Once in a while, I come across some gem of the writer’s art that almost strikes me breathless with its beauty. The poems of John Donne are one example. The poignant first chapter of A Farewell to Arms is another. Recently, I began reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and every time I pick it up, I am nearly struck breathless with his simple, understated eloquence that touches one’s very core. Today I read a post at winebbler.wordpress.com and her simple, fun voice and flowing, relaxed style combined with playful use of the English language made for very entertaining and enjoyable reading beneath which I thought I could sense an undercurrent of growing artistic beauty.
That article made me start to think about what makes a work of writing aesthetically beautiful. After some thought, I reached the conclusion that every work of literary beauty has the same qualities as a powerful but smoothly flowing mountain stream: clarity, power, and an uninterrupted flow. But unlike a stream, a work of literary beauty must also be reasonably brief.
In every literary work I consider beautiful, the first universal characteristic that comes to mind is that the author uses a simple voice comprising simple, everyday words that anyone can understand. Writing is communication. Communication is one person disseminating ideas to others by using words, which are collections of sounds representing ideas. By using simple words everyone understands easily, the writer makes his ideas easier to disseminate. Why use a word that few can understand, when you can use a simpler word with the same meaning that everyone can understand? Therefore, our stream must be crystal clear and free of mud or anything that would hinder insight and perception.
If ideas equate to the water in our allegorical mountain stream, the precision of the component ideas, the words, give the stream its force. As I mentioned in my post “Slattery’s Tao of Writing, Part I”, words chosen for their precise meanings have power. As I said earlier in this article, words are ideas. Precise words are precise ideas. Precise ideas are powerful ideas, powerful emotionally and intellectually. Like all other forces in the universe, powerful ideas become more powerful if combined and organized with one idea leading logically, flowingly to the next. This facilitates understanding and the reading experience.
When my stream of thought is uninterrupted and powerful, I become immersed in the work. I can be swept away and can lose track of time and of everything happening around me. To my mind, every writer should aspire to instill this experience into his readers. When this happens, the writer has made an emotional and intellectual connection with his reader and the reader is grasping the writer’s ideas.
If organization is lacking, ideas are scattered like boulders in the stream and on the banks, creating rapids and breaking up the smooth flow. A powerful, disorganized stream is a torrent, destructive of everything along its banks, stiking out at random, benefiting no one. In communication, disorganization is the source of misunderstanding, the antithesis of understanding. The stream becomes destructive.
If a writer uses words his readers do not understand and they have to turn to a dictionary to find out what the writer intends, the clarity of the ideas is lost and the reading experience is muddied. Furthermore, the reading experience flows even less smoothly. Even if the reader can reason out the meanings of the words from the context, the stream of thought is still disrupted and muddied, even if to a lesser degree. The words will also lose much of their power, because the reader cannot appreciate the nuances of what he or she does not fully understand.
Lastly, every beautiful work has been reasonably brief. Reading anything exasperatingly long becomes tiresome for everyone. When readers become weary (word-weary so to speak), they can lose focus on what the writer is trying to communicate. This detracts from the reading experience just as if someone who enjoys swimming in a mountain stream can no longer enjoy their swim if they become overly fatigued with exertion.
That said, I will now close tonight’s blog before I wear you out with my ramblings.