Cheese Puffs, Part 3

Part 1 & Part 2

The first thing (after the punching) that struck me was the huge difference in the quantity of proper nouns between these two pieces, even in just a couple paragraphs. (And I will say, this probably jumped out at me because it’s something I’m guilty of doing myself.)

TROE: Lux, London, Northern Line

TOFGB: Friday, Hastings Channel 8, Friday, Hyundai, 7-Eleven, Mother Teresa, Hastings Gas & Electric, Whittle Advertising, Mother Teresa, Pencil Face, HG&E

Obviously some proper nouns are necessary. If it’s something/someone that’s going to come up again, you need to be able to refer to it w/o launching into a sentence-long description every time. Others are necessary to establish certain facts (like where the story takes place). But others are just noise. It seems to me that if you’re using proper nouns as shorthand, then maybe an actual description would be a better choice. In some cases, a generic would do just as well and be less distracting. (It would definitely wear better over the long-term.)

TROE:

  • Lux. Raises questions. Who is Lux and why is her presence unsettling? Probably the most important of the three words.
  • London. Establishes setting. Even if you’ve never been there, the word “London” is very evocative. That one word contains a whole bundle of images/sounds/textures/etc.
  • Northern Line. Adds authenticity to setting. I’ve never been to London, so I couldn’t tell you if there actually is a Northern Line, but it sounds real, and that makes the author and, in turn her narrator, sound like she knows what she’s talking about.

TOFGB:

  • Friday. Establishes that it’s the end of a long, hard week.
  • Hastings Channel 8. Establishes that the narrator works for a TV station in “Hastings”. The problem I have with “Hastings” is that it’s meaningless. Unlike London, I don’t get an immediate picture when I hear the word, and, in fact, I assume that it’s fictional. Just “Channel 8” or the “local TV station” would have worked here.
  • Friday. —
  • Hyundai. Establishes that the narrator drives an economy car that she doesn’t maintain, but is the brand of the car important? My “crappy car” or my “crappy hatchback” would probably work just as well.
  • 7-Eleven. Establishes that the narrator purchases her morning coffee at a convenience store, despite the fact she doesn’t seem to enjoy it. Probably means she gets up too late to make her own coffee (or that she doesn’t know how). Probably also means that she’s too broke to purchase a better cup of coffee at a coffeeshop. All good. But again, brand-name isn’t really important. “Cheap convenience store coffee” would have worked as well.
  • Mother Teresa. Pop culture reference, used as shorthand to mean a good person.
  • Hastings Gas & Electric. Establishes the little guy / Big Guy dynamic. Meant to ally the reader with the narrator. A proper name makes it easier to refer to later on. But it also implies that the town has its own independent electric utility—which makes me wonder how big a “Big Guy” it can be.
  • Whittle Advertising. Establishes that narrator lost her advertising job (and now has a job she hates) because of someone else’s mistake. The name of the agency doesn’t really add anything (it is the name of the narrator’s former boss), but it makes it easier to refer to later.
  • Mother Teresa. —
  • Pencil Face. A nickname the narrator has given the defense lawyer. Meant to further ally the reader with the narrator. This can be effective in moderation.
  • HG&E. —

These two excerpts have approximately the same number of words, but the TROE excerpt consists of 16 sentences (longest sentence: 28 words), while the TOFGB excerpt consists of just 8 sentences (longest sentence: 51 words). I don’t know if that’s typical of the literary/mainstream divide–obviously I’d have to look at more examples to say for sure–but I thought it was striking.

To be continued…

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