Butchering the Stars

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Here are a few paragraphs of a best seller.

The Fault In Our Stars

by John Green

…Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.) But my mom believed I required treatment, so she took me to see my Regular Doctor Jim, who agreed that I was veritably swimming in a paralyzing and totally clinical depression, and that therefore my meds should be adjusted and also I should attend a weekly Support Group.

This Support Group featured a rotating cast of characters in various states of tumor-driven unwellness. Why did the cast rotate? A side effect of dying.

The Support Group, of course, was depressing as hell. It met every Wednesday in the basement of a stone-walled Episcopal church shaped like a cross. We all sat in a circle right in the middle of the cross, where the two boards would have met, where the heart of Jesus would have been.

I noticed this because Patrick, the Support Group Leader and only person over eighteen in the room, talked about the heart of Jesus every freaking meeting, all about how we, as young cancer survivors, were sitting right in Christ’s very sacred heart and whatever.

So here’s how it went in God’s heart: The six or seven or ten of us walked/wheeled in, grazed at a decrepit selection of cookies and lemonade, sat down in the Circle of Trust, and listened to Patrick recount for the thousandth time his depressingly miserable life story—how he had cancer in his balls and they thought he was going to die but he didn’t die and now here he is, a full-grown adult in a church basement in the 137th nicest city in America, divorced, addicted to video games, mostly friendless, eking out a meager living by exploiting his cancertastic past, slowly working his way toward a master’s degree that will not improve his career prospects, waiting, as we all do, for the sword of Damocles to give him the relief that he escaped lo those many years ago when cancer took both of his nuts but spared what only the most generous soul would call his life.

Here’s a link to John Green’s web sitehttp://johngreenbooks.com/

The reason I posted this is because it grips me and pulls me in but lacks a certain polished sound that I sometimes foolishly try to create. The way Green’s story is written excites me, partly because I’m not a gifted poet or a writer with naturally beautiful language.

I’m not saying I could write something this good. The content of this story would be at least impossible for me to match. And also it would be difficult for me to write anything this raw-sounding because I’ve been brainwashed into over-editing my work until it sounds sterile.

For instance, here is what I would lamely do with one of John Green’s fantastic paragraphs. (Forgive me Mr. Green, your way is infinitely better than what I’m about to do.)

[Like cancer, d]Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. [In a way, a]Almost everything is, really.) But m[M]y mom believed I required [needed] treatment, so she took me to see my R[r]egular D[d]octor[,]Jim, who agreed that I was veritably swimming in a paralyzing and totally clinical major depression, and that therefore [needed adjustment of] my meds should be adjusted[,] and also I should attend a weekly S[s]upport G[g]roup.

Just for clarity’s sake, here again is Green’s outstanding paragraph as it was before I butchered it (by following the rules and advice I’ve learned in school and from “how-to” books on writing fiction).

Quoting John Green again…

Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.) But my mom believed I required treatment, so she took me to see my Regular Doctor Jim, who agreed that I was veritably swimming in a paralyzing and totally clinical depression, and that therefore my meds should be adjusted and also I should attend a weekly Support Group.”

I ask forgiveness again for the butcher job above, but I hope it was useful to other writers. It certainly was an eye-opener to me – with all my devilish word-editing habits that crush the “voice” of the viewpoint character and bleed the excitement out of my fiction, at times.

I guess the worst thing I did (above) to Green’s paragraph was to obscure the sense that it was written, literally written, by a young person who was more concerned with cancer and dying than with writing schoolish prose.

You might try this: Copy an important paragraph from a best-seller and pretend it’s something you wrote long ago. Edit “yourself.” Study the damage you’ve done, if any.

Then, if you’re like me, you’ll feel sheepish and realize that you’ve learned something from a successful professional with a writing career in the real world.

M. Talmage Moorehead

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