« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Thus far we have endeavored to confine ourselves to the plainest kind of narration, to the faithful and straightforward relation of real or imaginary occurrences. Read again the model given in Exercise II. Notice how entirely devoid it is of anything foreign to the subject or of anything in the nature of ornament. Every word is necessary, and you feel that every word is true. The writer depends solely upon the inherent interestingness of the story to arouse the interest of the reader. In two places only — in the adverb wildly and the adjective offending - is there the slightest approach toward anything extraneous. But even these words, apart from their ornamental office, convey ideas that cannot well be omitted. Now compare with that selection the following:
A DUDE'S DISCOMFITURE.
It was at the Southern Pacific Depot. We were sitting in a car of an outbound suburban train, looking out of the window, waiting for the train's departure. A young fellow, whose dress proclaimed him a “dude,” came sauntering down the depot platform, watching the people who were descending from a train that had just arrived. Three girls, talking and laughing merrily together, seemed to absorb his attention. As he passed by he turned his head to watch them, when he was suddenly brought to a standstill by coming into collision with one of the pillars of the arcade. A particularly merry laugh from the girls just then, who may or may not have seen him, made him flush hotly. He glanced up at our car. We at least had seen him, and the row of smiling faces that filled the windows from one end of the car
to the other was not comforting. He hurried away, doubtless reflecting that this is an unsympathetic world.
Here again the writer has told his story for the most part very simply and naturally. But, if you will observe carefully, there is something here that has been inserted not so much for accurate representation as for effect. The climax is heightened and colored just a little, and at the end a bit of gratuitous speculation contributes to a more graceful close. The difference may be compared to the difference produced by the retouching of a photograph. It is just such touches as these that make a part of the difference between the great mass of writing and that portion of it which usually goes by the name of literature.
Now rewrite your last essay — the incident developed from the skeleton given in Exercise II. — introducing as easily and skillfully as you can, a few of these touches.
The other day Will, Fred, Tom, and myself, were out for a ramble in the woods when we came upon a small pond on the bank of which was a raft. It did not take us long to decide that we wanted a ride, and so all four of us stepped aboard and shoved off. Will stood in the « bow” and directed the course of the craft, while the rest of us poled her along from the stern.
The pond was full of reeds and high grass, and was nowhere more than four feet deep. Here and there were old, moss-covered logs or little mounds protruding above the surface of the water.
After poling around in the deepest parts for some time, we decided to go for a cruise entirely around the pond. At one end we found a place where it was very difficult to navigate on account of the shallowness of the water and the great number of logs. This place we named the Northwest Passage. After much trouble we succeeded in getting through and were going along at good speed when suddenly we struck a stone which our pilot had not seen because it did not reach to the surface. The sudden shock threw Will off, and as there were now three of us on one side and the balancing weight was removed from the other, the raft tipped and we also fell in.
We waded ashore with all possible speed but were afraid to go home in such a plight. Fortunately we had some matches which were not wet, and, having built a fire and sat around it for several hours drying off, we set out for home where we arrived just in time for dinner.
When we spoke of faithful and accurate narration as distinguished from a somewhat ornamental style of writing, we did not mean to imply that the latter wanders from fidelity or accuracy. By no means. Such a wandering would, under ordinary circumstances, be quite inexcusable. But there are always very many things which, while perfectly true or existent, are yet not at all essential to the understanding of the incident. For example, in the case of the first incident cited here, “ Almost a Runaway,” it may have been entirely true that the horse was black, that the buggy was new, that the cloak-lining was scarlet, that the gentleman who caught the horse was lame. But, while the introduction of these facts would have given us a more accurate picture of this particular incident, it would not have helped our understanding of what took place, of the incident itself. In so far, then, these facts are extra
neous and unnecessary. Of course we may use them if we like, for they have an office of their own. But even here we must draw a distinction ; they are not equally available. Admiration of the gentleman's deed would be increased by the knowledge that he performed it in spite of some physical disadvantage. We could imagine the horse's fright more readily if we knew the color of the cloak-lining to be scarlet, because this is a violent color and more exciting than a tamer one. We can even conceive how our interest might be slightly increased if we were told that the buggy was new, because the magnitude of the damage would in that case be increased. But can you imagine any purpose that would be served by telling us the horse was black? It is surely not to be supposed that black horses take fright any more easily than those of any other color, or that they are any more dangerous when they do.
Not every fact then may be introduced simply because it is a fact. If it does not assist to a clearer understanding of the narrative, it must have some other justification for its insertion. This justification we find in a vital, active relation between it and the main facts of the narrative, which contributes to the interest and effectiveness of the whole.
Consider for a moment again the other selection, 6 A Dude's Discomfiture.” The information in regard to the young man's dress is wholly unnecessary ; is it likewise ineffective? No; for we are less ready to sympathize with one whose consideration for externals betrays a lack of depth in his nature. The knowledge here given us helps us to enjoy more unreservedly the humor of the situation. And so fully has the writer
appreciated this that he has even ventured to incorporate in his title this unessential feature of the incident.
The matter stands simply thus : That which is essential we must use ; that which is effective only we may use ; all else we had better omit.
Select another incident — your daily life is so full of them that you can never exhaust subjects of this class
and write it out with such fullness of detail and such unessential touches as your judgment shall dictate.
The following selection, taken from How Santa Claus Came to Simpson's Bar, by Bret Harte, shows what can be done in the way of embellishing a narrative by a master of the literary art. If any portions seem unnatural or overwrought, it must be remembered that this is only a fragment of the story ; the portion which precedes fully prepares the reader for everything that is given here. “ Dick” takes a wild ride of fifty miles the night before Christmas to bring some presents to a sick boy. His object is to reach the “Old Man's cabin before dawn.
The storm had cleared away, the air was brisk and cold, the outlines of adjacent landmarks were distinct, but it was half past four before Dick reached the meeting-house and the crossing of the county road. To avoid the rising grade he had taken a longer and more circuitous road, in whose viscid mud Jovita sank fetlock deep at every bound. It was a poor preparation for a steady ascent of five miles more ; but Jovita, gathering her legs under her, took it with her usual blind, unreasoning fury, and a half hour later reached the long level that led to Rattlesnake Creek. Another half hour would bring him to the creek. He threw the reins lightly upon the neck of the mare, chirruped to her, and began to sing.
Suddenly Jovita shied with a bound that would have unseated a less practised rider. Hanging to her rein was a figure that had