Friday, May 20, 2011

Just One Last Thing

I am not known for being succinct, in my fiction or in my life. I will use a thousand words when one hundred would do. Or even ten. It's the reason I don't write flash fiction and even the short-shorts cause me all manner of grief. I once split a three thousand word story into two shorter stories without losing anything in the context. The "end" of one of my stories-- what I might consider to be the perfect ending with the perfect "last words"-- is likely to come at page ten while the story stretches on for another five pages. Yes, I edit. Yes, I try to get back to those best "last words." But still more words creep in...

I do not fear silence, but I do fear being misunderstood. Hence the verbosity. I need to explain myself-- again and again, if necessary-- to make absolutely sure I've gotten my point across. I want no mistakes or misunderstandings, I don't want anyone to wonder what I meant by that. I will take a statement and reword it as many times as I have to until I'm sure there is no ambiguity to my meaning. Having said that, I just realized I must be the most boring person in the world to talk to and I'm not sure my reading my fiction is much better. Eek.

Maybe I'm not quite that bad, but it feels like it. When I scroll through an email exchange and see long blocks of text (by me) followed by one or two lines (by someone else) again and again... I wonder: do I say too much-- or do other people simply not say enough? I have my opinion, of course. You can guess what it is.

I love words. I love the turn of a good phrase. I love the perfect parting shot, the last lingering whisper before sleep, the memorable ending to a heated debate. I love conclusions-- I just rarely do them right. I want to, don't get me wrong. I want to make sure the last thing I say on the page or at the door is remembered forever after. But my mind is as messy as my emotions and my life, and so I take that tangled mess and try to fashion it into a pretty braid of words and phrases designed to hold your interest. In my insecurity, I don't know when to stop braiding and just walk away. It's a curse, really.

I am a fan of the romantic comedy-- and yet, I loathe them. They always end with the perfect last scene, the perfect last words. In fact, each and every scene of a romantic comedy ends like that-- with the characters saying exactly what they're supposed to say at exactly the right moment. Would that life were like that, eh? Maybe there are other people who can throw out that great punchline or cutdown or heartfelt romanticism and just... let... the... words... lay. Not me. I admire people like that, the strong and silent type, the quiet reflectors who only pipe up when they really have something meaningful to say. Me? I will beat the horse until it's dead, resurrect it and beat it to death again. In my writing and in my conversations.

I wish that my life operated like a film. Where the devoted lover always says the perfect romantic thing, where the betrayer always confesses with little more than the prompt, "Just tell me the truth!", where people don't wait until you're dead to let you know how they feel about you, where there is closure in every relationship. I can't even get closure when I deliberately set out to get it and actually use the words, "I just wanted some closure on this situation." Before I know it, I'm all tangled up in a new set of issues that had nothing to do with the old set of issues and closure is something I only get with a door.

Last words, last lines, stay with us long after the story or novel is finished, perhaps because they offer the closure most of us never really get in life. There is no wondering what happens tomorrow or next month or if there will be a text message addendum to that goodbye email or if you'll have second thoughts and change your mind a year from now. There is no changing your mind in fiction, there is no changing anything. The end is the end in a story or novel-- unless, of course, there is a sequel.

11 comments:

  1. I do not fear silence, but I do fear being misunderstood. Hence the verbosity. I need to explain myself-- again and again, if necessary-- to make absolutely sure I've gotten my point across. I want no mistakes or misunderstandings, I don't want anyone to wonder what I meant by that. I will take a statement and reword it as many times as I have to until I'm sure there is no ambiguity to my meaning.

    I'm just like that, too, in e-mails and such! Sometimes it results in long e-mails, sometimes just in short ones that I've rewritten eight hundred times. : )

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  2. And sometimes the e-mail (or blog comment) gets followed by a second e-mail and even a third e-mail clarifying the ambiguities I've discovered after hitting "send." : )

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  3. Oh Jeremy, thank you for that! :-)

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  4. Hello, Kristina,

    I have the opposite problem. I tend to end my stories too soon, in my eagerness to be done and get the darn thing submitted.

    It's quite true, however, that endless reiteration of your points can end up obscuring rather than clarifying them. That isn't the case with this post, though!

    (Hi, Jeremy!)

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  5. Hi Kristina,

    I felt like you were channeling me for a minute. I have the exact same issue. I tried to write a short tryst, max 7000 words. Then it turned into my latest, Fan Mail, which is 35000. The sad part is that now that I reread, I feel like it deserves to be twice as long. Can't stop myself. I'm also a chatty kathy when it comes to IMs, does not help that I type freakishly fast. I hate it when certain apps suspend my IMs until a few seconds go by or the person I'm chatting with says something, lol

    --Aubrey

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  6. Ha—I remember when you told me not to apologize for sending you such a long email! This lends some insight to the sincerity of that appeal! ;)

    I relate to a ton of this, especially the feeling of not wanting to be misunderstood and thus feeling compelled to state and restate and express and re-express to make sure what I feel or perceive has been articulated in a way that it would seem very difficult to misinterpret—and then, if it were misinterpreted, that I would feel sincerely that I had been clear and the misinterpretation was not due to my own phrasing or lack of clarifying....

    Indeed, I've been known to do this in writing too. ;)

    And ha—yes, I so hear you, Jeremy!

    Fun post, Kristina. Thanks!

    Xoxo

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  7. Lisabet,

    I think I've gotten better in my fiction, though I'm still far too verbose in real life. Oh well...

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  8. Aubrey ~ Good to know I'm not the only writer with this infliction! ;-) I kind of thought maybe it was the curse of all writers, but I've discovered it's more a personal trait than a creative one. Sigh...

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  9. Emerald... I adore your long emails. I feel like you're a kindred spirit. I will confess... I absolutely hate when I go to scroll down in an email and there's NOTHING to scroll. So sad.

    On another note, I still love checking the mailbox for real mail, even though no one writes real letters anymore. I love communication, especially with people I adore. ;-)

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  10. I'm delighted to hear this! I talk too much. And am well used to feeling not-understood, though often the root is my failure to manage to articulate just what I mean - as if the sense of what I'm putting together deep in my head stops short of a certain, conscious articulation.

    It's very frustrating.

    having said that, I like writing shorts - I write to much then cull viciously 'til only what's vital is left. I don't believe in applying the same to longer writing though :)

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  11. Ah, Jo! Another kindred spirit. :-)

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