Not having had much formal education and spending most of that time staring out the window, I’m still learning the fundamentals of writing. For example, an editor taught me that quotation marks should be outside the period. Another suggested that voices from multiple sources would spruce up feature stories.
Now, I’m getting instruction from an unlikely source: Edgar Allen Poe’s essay “The Philosophy of Composition.” I think all Forest Park writers could benefit from Edgar’s insights.
He starts out by saying, “Either history affords a thesis, or one is suggested by an incident of the day.” In my case, it helps if the incident of the day is a bird getting into the bedroom, the oven starting on fire or a pipe breaking in the basement.
Edgar says we should first consider the effect of our piece. Well, that’s easy. I’m looking for any kind of effect that will take up 467 words. He said to keep originality “always in view.” Well, that’s asking a bit much. If I can’t steal concepts from other columnists and catchy phrases from my neighbors, how am I going to fill the space?
As for length, Edgar thought we should keep our pieces short enough to be read in one sitting. Not a problem. He decided his poem “The Raven” should be 100 lines long but ended up with 108. Such excess of verbiage would never have been permitted by the Review.
Edgar said we should strive to make our work universally appreciable, but I’ll settle for two or three readers. It should elevate our souls with its beauty. Jeez, this guy had high standards. Tone, he said, is all important, which is why I rarely raise my voice in print.
Poe wasn’t against monotonous repetition if it served a purpose. Monotony never bothered me. As for repetition, I often ask myself, “Didn’t I already write this column three years ago?”
To achieve beauty, Edgar suggested several literary devices. Rhythm, for instance, can make the piece flow. Being Irish, I’m not acquainted with rhythm. He also favors alliteration. I can tell tall tales of timely interest, without making it sound forced.
The most startling instruction Edgar gave was to compose the ending first. I must have been staring out the window when the nun mentioned that. My sister’s a teacher and said even her third-graders knew that.
Finally, we should never burden the reader with the process of constructing the piece. That’s something only a desperate hack would do, if his topic fell apart at the last minute.
Thanks to an email from a faithful reader, I’ll have something original, beautiful and possibly rhythmic next week. To avoid painful discussions of the writing process in the future, I welcome your topic suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.