New Essay - One Word Leads To The Next: Unconventional Conjunctive Devices
The other day a friend was doing a crossword puzzle and asked me, “What song begins ‘It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday…’.” Without missing a beat I added, “…the regular crowd shuffles in. There’s an old man sitting next to me, making love to his tonic and gin.”
Beyond demonstrating that I knew the song – Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” – I spoke the lyrics to their end, compulsively, because they were so linked together in my mind. Each word evoked another, and it was impossible for me to stop until I’d recited every verse. Be warned, never ask me to recite Don McLean’s “American Pie” or Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” because I will. Word for word.
Obsessive-compulsive behavior or not, that’s how I think a well-written story should work: Each word should trigger the next, there should be a rhythm that supports memory retrieval, and regular repeating phrases to act as the linking devices. In other words: Hooks. Even rhymes, the very things copyeditors labor to eradicate, they can give a story a memorable song-like quality. For example, in writing the story “Cannibal,” I loved the lines “…tastes like tears. Because it’s gallons, like Tammy Faye Bakker’s cried a hundred years inside his mouth…” Editors loathe rhymes. Using them seems to violate some firewall dividing prose and poetry. However, my goal is to use more of them.
What I’m getting at, here… my point is… fiction is facing the same crisis that figurative painting faced when photography arrived. So many people know the skills for telling a clear, technically perfect story, essentially taking a photo. Our writing software corrects our grammar and spelling. By now we might even have programs that can construct bestselling books. My point is that fiction writers should abandon technically correct writing and experiment in the same way painters were forced to experiment in order to keep their medium relevant.