Writers live for that perfect word, phrase or sentence which effectively and efficiently conveys the feeling, situation, or description they are seeking to express. This is both a positive and a negative. Constructively, the search keeps us writing and rewriting in order to produce brilliant narratives which don’t say either too much or too little. Obstructively, we sometimes discover that such perfection may not exist as we struggle to portray a scene which holds a myriad of conflicting circumstances and emotions, all of which we may deem to be important and significant to the novel or essay.
Fortunately authors from ages past help us realize that perfection can come through both brevity and length. Compare the beginning of Ernest Hemingway’s A Sun Also Rises with Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Hemingway, a master in pithiness, reveals in a three sentence description of Robert Cohn, the antagonist, issues of identity, dissatisfaction with life, and feelings of isolation. Dickens uses 14 descriptive clauses before stating the point that “in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Those clever clauses, however, set up the ambiguous themes of opposition and doubling which will be repeated throughout the novel.
As authors of today, we boast a variety of writing styles among us – at the two extremes and everything in-between those of Hemingway and Dickens. For each of us, though, we have to find the balance in our pursuit of perfection. J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings series revised his narratives for years before publishing it, only to continue to revise the published edition for many years afterwards. Shakespeare, on the other hand, so finely crafted his rough drafts, that little variation existed between those and the final versions. As writers, we are cursed with the desire to write perfectly even though there is no one perfect standard, but as always write we must. And we do.
Paula Castner is a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative as well as a freelance writer and workshop facilitator. She receives emails at email@example.com.