the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Category: Style and Tone

Making the Same Mistakes

by MDY

I haven’t been writing well lately. I find myself repeating the errata of my younger self: telling not showing; over-complicated plot settings; dialogue. I’ve been struggling particularly with action-based pieces: the sort where war amputees fend off zombies, or young girls hunt down vampires. “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Fast-paced plot used to be one of my strengths, but it seems to have atrophied out of years of disuse and more touchy-feely pieces. “Use it or lose it.” My work (as in professional work, not literary oeuvre) is suffering too: I repeat myself, obfuscate, resort to gross similes where I should be aiming for precision. But unlike in my personal life, these mistakes reflect a desire to change rather than an inability to do so.

It’d be all too easy to get comfortable in “my style”, in writing the way I’ve become good at doing. But I want to write stories with both flamethrowers and heart. I need to stop relying on description and metaphor to prop up my characters. Writing is an act of retrospective: you only realise what you’ve done when you read it back, never during the writing itself. Which means suffering through the same mistakes, again and again, until you can find a better way or make one. It’s an inefficient but ultimately edifying process. In all probability, the only thing harder than righting your writing is righting your self.


Writing with Feeling

by MDY

Hemingway has no heart. You get the suspicion he always cared more for the words than what they meant: “The first draft is always shit”. Technical mastery, yes, but no heart. It’s hard to write memorably without one or the other, unless you are Hemingway.

The difference between me and a carpenter is what trees we use. I’m inclined to reserve my judgement for the composition of a work, perhaps because it’s far less shameful to puncture than sentiment itself. “Human condition…is this really necessary?” We’re cowards who hide behind our craft.

Sometimes I forget about my reader. A work of masterful technique will make me purr with cleverness, but it’s the old verities put simply – love, honour, pity, et c – which she’ll remember. And remembrance is we crave, we who write. We’re cowards who hope to never die. 

Writing Live Stories

by MDY

Since my days of formative reading, I’ve been inclined to reserve all judgements – except, that is, in matters of stylistic representation. If there’s one thing which makes us all writers in some respect, it’s the telling of our own stories, the recounting and narratological adaptation of our lives into screenplays projected into the eyelids of another. In primary school, recount was the first form of writing we learnt. “Write about your excursion to the beach”; “recount a highlight moment of your holidays”. We’re all born storytellers, but that initial spark disappears all too quickly within the triptych of Exposition, Development, and Recapitulation (or, as they said in primary school, Introduction-Complication-Resolution). Focus too much on plot, and the true heart of your story – the shimmering mirage of a chance observation, an echo weathered down to diamond by memory – will fall from its ribcage to bounce down the wayside, caked in the dust and murk of polite disinterest.

When I tell stories, I make all the mistakes. Details are omitted then doubled back to by way of back-street tangents, hoisted up from the brooding corners where they’ve slunk to. Events of great magnitude are reduced to shrunken-head footnotes and strung up on beads around amusing minutiae, inflated past the point of verbobesity. I ask my audience where I was going with my story, not to create engagement via dialogue but because I’ve genuinely forgotten. I ramble, I dissociate, I laugh at my own jokes. Even the old legends – the formative writings of chance and coincidence which ricocheted me into my current status – get warped and regurgitated anew with each new telling. If my prose has a reputation for concision, my spoken word is literally eloquent: talkative, in an outward direction, with no end.

On the weekend, as I climbed a hill, I overtook a young girl who was pushing her bicycle upwards with difficulty. Her father, already some hundred metres ahead, soon noticed this filial absence and doubled back. He quietly took hold of his daughter’s bike and pushed it up to the hill’s zenith, at which she remounted and pedalled away without a backward glance. That is the sort of tale which needs no embellishment nor explanation. It is too quiet a tale to tell at parties or gatherings or first dates with people who already believe in you as a writer before you’ve even met. Its rightful place is sequestered in your empty ribcage, passing judgement on all you say is true.