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not be that, if you could look through another's eyes you would find the color of the grass to be, not green, but what you have always called blue? In other words, is it not possible that grass makes the same impression on another's optic nerves that the sky makes on yours, and that the sky makes a yet different impression on his? Of course we agree in calling the impression received from the same thing by the same name, and so there is no confusion. But who shall say whether these things are or are not thus? Perhaps we are living in very
different worlds all the time and have never suspected it. Certain it is that some people are what we call color blind and have great difficulty in recognizing and distinguishing very pronounced and diverse colors. Certain it is, too, that if we could borrow our neighbor's eyes and ears we should see tints that we never saw before and hear sounds and harmonies that we never heard. If we but had the dog's keen sense of smell a practically new field of knowledge would be opened up to us. Beyond a doubt these individual and race differences exist. Therefore take these into account and write with the conviction that you have something new to say about the most commonplace objects in the world, because your senses have told you a different story about them from what ours have told each one of us.
Of course all this is not the art of writing. Merely an attempt is here made to give you a few hints upon the secret of finding material, so that you will never need to hesitate again for a subject. How to work this material into literature is another problem.
SECTION I. - NARRATION.
The most of us find it easier to tell what a man does than to tell how he looks. It may seem strange that this should be so when we consider that a man's actions are continually varying while his appearance remains practically the same and gives plenty of opportunity for study. But it is so, none the less, as your own experience will soon show. We can tell a story readily enough as long as we are dealing with actions and events, but if it becomes necessary to describe the
or characters, we hesitate as before a difficult problem. We shall not stop now to inquire into the reason of this. Suffice it to note that we are usually more interested in actions and events than in mere objects or scenes. There is about the former an element of uncertainty and surprise ; we seldom know just what to expect next and our attention is therefore kept on the alert. And whatever we are interested in witnessing we are likewise interested in hearing or telling about. Here then let us begin.
Select from your past experience any incident that had for the time being an interest of its own, no matter how trivial. Be assured that anything which
survives in your memory and which suggests itself to you now derives from some source sufficient importance to make it worth relating. Nor is it necessary for you to trouble yourself about the source of that importance. Tell in a simple and straightforward manner just what occurred, what you did or what you saw done, without any additions or exaggerations. But first, after you have selected the occurrence to be related, fix upon an appropriate title. Our general subject is “An Incident,” but this is rather too indefinite to serve any purpose besides that of a figure-head, and should be resorted to only when you can find nothing that is at once short and appropriate and more specific. The following are given as examples of
Particular Subjects :
A Severe Lesson.
The Interrupted Sermon. One Way to Cross a Muddy Trapping a Mouse.
Street. Catching a Tartar.
Well Merited. Nature's Revenge.
A Surprised Jap.
A Practical Joke.
How I Lost My Breakfast.
It is not likely that any of these subjects will suit the incident
have in mind. Indeed some of them have no meaning except in connection with the particular incident related. They are offered merely as examples of suitable and attractive titles. They have
been selected from subjects actually written upon and will give some hint as to the variety of material that may be used.
If you have followed implicitly the few directions given in the preceding exercise and have caught the spirit of the suggestions, the essay you have written may be called an example of simple narration. That is to say, it deals almost exclusively with actions and events, with things that take place in succession in a certain order, and that consume time, no matter how little or how much, in their occurrence. Further, in your essay there are, or should be, no embellishments ; leave such things for later work. No irrelevant facts should be given, no unnecessary words should be used. If what you have written shows in any of these respects a deviation from what was desired, rewrite it, adhering as closely as possible to facts and making use of the simplest and most natural language at your command. If you feel that you have already done this as faithfully as you can, take the following skeleton instead and write out in full the incident suggested by it:
shore — boy
calculate -— leap — recoil — pre
Tell the story either in the first person or in the third, from the standpoint of the chief actor or from
that of an eye-witness. As the incident is purely imaginary you will have great freedom in the choice of minor details but will be met by the difficulty of telling them precisely as they might actually happen. Your object will be to make the incident seem entirely real and lifelike, to arouse and hold the reader's interest. Therefore picture to yourself the occurrence as vividly as you can. Then tell it naturally, in the past tense and indicative mode, and with no hint of anything fictitious about it.
The following may be studied as a model of this kind of composition. Do not assume that all the models here given are perfect or even excellent of their kind. Many of them are simply good specimens of work that has been done by students. It may well be that you can produce better.
ALMOST A RUNAWAY.
As I was passing the post-office yesterday morning a sudden gust of wind caught the corner of my cloak and sent it flapping out wildly behind me. A horse standing by the pavement took fright at the noise and the bright color of the cloak-lining. He wheeled around abruptly, overturning the buggy to which he was harnessed and throwing out its sole occupant, a little boy. I was very much alarmed when I saw that the boy held on to the lines as the horse started to run, and that he and the vehicle were being dragged along dangerously close to each other. Fortunately, at this juncture, a man sprang forward, and seizing the horse by the bridle before he had fairly started, succeeded in checking and quieting him. Little damage had been done. The boy got up, scared but unhurt. I drew my offending garment closer about me and passed on.