Beth says I get caught up in language.
Well, of course I do.
For as long as I can remember, at least for as long as matters, my brain has been a swirl of syllables and synchronicity. I enjoy arcane vernacular, transposing consonants in my head, repeating sentences over and over again with different emphasis, spinning turns of phrases in imaginary conversations that may or may not have anything to do with my day or my life. I’m the kind of person of whom an impression could be done as early as high school (and apparently there was one). I’m peculiar.
Something Stephen Fry (I think) once wrote struck me very closely. Fry (if it was even him, I’m a tad fuzzy on specifics and can’t for the life of me find the passage I’m looking for in any of my books) said that as a boy where other kids would get tunes stuck in their heads, he would get sentences, simple structures of words strung together in ways that fascinated him, causing him to explore the endless possibilities of everyday speech and language. Immediately, I saw myself in that. Not to say I don’t get tunes stuck in my head, but all that inevitably starts happening is that whatever conversations I then go into or overhear just also end up playing to the same tune, replacing the lyrics. Or conversation becomes lyrics. I beat syllables out on my fingers, trying to work it so sentences end on my pinky finger, giving a kind of obsessive closure, a finality, an evenness.
David Mamet has been said to write to a metronome. I used to love that, until I got over the affectation as genius thing. Metronomes only belong piano practice, thrown across the room.
So Beth says, upon reading something I threw together the first 200 words for (cribbing themes and broad strokes from the Old 97s song “Busted Afternoon”), that I get caught up in the language, worrying too much about how people are saying something than in what they are saying, or in service of what plot they even exist towards.
She’s right, of course. I can’t even count how many pieces of paper, or Word documents, I’ve got that start and end with a single line of dialogue, or even narration, because I think it sounds good but has absolutely no backbone, no context, no support, no purpose. It’s all ornamentation without a body, tattoos on a corpse. Really nice tattoos, but still.
Style’s still important though. And can’t a great story idea come out of a compelling turn of phrase, or a powerful image?
Not lately it can’t. Chicken, egg.
Let’s find a warm body to hang this stuff on before we start picking out clothes, shall we?