Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"SUBTLETY," I shouted.

Let me just say, since there really is no way you can actually stop me now, that I have once again fallen truly, madly, deeply in love with the written word.

On some digest this morning I was seduced to a blog site written by Caren Johnson, lit agent, where she had invited writers to send her a line or two of quality writing out of their wips or completed mss. I missed out on the window, but I did read the critiques she'd given. I also read the beginning of the blog explaining what she considers to be quality writing.

Quality writing.
Hmm, I said.

Quality writing as opposed to quality punctuation, grammar and formatting? As opposed to high concept in-your-face action?

Hmm, I said again.

Quality writing, I discovered, is actually the beautiful stuff I fell in love with all those years ago when I read "Ethan Frome" and wanted to hitch along on a suicide ride, when I wept next to Heathcliff in that silly box-of-a-bed in the middle of the night. And here's the kicker: As it turns out, I don't have to write like an Austin, Wharton, or Bronte in order to write beautifully. And neither do you.

Quality writing is from the soul. It's inspiring and inspired. It's the difference between telling a story and painting a story, but it's even more than that.

It is taking the time to think about what you're trying to say, allowing yourself to feel it, then finding the perfect words to express it. I can't write quality sentences if I am cranking out a word count for a production goal. I can't write quality while outlining a character's GMC, or plotting the greatest romance of the month.

Quality writing is seeing and feeling what lies beneath the story we're telling. It's the secrets kept between the molecules in the air. It's the stuff we can see only with the night vision goggles on. It's there. The writer is the only one who can see it, and she must tell everyone the monster is right in front of us without letting the monster know that she knows.

It's SUBTLETY; anything so subtle others may not see it, but important enough that no one should miss it. It's the potential in Ethan Frome's shoulders that will never be realized because of his "smash up". It's the futility of the winter sun trying to shine through an arctic wind. It's opposition you never notice, tension deep within the stem of a flower that keeps its head up. It's the chemistry inside the same flower that allows it to turn its head, ever so slowly and indiscernibly, toward the sunshine.

Quality writing points out the secrets all around us, secrets God was not going to tell us if we didn't think to ask, or look for ourselves.

If you want to discover if you have left quality writing behind, do what I did. Race to your latest wip and search for three or four lines of quality writing you could post to Caren Johnson (as if it weren't too late to do so) so that she might comment on it.

Want to feel better? I skimmed through ten pages and couldn't find anything worthy.
Want to fix it? Want to warm up your quality writing muscles? Grab a box of tissue and a copy of Ethan Frome. (I wept before I ever reached page two--the way one weeps over poetry, or perfect Christmas snow. I wept for the hope that I might be the producer of such beauty.)

The great thing about Edith Wharton, by the way, is that she is more easily read than Austin, but writes so beautifully you know you're elbow-deep in a classic, and you finally understand what the term "classic" means.

Ainsley the Subtle