Saturday, February 23, 2008

economy of style

Ernest Hemingway is an exemplar of using simple, active sentences, stripped of adverbs and adjectives. He employs an economy of actions and dialog to reveal what's needed of back-story, emotion, inner thoughts, and the future arc of the story. I'm reminded of this search for economy when I'm designing a single-panel cartoon, like the accompanying one done for a California Native Plants Society newsletter. The lettering on the boat hull gives us the back-story—it's about global warming. The boat tour guide's dialog announcing that a local park beach is ten feet below the water surface conveys an element of the back-story in which glacial melt has raised coastal waterlines. He doesn't have to spell this out for us—we participate in the story being told. The guide also points out "mutant" Pitcher Plants off to the side of the boat. These are carnivorous native plants, ordinarily growing between ½ to 1 foot in height, but we "get it" that they've become monsters due to the greenhouse gases accompanying global warming. At least the newsletter readers will easily understand this part of the back-story, since they're already familiar with the natural plant. For a general readership, I might have needed the guide to refer to their natural height, and carnivorous nature, to convey the alarm that is intended.

I got started on this discussion after reading "Taking Tips from Hemingway—How the Master Revised His Way to a Masterpiece," by David Kalish, in The Writer's Chronicle, v40, #4. It was interesting to read some of the critiques that F. Scott Fitzgerald made on Hemingway's Ms. for "The Sun Also Rises." I think I would have been quite discouraged to receive some of those critical remarks, advising a lot of slashing and cutting of the Ms. Of course that was early in Hemingway's career, and he took them to heart and honed his story accordingly. Later, when Fitzgerald criticized the Ms. for "A Farewell to Arms" even more, Hemingway had gained sufficient confidence in his own judgments that he could ignore much of the criticism.

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