Monday, March 30, 2009

Smoking Warning!

I've had this Reg Mombassa postcard hanging up next to my computer at work for years. It never fails to cheer me up, even on a Monday!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Things That A Writer Must Avoid

I found an excellent and helpful list of things a writer must avoid, assembled by Bioy, Borges and Silvina. Writing is not as easy as it seems, but armed with a list such as this one, the dilettante will have a sharp edge indeed!

Things That A Writer Must Avoid

- Psychological curiosities and paradoxes: murderers through kindness, suicides for happiness' sake.
- Surprising interpretations of literary works and characters: Don Juan's loathing of women, etc.
- Couples of evidently dissimilar characters: Sherlock Holmes and Watson, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
- Characters made different from one another through their little peculiarities (as in Dickens).
- Novelty and surprise; trick stories. The search for what has not yet been said seems an unworthy task for a poet in a cultured society. Civilised readers will not be pleased with the incivility of having a surprise sprung upon them.
- Pretentious distortions of space and time: Faulkner, Borges, Bioy Casares.
- The discovery that in a certain book the true hero is the jungle, the sea, the weather, the surplus-value theory. Writing books of which someone may say this.
- Poems, situations, characters with which the reader may identify himself.
- Phrases currently used or which may become catch-phrases or quotations (because they are inconsistent with a coherent text).
- Characters that may become myths.
- Characters, scenes, words typical of a certain place or of a certain historical moment. Local colour.
- Chaotic enumeration.
- Richness of vocabulary. Any word chosen as a synonym. Inversely, the mot juste. Any effort to be precise.
- Vivid descriptions. Physically rich worlds (as in Faulkner).
- Background, atmosphere, surroundings. Tropical heat, drunkenness, voices on the radio, words repeated as a refrain.
- Meteorological beginnings and endings. Meteorological and spiritual coincidences: Le vent se leve . . . Il faut tenter de vivre. ('The wind is rising . . . We must try and live.')
- Metaphors in general. In particular visual metaphors, and especially agricultural, naval, banking metaphors. (See Proust.)
- Any anthropomorphism.
- Novels in which the plot runs parallel with that of another book. (James Joyce's Ulysses.)
- Books that pretend to be menus, albums, itineraries, concerts.
- Anything that may suggest illustrations; anything that may inspire a film.
- Disapproval or praise in critical writings. Nothing is more naive than these 'dealers in the obvious' who proclaim the ineptitude of Homer, Cervantes, Milton, Moliere.
- In critical writings, all historical or biographical references. The author's personality. Psychoanalysis.
- Family scenes or erotic scenes in detective novels. Dramatic scenes in philosophical dialogues.
- Satisfying the reader's expectations: sob-stories and eroticism in romantic novels; puzzles and death in detective stories; ghosts in fantastic stories.
- Vanity, modesty, homosexuality, lack of homosexuality, suicide.