As a novice writer I’m always downplaying my proficiencies in composition. I simply focus on getting some message across and not on impressing you dear readers. My grasp of grammar has always been a bit outside of the box and as a result my grades in grammar were nothing to be shaking a stick at.
When it came to studying sentence structure and meaning, I was at a loss to understand why the answer to certain questions about what certain sentences meant were always ‘carved in stone’, so to speak. I always found myself with multiple meanings derived for any given sentence no matter what. I wasn’t adding ‘imagined’ details either. I was simply deducing detail from the words I read.
About the ninth-grade there was a quiz in which the class was asked to explain the meaning of a particular sentence. The answer space was a set of three lines on which the answer was to be filled in. I came up with at least three answers and simply employed the one I deemed best. I got a ‘C+’ on that quiz.
The sentence in question was about a girl, and either something she was doing or thinking about that conveyed a bit of emotion or mental dedication with a tangible amount of conviction on her part. To me the ‘right’ answer left a lot of this complete sentence unspoken for. The question was; ‘what is the meaning of the following sentence?’ I just went, “Bummer,” when I got my paper back. Most of the questions were of the same nature.
I still see multiple meanings in sentences and yet I still find myself ‘not’ ascribing, or injecting anything from my imagination into what I read. Sure, I inject visual imagery as I read but, that is how I follow along with the train of thoughts straight off the page. Take this sentence for example;
“The fan, high up on the far wall, vibrated and rattled, sending its hum through every wall in the warehouse.”
Easily surmised is that there is a noisy fan in a warehouse. Its location is apparently at one end of the building and high up. The vibration occurring permeates the room.
Next step on, we don’t know certain details such as the size of anything. ‘Warehouse’ lightly implies a large space but we cannot be sure. We also don’t know if this sentence is past tense or present tense. There are no sentences surrounding it to give us a clue. It could easily be either.
Visually, we can accentuate the sentence with imagery from our mind. We can rapidly evolve multiple spaces with a myriad of details for the ‘fan’, the walls, the ceiling (though un-writ), the floor (though un-writ), windows, doors, light fixtures, shelves, racks, people, and anything else imaginable, into the sentence. The level of extrapolation is limited only by our ability to ‘imagine’.
To push it even farther ‘is the floor waxed’? How many windows are there? Haw many doors? How many lights? How big is the fan? Is the room square, rectangular, circular, triangular, or a hybrid form of any of these? Is there sunlight coming in from anywhere? What color are any of the surfaces? The ‘blanks’ can be filled in with any number of infinite answers from an open mind. It can easily be taken up to and beyond the ‘absurd’. Is the structure at the bottom of a lake created by the damming of a small creek that resulted in the current overabundance of water for a small quiet community?
Aha! “The fan would not work underwater!” You say. I counter with; “The sentence never states that there is any electricity running to the fan.” (Maybe it’s next to a broken window and when the floodgates are open the flow of water turns the blades.) (I’ll swing back over the lip of the frying pan now.)
Controlling such mental extravagances is a part of using language. Some writers compose simplistically, yet their words are still powerful and thought provoking. “Jane Mathews”, of Luling, Texas comes to mind. Her poetry is simple yet eloquent and very down to earth in a way that easily transfixes from the first line. On the other end of the spectrum are those who write with so much detail and depth that a simple glance seems to reveal sentences of ‘gibberish’. We all know that hackers hide worms and viruses in ‘gibberish’ text. If you’ve ever tried to read one of those things I’m sure you didn’t hang into it for very long. The details you can inject into writing are limitless but the ability of the average reader to follow along fall off as the detail increases.
Writers must be judicious with detail. Readers can get lost with either too much, or not enough. Lines of words and punctuation are like a high-tension-wire. Writing is an art of balance and writers will always be judged by what they do ‘up there’.
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