourning Quadrilogy'.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:24 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

obiwanasabi: I read an article written by Orson Scott Card a while ago that addressed this exactly. We, as readers, don't even really read the word "said," anymore. It's a tag that our eyes catch and move on from. It's almost like those optical illusions where the word "the" is posted twice, once at the end of the line, and once at the beginning of the next, and we don't notice it, because that's not how we read.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 4:53 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pruning the branches is a good thing. Hemingway did very well with simple words, short phrases ... as did the Beatles (in their early songs, before the "water pipe". Go have a listen to those early lyrics. "She Loves You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand").

It takes a lot of nerve to use easy words if you are afraid you won't come off slick. So it comes with time. Fire the butler.
posted by Twang at 12:03 AM on December 11, 2010

posted by ersatz at 3:52 AM on December 11, 2010

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