To write anything in tight prose, I have to edit like a madman: avoiding dangling participles, eliminating pawns, rephrasing weak passages, swapping verbs, getting out the thesaurus but not overusing it, cutting viciously and ignoring sanity.
When polished to the bone, tight prose, or I should say, my hack assaults on it, sound pretentious, stripped of personhood, snippy, and a little unimaginative. Rarely does it resemble anything you’d call a unique writing voice.
But if you’re a genius with words, and you always have something novel to say, in a few years or decades someone’s going to tell somebody that you’ve got a unique writing voice. They may say it’s strong. Oh my!
Of course if you don’t have anything new to say, all the tight prose in the world won’t draw accolades.
On the other hand, if you focus on new and interesting ideas, feelings, personalities, plots and places, readers may discover you, especially if you let your honest personality come through, cherishing your own natural speech pattern a little, and not leaning too heavily on the thesaurus.
Here’s a snippet of my “tight prose” that’s beyond dead…
The dermatofibrosarcoma protubrans (DFSP) displays a storiform pattern on routine hematoxylin and eosin stains. Most DFSP’s express CD34, however, a minority lack this typical immunohistochemical phenotype. DFSP’s may recur if incompletely excised. Five percent metastasize.
“Data to Enterprise.”
Incidentally, I spent too much fearful time on that, knowing that a non-hack could point out where I screwed the pooch. Is it “a minority lack” or “a minority lacks”? Logic says that a minority is a singular thing, despite its many components, so it “lacks.” But to me “a minority lack” sounds better. At least it did before I thought about it.
Who cares, right? It doesn’t matter to the friendly, non-judgmental person I care about – my one reader.
I try to think of my one reader as someone who’s on my side before I start, pulling for me to come up with something worthy. Ignoring typos and saying, I know this is going to be good, come on!
Critics? Professors? Callous sophisticates? No. They despise doctors.
I’m not paranoid, that’s just silly. You’re jealous because the voices only talk to me.
(Is that from MASH?) Ha! I love that line.
Here’s the exact same DFSP snippet, except with something interesting thrown down, and not much concern for tightness:
I wanted a great name for a website. Clever and maybe just tangential to the topic – which I figured would be the final word on writing fiction. Sweeeeet! For awhile though, I wanted to dive into something else, like those weird rocks in Puma Punku. You know, Peru – or is it Bolivia? – twelve thousand feet high? Giant stones that weigh, what, twenty tons? Some architecturally designed by a genius and cut from cliffs with a technology that re-writes ancient history. They’ve got these huge smooth flat granite surfaces, modular H-designs, there’s this perfectly straight, uniform groove a few millimeters across running down the side of one! You’d have to see it to believe it. But they tell us that it was all cut with soft metal and chips of stone. Something like that. And also carried for miles up steep slops by primitive people who had no wheels and no written language? I, for one, don’t buy it. I may be stupid, but… Google Puma Punku for yourself and click on the “images” thing. I guarantee you, you won’t come back to this blog any time soon because, unfortunately, I decided not to write about impossible rock-work. That’s all you’ll be thinking about for weeks now. Hey, I just found this site, check it out: http://www.world-mysteries.com/mpl_PumaPunku.htm No, it’s not my site, don’t worry. Anyway, instead of Puma Punku, I went with fiction writing and came up with, “Storiform.com,” because it’s a pathology term (for the dermatofibrosarcoma protubrans) and it sounds like “StoryForm,” which is what I really wanted. Oh well, “Storiform” is probably better… in some vague way that hasn’t occurred to me quite yet.
See, the two paragraphs are exactly the same… except that they’re entirely different.
I focused on novelty the second time, and went overboard with the grammar, normal words, and the dim-witted “voice” that comes so naturally to me. Also I set aside caution, letting my ignorant arrogance fly in the faces of established archaeologists who, unlike me, know what they’re talking about.
So here’s your hack’s infallible opinion on tight prose: Be careful of it because it can become an end in itself and a viral preoccupation, stripping your work of personality and taking away the freedom that honesty gives the imagination.
True, a writer needs economy. My second rendition proves it. Too much flab. Tough to get to the end. Efficiency is easier for the reader, true. And an unholy excess of fluffy words causes readers to reach for something easy to strangle. True.
But you really need words that are not essential to anything but the whims of your own personality if you’re going to sound unique, if you’re going to be confidently imaginative.
M. Talmage Moorehead
Note: The picture up top is a high-power shot of a storiform pattern from a DFSP on a light microscope. Click on it and the image becomes sharper. Woohooo!