The path to the power of a good sentence is constantly riddled with a real temptation to overwrite. This temptation has this ubiquitous, looming presence of a demon that wields its power at will, but that presence creates discipline. So I like to look upon this presence and its causative discipline as a sensitive dependence on initial conditions, which I call the SDIC in writing. I developed this ethos after reading an article on Wikipedia about chaos theory, which “is a branch of mathematics focusing on the study of chaos . . . The butterfly effect, an underlying principle of chaos, describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state (meaning that there is sensitive dependence on initial conditions).”
My own writing experience has demonstrated this principle of chaos, wherein a final edit (a later state) often results in a large difference. As a result, mathematical subjects such as the Feigenbaum constant and the Mandelbrot set have both become interesting subjects to me even as a writer, particularly an editor, because it would seem that writing is a deterministic nonlinear system that begins in, dare I say, complete chaos. (This YouTube video explores these mathematical subjects fascinatingly.) My understanding of such principles and theories have impacted and led me to a deeper understanding of the process of not only becoming but being a writer. So please allow me to illustrate this process using a narrative excerpt from my first novel, What’s in a Name.
The correct shade of Lena’s ring finger returned, but then it went numb. She opened and closed her hand to try to break the numbness.
The correct shade of Lena’s ring finger returned, but then it went numb. She repeatedly opened and closed her hand.
Without providing you with any additional context, I have illustrated a difference between these two propositions, both of which are concerned with the same action/event. But something has created what could be seen as an appreciable difference between them that also could be considered large from an editorial perspective. That something is the fact that the second has been properly edited.
The edit that was made to the second sentence of the second proposition renders the action incisive.
I used this illustration to demonstrate that there is SDIC in editing in particular (for without that initial draft there could not be the polished result). Therefore, the objective of the editing process ought to be storytelling communication. This is the kind of writing wherein the writer dispenses with any verbosity, ornateness or overwriting to achieve a finished product that has a degree of finesse.
Take the syntactic theory of pied-piping, for example. According to professor John Lawler, a retired grammarian from the University of Michigan, it can lead to “such mind-numbing spectra of nonrestrictive relatives.” Now have a look at the following post on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange and read professor Lawler’s response: “What kind of structure with a relative pronoun is this?”
The first proposition in the above illustration is a matter of what could be the result when one merely writes (or drafts): wordiness, over-explaining. The second exemplifies the reason why I depend on, or ascribe to, SDIC in writing as I do in editing as well. That reason is to tell a story. It also exemplifies what I have coined as my “brand” of writing, which is storytelling communication. What this means is that, simply, storytelling is analogous to communication. Consequently, my goal is to say something succinctly while making the description vivid. This, of course, takes practice and requires that I maintain focus on sedulous craftsmanship.
I encourage other writers to become familiar with some of the many theories, concepts and syntactic structures in English, such as whiz-deletion, heavy noun phrase movement, “movement” rules, filler-gap dependency and islands, and A-Raising. I have discovered that being aware of these and how to use them have helped me parse sentences correctly, create vivid descriptions and express profound thoughts. These capabilities could help, I believe, reify storytelling communication.
Perhaps consequently, I have learned that I lean towards being a prescriptivist rather than a relativist when it comes on to English grammar. According to ThoughtCo.com, “A key aspect of traditional grammar, prescriptivism is generally characterized by a concern for good, proper, or correct usage.” The idioms and the inconsistencies of English are a kind of chaos that helps me learn the craft of a good sentence because they push me to make sense of those very idioms and inconsistencies. In the process of this crafting, the writing of the draft (you can read “Garie’s thoughts on the writing process”), I discovered that there is this sensitive dependence on initial conditions. In turn, SDIC has become a personal metaphor for a writerly emotional integrity.
The writing and publishing mistakes that I made used to scare me, so I thought I needed to hide or disguise them. But I quickly discovered that I could not afford to be equivocal about them. This discovery happened when I realized that my writing is a personal journey and also when I discovered that it has a sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Add that discovery to the fact that I strive for trustworthiness—honesty—in my work. Trustworthiness, I have learned, is comprised of three things for which I have another acronym: CRH. It stands for competence, reliability and honesty. So I have asked myself, What is my competence? What is my reliability? What is my honesty? Please allow me to share my answers with you:
How did I arrive at this point of understanding that CRH is an integral part of the process? There was a sensitive dependence on initial conditions. I can now be grateful for my own perceived failures because I also now know they weren’t failures after all.
I’ve been trying to find my purpose.
March 17, 2021