Saturday, February 6, 2016

Guest Post on Writing Less to Say More

Silences and Whispers
by Carol Smallwood
"What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers." —Logan Pearsall Smith
"Literature is not a mere juggling of words; what matters is what is left unsaid, or what may be read between the lines." —Jorge Luis Borges
We want readers to understand what we write but often the best writing is only hinted, indirect. A writer can establish a level of trust with the reader by letting the reader know they assume the reader is capable of not needing to have everything spelled out and has enough sensibility to enter the writer's world. The balance is a delicate one; if the writer assumes too much knowledge on the part of the reader, it won't work. As a reader I enjoy sensing what the writer is saying by subtleness and the employment of nuances. That's what the best actors do: they don't shout what they're thinking, but a slight movement of a hand tells more than a long dialogue. The Mona Lisa's smile is a whisper that has kept viewers coming back to the painting. In classical music a few notes of a motif holds movements together. Rembrandt used light and shadow. Photographers use filters.
John Galsworthy in his 1915 Foreword to Green Mansions, the acclaimed novel by William Henry Hudson,  notes: "Style should not obtrude between a writer and his reader; it should be servant, not master. To use words so true and simple that they oppose no obstacle to the flow of thought and feeling from mind to mind, and yet by juxtaposition of word-sounds set up in the recipient continuing emotion or gratification . . . ." It reminds me of what another writer, Ernest Hemingway who would follow him, said about writing being true and simple. One of Hemingway's contemporaries, William Faulkner, wrote (a sentence I pondered for a long time) in Light in August: "Memory believes before knowing remembers."
Writers are lucky to have so many other writers to study and learn from and yet we must devise our own style, our own method of reaching readers. Each of us will have a different audience in our minds while writing and to this person or persons, we set our relationships. Our own understanding of what we are writing will guide what we say and how well the reader grasps it. I believe writers must think about what they want to write, spend most of their time brooding, hashing out things, and then write. By the time we get to putting words down, we should be ready so every word isn't like that saying about being as difficult as pulling of teeth. The Old Man and the Sea was written in a very short time because Hemingway said he had it in his mind before putting words down: it came easily. This classic has many layers, many whispers, and the reader easily enters the writer's world as he portrays his characters.  Maybe the whispers and silences are what Herman Melville meant in another classic, Moby Dick: "But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans.  It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all."
John Galsworthy is the writer I keep reading because each time I read a novel of his, I get something new from it. It could partly be because my frame of mind isn't the same but largely it's because he encourages the reader to share the subtle shades, atmosphere, and complexities of the world he creates. Work gently: less is more.

Bio- Carol Smallwood's most recent books include Divining the Prime Meridian (WordTech Communications, 2015); Women, Work, and the Web (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015); Writing After Retirement (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014); Water, Earth, Air, Fire, and Picket Fences (Lamar University Press, 2014).  Interweavings: Creative Nonfiction and In Hubble's Shadow are forthcoming from Shanti Arts. Carol, multi-nominee for the Pushcart, has founded, supports humane societies.

This is a guest post kindly contributed to Inscribing Industry. Content rights and responsibilities remain with the author.