“Exit, pursued by a bear.”–A stage direction from Shakespeare (“The Winter’s Tale”)

Yes, okay, so this is a stage direction in Shakespeare’s play, not the narrative which takes its place in a short story or novel (both surround and bracket dialogue).  But many writers, notably Hemingway and his imitators and models have indicated that the same sort of stage-direction narrative terseness is desirable in fiction writing, both by their practice and their theory, and so it has largely been for most of the 20th century and even into the 21st.  In particular, Hemingway eschewed the use of copious amounts of “ly” adverbs and spritely and numerous adjectives.  The most obvious exception in Hemingway’s work is in one of the Nick Adams stories, when Nick is making love to a young Native American girl of his acquaintance; the episode is sparingly told until the most passionate moments, when Hemingway uncharacteristically strings together a whole series of emotive “ly” adverbs to describe the sexual actions of the two young people.

So why, then, these things being so (I imagine you being interested enough to ask), do I use “ly” and other adverbs perhaps to excess in my own writing?  Am I uninformed, tasteless, or simply trying to make trouble?  I plead guilty to only the third.  While admiring Hemingway and others for all they’ve accomplished and all they’ve added to our literary heritage, I decided to row my own boat, as it were.  As Hegel noted, history is composed of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, and regardless of what one thinks of this in philosophical terms (the Greek tragic chorus knew a similar dramatic form in their strophe, antistrophe, and epode), so literature in general often returns upon itself, imitating older forms and skipping over the ones just before it in time, or sometimes achieving something entirely new from setting two older things in opposition or combination.  Though florid and “purple” prose has been made fun of for centuries, and that kind of prose is not what I’m aiming for, I yet retain an affection for fiction which points the way occasionally by adding those extra descriptive words.  Part of what we come to literature for is in fact the variety of forms, styles, and concepts we find there.  So I’m hoping that as you read through my books (and I hope you will), that you will agree that sometimes additional description has its place.  And bless the notion of literary variety:  vive la différence!

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Filed under What is literature for?

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