One of the best pieces of writing advice I've ever read is to never say one thing, always say two. In the dialogue chapter from Sol Stein's How to Grow a Novel, he says that well-written dialogue isn't natural (although perhaps the best-written dialogue may seem that way). Dialogue from a novel must reveal something about the character, or the motivation, or the relationship between the characters. It can't ever just mean what it says.
Although the advice makes sense to me, I didn't really believe how important it was to say have that extra layer of meaning until I started reading other novels with that in mind. When I started to pay attention to parts of books I found boring, it turned out that they dragged most when they meant what they said, and only what they said. Until I took that to heart, I thought I wrote good dialogue, that I had a good ear for natural speech. But years of reading court transcripts, particularly my own, show that natural speech is the farthest thing you would want to read in a novel. There is a morbid fascination with seeing how many times per sentence one person can say "okay" (I average 2.3 per sentence), that train-wreck impulse doesn't propel people to purchase books, I imagine.
I think that the say-two-things rule makes writing better across all entertainment mediums, not just novels. The emails, blog posts, and tweets I'm most proud of are the ones I can cram as many different subtexts into as the words can hold. I suppose that why I enjoy dirty jokes so much--manage a double entendre, and that's already two things right there. See? You thought I was warped from spending countless formative hours watching Beavis and Butthead, but in fact I'm being literary, pursuing density of thought and speech.
But sometimes density doesn't always serve. I wanted to blog about my fish tank, just because I spent a bunch of time scrubbing it out so it was on my mind. And I'm sure if I thought about it long enough, I could come up with some literary motif or moral lesson about cleaning the tank, perhaps something about reflections or about the importance of balancing fish and plants to maintain the environment.
But it all seemed pretty contrived, and I was afraid that the reflection theme might make people notice that my tank reflects a living room as untidy as the algae-coated tank. And really, the whole point of the fish tank is because it's a mental oasis, a quiet place to zone out, follow the fish, watch the soft stream from the bubblers. To relax.
So because I've been feeling relaxed and happy, and because I want to share something I enjoy, I only have one real thing to say today, and that is:
Look at my fish!
|36-gallon tank, natural driftwood, 8 plants, 2 angels, 7 glowlight tetras, 3 emerald corydoras, |
and at least 2, possibly 3 otocinclus catfish (they're hard to spot)