The above title is a Latin motto which means ‘The Art Is To Conceal The Arts’. To properly awe an audience with the performance of a difficult task, it is often necessary to make it appear easy.
A comedian, commenting about the Olympics, said that all he understands about gymnastics is this; he hopped into the air, and landed on his feet, perfectly erect, and said, “That’s good!” He hopped into the air again, and landed leaning slightly backward, so that he had to put a foot back to keep from falling over, and said, “That’s bad!” To win gold, you have to make it look easy.
I recently had the chance to read the beginning of an online novel by a writer who, like many of us, hopes to be a published author. He’s a member of a highly respected profession. He’s intelligent and well educated. He has a (reasonably) good vocabulary and grasp of grammar and composition. What he is not, is an author – or writer.
I only managed to read the first three paragraphs, before I had to stop, or suffer nausea and vertigo. Here are the three paragraphs. Remember to take Gravol. (Americans may take Dramamine.)
You are on the beach, watching the swaying of the waves. The waves sweep across the steeps like a flock of stampeding sheep speeding over the steppes, the snaking waves hissing over the driftwood steeped in the sandy wrack.
A squadron of gulls lifts uneasily into the air and then dissipates against the grey sky. You look meaningly at the gulls. They hover, the flurry of gulls. The gulls lull heavily in the air, squealing their dull squeals.
You incline your head downward and stare at the inrushing waves, each one a hungry-mouthed sheep, coming toward you ravenously. The water is deliquescent twenty feet from the shore. Beyond the shoal the surface seems lacquered, solid, unbreachable, enameled, brackish, thick, as if it were a spreading mass of viscous aquatic jelly. From the shore you cannot fathom, through the spume lid, the pelagic fathoms. The lake’s lid is swarming with wavelets, each one undulant and alive—afroth, the lake’s lip, frosting wisps.
That opening is almost as bad as, “It was a dark and stormy night.” This thing has more verbiage slathered on than icing on a Wal-Mart birthday cake. This is like the parlor of a Nevada brothel – cheap, gaudy and ostentatious. Typos, overdone alliteration, excess words, redundant words, repetitive words, overly ornate words, eight-dollar words, employed to seem interesting and impressive, but used incorrectly. Steppes, and steeps, and stampeding sheeps – oh my.
To ‘look meaningly’ is to use a facial expression to convey information to another person. You cannot look meaningly at seagulls, because their tiny bird-brains don’t get it. And speaking of seagulls, I can think of five verbs to describe the noise they make. ‘Dull squeals’ is not on the list.
Deliquescent means; The process of a solid dissolving or becoming liquid through the absorption of moisture from the atmosphere. That obviously is not happening here. It’s a good, solid, proud word. It’s just hanging out in the wrong neighborhood.
Instead of smooth, clear, economical communication, this writer seems to have gone out of his way to confuse and impress, and say, ‘Look how much work I went to, to attract and hold your attention.’ It is not concealed. (But it should be!)
I recently re-read E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Subspace Encounter. Doc was the mentor who taught Robert Heinlein much about writing. An engineer by trade, Doc always used the exactly correct word, and the exactly correct number of words.
In this book, he has Mankind meet another galactic civilization. Physically, they are Human, but their society is vastly different. Not cruel, but they are pragmatic to the point of making the Spartans look like soft amateurs.
To identify their empire, he coins the word ‘Justiciate.’ This is literary irony. It is like referring to The People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea. It is not ‘for or by the people.’ It is not a democracy, and it is not a Republic. There is little ‘justice’ in a society, where the ruler of 180 planets is identified as the Supreme Tyrant. And the supreme ruler of the red-skinned sect, who wants to kill 90% of those of other skin colors and keep the rest as slaves – identifies himself as The Grand Justice.
Having invented the Justiciate, Doc went on to invent an interplanetary monetary unit for them – the Junex, meaning the Justiciate Unit of Exchange. For an imaginary empire, he created imaginary money to give believability. No sheeps or steeps or gulls were needed.
As a young adult, I missed much of his precision. Re-reading it now, with life experience, I have a greater appreciation. He made it look easy, when it really wasn’t. I’m glad Jim Wheeler made me do it. 😀