Sunday, November 27, 2011

Double Messages: Fences With Two Sides

Current philosophy regarding economics tells us that less is more. At a time when consumerism leans toward excess, in an environment of unemployment and, in some cases, hunger, the message at the edge of awareness tells us to cut back, tighten our belts, and hunker down until the economic crisis is past.

I’ve watched how others are dealing with this crisis, the messages sent to users from every quarter, the media blitz of advertising, etc. What I’ve seen leads me to believe that messages have blurred the edges of every realm of our lives.

Check me out and see if I’ way off base here. Are we doomed to live in a world of double messages?

1.     Conserve potable water: We’re urged to use more efficient dishwashers, etc. to utilize the least amount of water for effective purposes. Is that why lawn services, especially those in arid climates and drought stricken zones, have sprinklers systems blasting water into the dry air during the middle of the day? This is the worst possible time to water vegetation—it burns/boils the leaves and stems—and the least effective conservation practice. So, who's conserving?

2.     Keep as much out of the landfills in an effort to reduce future problems with ground water pollution, etc. For this to work, we’re encouraged to reduce/avoid use of disposable products like paper plates and diapers. We're encouraged to recycle more. Question: If we’re supposed to conserve water and can use paper plates to reduce water usage, aren’t we ignoring the landfill problem? And what about all of those defunct, yet fixable, appliances littering the landfill landscape?

3.     Auto manufacturers were ordered to make more efficient vehicles. Many 1970’s models, especially those from Japan, got better fuel mileage than the same models coming out this year. How is that efficient and less polluting? Remember, we’re supposed to support the U.S. manufacturers to help the economy.

These are a few examples of double dipping in the message department. Here’s one just for those active and potential writers out there.

Today’s experts in the publishing business have been emphasizing the use of tighter, more efficient writing. Remove those qualifiers, they say. Eliminate all of those adjectives and adverbs and shorten word count. Some editors frown on those who use more than a fifth grade education level of prose to write a story since it requires the reader to think beyond what’s being read.

When I began the writing course “Building Great Sentences,” I had no idea that what comprised those great sentences were not fewer words, but more words that told an effective story. It does counter popular business regimen.

Prof. Brooks Landon of the Univ. of Iowa reminds students of two millennium of memorable and effective writers who used longer and more complex sentences to tell their stories, build their treatises, and write their poetry. He points out that these complex sentences set the tone that helps create punch, surprise, or poignancy for the extremely short sentences that can follow them.

He uses many examples to prove his points and the course is designed to enlighten the student on how to build, one word at a time, the most effective sentence that not only moves the story forward, but which tells its own story within the overall frame work of the larger tale. He shows how one sentence can, in 40 words, give a complete picture of a character, a setting, the plot’s pivot point, etc.

There is no advocacy of irrelevant or unnecessary verbiage, but rather a use of cumulative sentences which act as mini-scenes, each behaving as a mover and shaker within the story. For the first time in years I’ve fallen in love again with language and its power.

In a time when I’m being told to shrink sentences, cut back, use vocabulary for children to talk to adults, I’ve come to appreciate rebellion and have a solid reason to engage in it, at least in this one area.
I no longer have to consign good language use to that word landfill residing within my desktop. I don't have to conserve more precise language for the sake of one person's belief in lesser grade words. I can get more mileage out of ten well-chosen words than a dozen sentences that circle the drain of contemporary writing practice.
I can control this piece of the double message question with my use of language and its place in the world. I don’t have to follow the path set for me by people who change literary tastes as easily as a butterfly moves to another flower’s nectar.

Ratings and sales don’t have to dictate how I function as a writer in this new digital age, except on the internet. Even that venue may come around to insisting on something mature for audiences. Regardless, I’m in a position where I can dictate my own terms within my portion of the industry, an industry which affords me the opportunity to stretch, express myself, and tell stories that can entertain.
I'm ringing this bull's tail regarding double messages and clearing a path for myself.
Tell me how you see our double message state and how you feel about using language. Short or long, we all have our favorites.

Until later,


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