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Vol. 11, No. 3, 2012
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Donald Dewey has published 31 books of fiction, nonfiction and drama. His latest books, both to be published later this month (June, 2012), are the novel Wake Up and Smell the Bees and the nonfiction Ray Arcel --- A Boxing Biography.

Any writer worth his paprika has been accused at one time or another -- and probably a few more times than that -- of submitting a manuscript deemed ‘overwritten.’ Sometimes the criticism is truly true, the writer having shown too much of a penchant for doubling up on adjectives, adverbs and other modifiers when just one would have done very qualitatively, thank you very much. What ‘overwritten’ actually means in these circumstances is insecurity about entrusting to one single uniquely appropriate word the weighty responsibility of rendering the idea in question being discussed.

At other times not covered by this first possibility, the ‘overwritten’ judgment is a matter of an editor or an intern or the slush pile supervisor not being willing to put up with thoughts interrupted by semi-colons; this happens. And yet again, there are the occasions every once in awhile when the writer unburdens himself or herself or whomever of such subtle insights that no sight from a second person penetrates to the depths of those meditations, as was famously the case, say, for example, with Ayn Rand when the first handler of her phlegmatically elusive writings ruled them “overwritten trash.” Let not the pathetic perceptiveness in that instance overshadow the greater truth: Overwriting does live and exist.

But what we sometimes overlook even in admitting that overwriting exists is that we ourselves --- not just the common detached we circulating in society --- have been exposed to it as much as book, magazine and blog editors; that is to say, i.e., not doubting its existence has paradoxically more often than not disguised its presence before us. One of overwriting's most overt manifestations confronting all of us in daily mass amusement life, to cite just one obscured instance, has been at the movie theater where the combined forces of screenwriters, directors, producers, actors and projectionists show little hesitation about delivering ten endings for every motion picture film. There are, of course, advantages to this, especially in the particular case of murder mysteries or suspense thrillers. By coming up with serial endings at the end of the story, the screenwriter, director, producer, actors and projectionist are saved from having to choose one specific ending that concludes the picture, insinuating a banal decisiveness that could be construed as an antagonism toward a certain character. Another word (or two) for overwriting in this context is ‘interactive creativity,’ permitting every member of the audience to feel vindicated for his or her or whatever's suspicions all along. Nobody is alienated; or left disappointed about having spent so much for so little validation of one's encrusted cynicism about the motives of others.

What should also be kept in mind is that the interactive creativity form of overwriting is no mere technical device for pandering to democratic, financially rewarding inclusiveness; implicit in this kind of overwriting is what the Germans call a Weltanschauung in the German language. There is nothing less than an entire proactive worldview in the notion that everybody and simultaneously nobody has been guilty in, say, for example, a murder mystery. By not settling smugly on one villain but rather by suggesting through an endless succession of endings that everybody and anybody was or could have been or more logically should have been the villain, the writer, the director, the producer, the actors and the projectionist are indicting the whole human race for its perversity and nefariousness, no man, woman or child from the Arctic to the Antarctic left out. Ultimately in the end, that kind of overwriting comes out as a vision --- not unlike the kind that has produced round-the-clock cop and lawyer shows on television to satisfy the social assumption that everybody walking the planet, really or potentially or either, is guilty and needs a good attorney to get off.

For those of us who zap on the wrong channel, political rhetoric has become another public pit of overwriting. Once upon a time in the past, it was sufficient to brand a scurrilous opponent a leftist, there being patriotic confidence that this immediately summoned up images of the Soviet Army tramping on parade through Moscow's Red Square or of millions of robotic Chinese charging over a hill in their North Face jackets cuddling their odd looking machine guns. But of late, however, it has become the habit of common practice to particularize the leftist as a “Harvard leftist” or a “Berkeley leftist,” as if the vox populi (voice of the people) cared one way or any other what kind of fiendish Red was at issue. Similarly, on the other hand, there has been a glib tendency in the new millennium since 2000 to accuse certain governors, ex-governors and changed-their-minds-about-being-governor-in-midterm of being “moronic imbeciles.” This form of overwriting plays fast, loose and at several other speeds with the distinction between morons (who want to return to the glory days of the racism, sexism, and McCarthyism of the 1950s) and imbeciles (who believe this 'is' the 1950s). It goes without saying, but should be said anyway, that this haziness of ideological thought only cheapens the level of political discourse in the nation and in its territories.

One might have thought with a little thinking that religion would have been as immune, or at least as insensitive to overwriting as it is to just about everything else. But alas and alack, this has not been to be. The imminent end of the world as documented by the Mayans has been larded to incoherence by Fundamentalists who insist on rescuing from the ruin of the Rapture 163 people in whom Jesus believes, by Catholics who argue there will never really be an ending end as long as a great gate guarded by a shaggy old man with wings and a big ledger can be built upon wispy clouds, by Muslims who envision an infinite harem on the other side of the Mayan gloom, by Orthodox Jews who say they still have more settlements to build on the West Bank so what's the rush, and by atheists who don't believe in any world, near extinction or not. About the only thing all these people agree on is that sex should be indulged only for creating more people who might or might not believe in some kind of end of the world. In theology this is called irony but not necessarily a paradox.

In other words not used so far but existing in any dictionary, writers should not feel rejection for being told they have overwritten. By themselves they have never been less alone.

Also by Donald Dewey:
Writers As Ideas
Let Them Entertain Us
It's a Kindergarten Life
Being and Disconnectedness
History of Humour in the Cinema
Cartoon Power



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Maybe it's the font, but you lost me around the third paragraph. This prose is like traipsing through the jungle to find a banana. Possibly . . . overwritten. (I know it seems like the facile cheap shot, but I do think it could have benefitted from a more ruthless editor).
The article on overwriting is a scream. Who's the sourpuss who didn't get it?


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