“Information is the enemy of beauty,” memoirist Mary Karr posted on her site the other day.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I have written reams of memoir material, which includes clearly remembered and rigorously validated “facts,” that prove “The story I’m telling you really happened.”
I delivered a chapter excerpt to a recommended, high-quality, critical reader — a published poet. We would have a zoom meeting to review. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he began… “Well… there’s …. a LOT in here…” A lot of detail.
Apparently, that’s not what matters to a reader.
A reader must have space in which to insert themself, to imagine, to empathize. It seems more detail not only slows the plot, it prevents a reader from identifying with the situation.
Easy to get into a story of heartbreak, caused by a family rift. Romeo and Juliet.
Not so easy, perhaps, if it’s a heartbreak, a family rift, and a description of the chair, and background detail on a city, and a grand philosophical theme, and two movie references in which that theme appeared, if you squinted just right.
Where were we? Oh, that’s right… keeping the reader engaged and in touch with a beautiful story by avoiding excess information.
Isn’t that what Mary wrote? No! she distilled it to poetry.
“Information is the enemy of beauty.”
That’s like Curly in CIty Slickers telling Billy Crystal that the secret of life is “One thing…. and you’ve got to figure out what that is.”
But that’s why it’s true. It is oblique and spacious.
And it is also why I’ve struggled to complete and publish my book. My brain does not sift information like Mary’s or like another memoirist/teacher, Debra Monroe.
Debra taught that the key to the key to writing a gripping story arc is to be able to anticipate the reader’s psychology.
(I don’t do Debra’s teaching justice by summarizing, but I won’t do it justice by elaborating further either. Paradox.)
The necessary takeaway right now is that these two pieces of advice — “Anticipate readers’ psychology” and “reduce information to enhance beauty” run starkly against what I now am learning is my “neurotype.” A brain function that cannot distinguish subtle cues and runs on high octane information storage and overload.
I don’t want a neurotype! <SLAP!>I AM a neurotype! <SLAP!> My head reels like Faye Dunaway in Chinatown.
How far is an explanation from an excuse, and who gets to say?
This is ironic, given that much of my memoir focuses on the double-edged sword of labeling: label, so I can understand, fix, accommodate; avoid label, so I am not stigmatized.
TMI;NB. Too much information. No Beauty.