Daily Archives: May 8, 2014

Mindfulness: Raisins and the Writer

Mindfulness is the buzz word, isn’t it? Or is it just because I live in California?

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I attended a yoga class last week. The lesson for the day, including climbing like spiders up the wall, was about mindful eating. Each of us was offered a raisin—yes, singular—and instructed to hold it close to our eyes and observe its wrinkles and crusty sparkles.

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Then we smelled it. Essence of sugary, ripe jam.

Then we were asked to listen to it. “Horton Hears A Who,” anyone?

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Yes, we listened to those tiny raisin voices as we held them close to our ears and rolled them between our thumbs and forefingers. Mine squeaked.

“Please, I know you’re going to eat me. Can we just get this over with?”

Yoga is a cruel sport, isn’t it?

Finally, we were asked to put those raisins on our tongues and roll them around in our mouths for a full minute before being allowed to chew.

In much less than one minute, I knew I didn’t have the mindful moral fiber it takes to be a true yogi. I wanted to chew that soggy, yet crystalline, drop of zero taste and swallow. Then I wanted to grab a whole handful of those little squeakers, stuff my mouth, and grind away, turning them into a sweet mass of gumminess. That, my friends, is how you get the real flavor of raisins.

The solitary fleck of grit in the universe of my mouth was—

“Chew!” said the instructor. “Chew! Chew! Chew!”

My train had already left the station.

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I must remember to do this

Let’s move the focus from my flawed moral character to how “one vs. many” plays out with language. Despite the lovely alliteration, repetition and raisins should not be bedfellows.

A whole handful of examples (adverbs being one) will often not make the experience that much sweeter, richer, or more textured for the reader. It usually achieves the opposite. Instead of strengthening the effect, the writer steeps weak tea. Instead of making the prose rich, the writer sews the empty pockets of a pauper. Instead of making the prose more muscular, the writer births a 98 pound weakling.

Shoot me now before I have to read another cliché in a string of clichés.

The moral of the story is this. Whenever you’re tempted to:

  • create characters whose purpose is redundant (or worse, nonexistent), eliminate or combine two or more characters to achieve the same effect.
  • indulge in repetitive sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters that don’t move the story forward, cut and/or combine.
  • use weak verbs “strengthened” by adverbs, select strong verbs and cut the adverbs.
  • create weak dialogue and surrounding exposition that relies on adverbs (commonly called “two-by-fours”) or repetition to get the point across, take the opposite approach. Dialogue means you’re in scene. Show one single telling detail (not two or three or four) that conveys the essence of the character or character’s reaction, thoughts, or physical trait. Extra points for doing this via dialogue instead of in the exposition used to anchor characters in space.
  • give characters multiple actions that convey the same meaning, select one action that’s unusual to convey the essence of your point.

If there is a critical moment or action that begs repeating for fear your reader won’t “get it,” think and think again and then think some more about whether it’s necessary, or whether it’s a matter of finding a better way to say it once to make it unforgettable for the reader.

And to remind myself of these points when I’m revising, I’m going to breathe and think of:

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