Hedge Trimming – Bidding Adieu to Ambivalence
It is another glorious August morning; the dog days are past, there is a slight nip in the air, and the New England sky is taking on the vibrant blue of ear…ly autumn. A perfect day for hedge trimming.
I am not talking about shaggy privets or laurels, or overgrown rhododendron and yew turning the yard into a wilderness and begging for the touch of well-edged shears. No, I am referring to the stray equivocations that seep insidiously into our prose – wee, verbal field mice, gnawing away at our meaning. Seems to be, more or less, essentially, about, almost as if, sort of, as it were…. The list goes on with the persistence of a Minoan labyrinth.
They dilute our prose and sap our meaning. Unless spouted by a character less decisive than Hamlet’s second cousin twice removed, they are unnecessary 99.9% of the time. We know this deep in our souls, yet they continue to plague us like verbal viruses we just can’t shake.
From where does this urge to mitigate our authorial voice come?
As with most of our bad writing habits, I believe it comes from writing as we talk. And live – or strive to.
In my youth, lo so many years ago, I was taught to tread lightly through the world. Each step, each word has consequences even if they’re not immediately evident. I was also taught that truth is seldom absolute and to presume to know The Truth about anything is the height of arrogance. The pride before the fall. Call it the Rashomon Effect. (note: truths are not to be confused with facts, which, while open to interpretation are in and of themselves quantifiable constants.) In a cosmic sense, there are as many truths as there are beings in the universe. If we are lucky, we will find one or two that meet our needs, asking for more is just greedy. A venal sin, avarice.
While such life lessons served me well for being in the world, it took me years to discover – then believe – that the opposite was true for writing in the world. Writing has hedges of a different cut, and the fictive voice must be authoritarian, even dictatorial. Shed the hedges – trim them, if you will – from your prose. Cast doubt aside and rage through the landscapes of your making. Be certain. No deference to the masses or shilly-shallying will suffice. We serve the story, after all.
I know this sounds arrogant, and, well, it is. You are the architects of your novels and short stories, and no structure stands with foundations ‘sort of’ level or walls ‘roughly’ plumb. There is nothing relativistic here. As the sole creator of your universe, your truth is absolute and no one can say otherwise. But make your truth precise, memorable, and believable enough to touch. A heroine isn’t ‘rather impressive,’ she’s six feet of Artemesian grace, with a mind like Susan Sontag and the riveting gaze of the Delphi charioteer. This is a woman you not only see in your mind’s eye, but know how she’ll stack up against whatever villains come her way.
I am fond of saying the anarchist in me balks at blind obedience to even the most reasonable rules. In the case of hedging, I am more inclined than usual to set my anarchism aside. Still, if the mantle of authorial power sits uncomfortably on your shoulder and you feel compelled to equivocate, try to do so unequivocally. If you must hedge here and there to appease the spirit of your prose, let those hedges be topiaries, wild and wondrous, adding to your world, not detracting from it.