Imagine a Morning in Late November . . .

Now that’s an odd title for a post in, well, late November, isn’t it?  After all, it is late November.  We don’t need to imagine it!

Well, yes and no . . .

In an earlier post, I referred to a scene in The Eye-Dancers where Mitchell Brant–intuitive, imaginative, not bound by in-the-box thinking–asks Marc Kuslanski, he of the literal, scientific, logic-driven mind-set, if he’s ever just felt something to be true.  Not quantify it.  Not prove it.  Not measure it.  Just feel it.

I would take that sentiment and apply it to writing.  Good writing.  What is it?  Generally, we know it when we see it.  Good writing captures us, takes us by the hand, and doesn’t let go.  If it’s science fiction or fantasy, it opens up new worlds or ways of seeing the world we live in.  If it’s good fiction, of any genre, its characters come to life and move us, make us laugh and cry and care about them as if they were real people.  If it’s an essay or a history or any nonfiction piece, good writing will draw is into the narrative and make us want to read further.

Still, what is it, this “good” writing?  Can it be measured?  Can Marc Kuslanski’s rigorous testing policies apply to writing?  Again, yes and no.  All good writing shares certain characteristics.  There are certain fundamentals of the trade that need to be mastered before any piece can be called “good.”  This is indisputable.

But what qualities, beyond the basics, truly make something good?  Or great?  Writing is very subjective.  It’s not like calculus or trig, where algorithms or formulas dictate the day.  One person’s tastes won’t necessarily mesh with another’s.  Even so, most people will agree when something is well written, when it’s moving, when it exhibits a certain something, that intangible “it” factor that is so hard to define.

With that in mind, I’d like to quote the first paragraph from Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.”  If you haven’t read this iconic holiday short story, please do!  It is one of the great short stories of the 20th century–a wonderful, semi-autobiographical character-driven piece.  Capote was a master of words, a craftsman of the highest order.

Here is the opening of “A Christmas Memory”:

*****************

“Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.”

*******************

The language is simple–no thesaurus needed here.  There is nothing, on the surface, entirely remarkable about it.  And yet–it is magical.  It resonates.  It welcomes us in.  In one short, simple paragraph, Capote takes us immediately into his world.  It’s personal.  Inviting.  And great.

Why is it any, or all, of these things?  I could dissect it and chop it up and tape it back together again and provide different reasons.  But the real answer is–it just is.  It has the “it” factor that all great writing has–impossible to fully define, but you know it when you see it.

So, with that in mind — Imagine a morning in late November . . .

–Mike

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kelihasablog
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 00:39:50

    Capote was a master wordsmith…. 😀

    Reply

  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes
    Feb 27, 2013 @ 10:22:55

    This is great, very interesting. I love well chosen words…

    Reply

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