Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?



Raymond Carver was a master storyteller, and a new audiobook contains many of his early stories, showing his development as a writer. They are classic character studies, with simple plots like some of Hemingway’s first stories were. The depth of observation is evident in both the exposition and dialogue, but only for readers or listeners paying attention. Subtle nuances in reaction are telling, and so what is not said becomes as important as what is. Today, of course, pop fiction is about fast actions and one-liners told by two dimensional characters. Little meaning, more explosives. (Otherwise readers get bored.) Yet this a trained response. We have been deadened to violence, and so don’t understand what literature is trying to do: to explain by illustration the motivations of individuals. The best stories are those which keep you thinking, and which don’t end with a cliche “bang.” The goal of literary writers is to write something that hasn’t been written before. To present a slice of life dilemma, not necessarily with an answer. Often just stating the problem or situation is enough, but in a unique way as the point of view pulls away, as in the movie Five Easy Pieces, or the Ray Bradbury story “I See You Never.” Carver is funny at times, and there are uncomfortable moments too. Not gratuitous, but driven by who the character is: an unflinching view. One cannot blame the author for being honest. (Or at least one shouldn’t.) The only thing that detracts from enjoyment today is in the dialogue. The overuse of the word “said.” Some pages or minutes contain over a dozen repetitions of it. (“Yes, of course,” she said. “Really?” he said. “Oh yes,” she said.) Never “he replied” or “she responded.” Said is better than “he growled,” as any writing teacher will tell you, but one doesn’t have to use it as often as he does. At least, writing today, one doesn’t. (Carver died in 1988.) The more modern approach is to use it only when the reader may be unclear who is speaking. (“Yes, of course, she said. “Really?” “Oh yes.”) Reminded me of listening to the dialogue of college students, in order to get that dialogue right: “He was like, ‘why did you do that,’ and she was like ‘Why not?’ and I mean, like, how can they, like, talk like that?” SAID vs LIKE. Sticks out, and takes you out of your suspension of, like, disbelief…he said. No one should be quiet if they have something to say. Some quotes on this include, “Read first, then think, then speak.” Or, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as WE are.”

 Now step up to the microphone…see “About.”


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