Friday, January 7, 2011

Avoiding Unnecessary Detail, Twain-Style

by Scott Rhoades

I decided to dust off my 1899 edition of Mark Twain's The American Claimant and Other Stories and Sketches, one of two Twain novels that I don't think I've ever read. It starts with a short little thing that I have read before, but it's a good reminder to all authors. It reminds me somewhat of Steinbeck's "Hooptedoodle" prologue to Sweet Thursday, about not overdoing the deatails that get in the way of a story, only, of course, Twain beat Steinbeck by several decades. So, here it is, for your enjoyment and edification.


No weather will be found in this book. This is an attempt to pull a book through without weather. It being the first attempt of the kind in fictitious literature, it may prove a failure, but it seemed worth the while of some dare-devil person to try it, and the author was in just the mood.

Many a reader who wanted to read a tale through was not able to do it because of delays on account of the weather. Nothing breaks up an author's progress like having to stop every few pages to fuss-up the weather. Thus it is plain that persistent intrusions of weather are bad for both reader and author.

Of course weather is necessary to a narrative of human experience. That is conceded. But it ought to be put where it will not be in the way; where it will not interrupt the flow of the narrative. And it ought to be the ablest weather that can be had, not ignorant, poor-quality, amateur weather. Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article of it. The present author can do only a few trifling ordinary kinds of weather, and he cannot do those very good. So it has seemed wisest to borrow such weather as is necessary for the book from qualified and recognized experts--giving credit, of course. This weather will be found over in the back part of the book, out of the way. See Appendix. The reader is requested to turn over and help himself from time to time as he goes along.

1 comment:

Julie Daines said...

What can I say...Mark Twain rocks. Who else would even think to write that?