Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Technical arguments

When I was still quite young, I only had access to adjectives. My writing was full of them, crammed with great, big, meandering, directionless, wavering, tedious, strangely repetitive great, big, meandering, directionless strings of adjectives. Every object was mercilessly tied to at least two of these creatures, and after a while they began to complain. Landscapes bore the brunt of this unshakeable, immature habit. I awoke one morning to find a sweeping, pastoral, meadow-sweet collection of rolling hills perched determinedly at the foot of my bed.

“I’ve had enough,” it said in gramineous tones. “No one will even take photos of me any more, let along wander my lush valleys. By the time I’ve finished introducing myself, what with all these adjectives you’ve tacked on, everyone’s either fallen asleep or wandered off to some diverging path in a yellow wood. It’s ridiculous, so I’m moving to Malaysia. You’ve never been there, so you can’t describe it and I’ll be free of you.”

Animals didn’t seem too keen on how they were written either. Dragonflies and hummingbirds fronted up with increasing regularity.

“We’re supposed to be graceful and flit from place to place with unerring precision, but how are we supposed to manage that with these huge chains of adjectives clipped to our tails?”

A sprightly, lace-winged, swooping, metallic-scaled dragonfly pushed himself forward. He was almost in tears. “I was just trying to swoop through the air yesterday when my description got tangled up with a fragrant, blossoming, antique, faded-apricot rose bush. Nearly tore myself a new pair of wings!” He muffled a sob and drew himself up with quiet, stern, masterful dignity. “If you want us to function as plot devices, you’re going to have to be a damn sight more careful about how you treat us.”

I admit, I was worried about this persistent use of adjectives and its effect on my writing. But as I grew older, similes came into my life, unnoticed at first like a rash on the backs of your knees, but building in intensity like a hammer thrower winding towards release. I’d never been so excited; my writing would flow from my pen like a carton of milk upset on a table.

But still, my subjects were unhappy. Resentment in those I wrote about seethed like custard left on high in the microwave.

“Do you know what it’s like?” the river hissed like a leaking tyre valve. “To be told what you’re like all the time? I’m like a winding snake, like a path through despair, like an everchanging, endless passage of time and I’m fed up with it! Haven’t you ever had relatives bail you up at Christmas and inform you’re nose is like Uncle Keith’s, your ankles are like cousin Sarah’s, your left eyebrow is like third cousin twice removed Lord Roger’s, and your teeth are just like Billy who married that girl from New Zealand’s?” I nodded slowly, deciding the specific relatives were not to be taken literally. “I want to be something, not just be like something. I am an original! Not just like an original! I expect something to be done about it.”

I sighed. What can you possibly say to something that is never the same the next time you step into it?

Still, I did not despair. History had told me that time was like an ever-changing river (despite its objections to the role) and would bring something new, some solution to launch my writing beyond these distractions.

Metaphors. Metaphors came to me and suddenly words were a paint palette, I could paint a world on the canvas of my foolscap and transform it at will.

The rolling hills were a blanket dropped in a heap on the bed. The dragonflies and hummingbirds were reflections on the surface of a river, fleeting and brilliant. And the river, the river was a tiger, snarling over rocks and weeds, opening wide its jaws to swallow all in a rush of foam.

Nothing complained. Well, almost nothing. A few things tried:

“I’m not a fire really...”

“My hair isn’t black wires...”

But I shrugged my shoulders and informed them firmly, “Oh, that wasn’t a metaphor for you, you don’t think I think you’re really comparable that, do you? I think you’re misreading me, hmm?”

Shuts them up every time. Once everything is something else, there’s no end to what you can do.


Tim said...

I love this post!

I recall a period in which I was convinced that good writing involved using as many obscure synonyms as possible. It didn't work out.

Anna said...


I think I'm going to stick to antonyms from now on. Or maybe not.

Heath said...

Awesome. :D

Anna said...

Thanks! :)

Cameron Mann said...

This made me smile broadly. A good
thing. Actually.

Anna said...

I'm still working carefully and slowly up to adverbs.

mademoiselle délicieuse said...

Absolutely loved this! And you just reminded me of Year 11 English via Robert Frost.