Monday, March 19, 2007

Tastes Right

I do all sorts of things as a writer and critiquer on the basis of how they taste to me, whether the words feel right in my mouth as I'm mentally speaking them—I always internally voice as I'm writing, perhaps because I came to writing from theater.

The best example of this comes from a critique I did for Sean. There was a sentence where I wanted one word changed—I don't remember which one now, but that doesn't really matter. It was one of a large number of suggestions. Sean was pretty happy with most of them, ignored some, and wanted to understand what I was thinking with others. This was one of those last and the conversation went something like this:

Sean: Why did you suggest this change? I think you're right, but I'm not sure why.
Kelly: It just tasted better.
Sean: But why did it taste better?
Kelly: It just did.
Sean:...(waiting patiently)
Kelly: (unable to let the silence stay silent, begins mentally unpacking the process) Let me think about it...

It turned out that when pressed I had six separate reasons for wanting this one word changed. For me, the change reinforced something in the sentence, reinforced something in the paragraph, reinforced one of the story's themes, amped up a plot point, showed a contrast between character voice pre and post traumatic event, and removed a slightly clumsy related word repetition.

I've found that's usually the case when my brain says something tastes better rather than opting for a specific reason—my sub-conscious has a bunch of reasons to change something and is too lazy to articulate them all without being pressed. My new structural sense is definitely a tasting thing because it's hugely complex. I trust it in part because I know that the taste of something is very important for my process, but I still want to unpack it because I enjoy unpacking.

Praise? Flames? Fresh flavors.


Anonymous said...

I recall this episode, and asking that question. As soon as Kelly mentioned that it tasted right, I knew--intutively--what he meant. But I've noted from past interactions that I'm going to learn a lot more if I push the question--if, as Kelly notes, I just wait patiently.

Believe me, patience does NOT come naturally to me. I'd as soon fill up that empty space with a verbal digression in which I hope to fumble through to something resembling an answer--and which would likely have as much content as this sentence. But I am learning to wait for the experienced person to realize that they are toting around all kinds of tools in their rucksack, and if I hang around long enough, they'll swing that sucker down off their back and sort through it. What I get is often well worth the wait.

I now use this technique, and its counterpart, a slightly acerbic "taste" that indicates something is off kilter. It's exceedingly difficult to meta-process the writing of the story while simultaneously doing it, and when I go back to read it, I often know what I wanted it to be and slip right past those sticky areas. But I'm trying to culture those "tasete buds" into flagging my writing brain and saying not good enough, fix this spot or Danger! Danger! when the creative process is going.

Kelly Swails said...

Usually I say it doesn't "feel" right, or "This makes my brain itch." But, "taste." Yeah, that's it.