Wednesday, October 10, 2012

From Hooptedoodle to Kreptdedoodle

In a prologue to his “Sweet Thursday,” John Steinbeck puts the words of an author into the mouth of one of his characters, who launches into a monologue about what he’d do as a writer to entertain his readers.

One of the things he mentions is hooptedoodle, which he defines as a spot in the story – really outside the story – where the author is allowed to play with language, write something pretty and entertain the audience who can skip it if he or she wishes so they can get back to the story at hand.

I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from what he says. I like some description, but not too much of that. Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. Spin us up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.
I’m a victim of what Steinbeck and Elmore Leonard call “mainly hooptedoodle,” and as I revise, I try to get rid of as much as I can bear to cut.

Then there are other authors who don’t cut it.

And, frankly, there are other authors who go beyond hooptedoodle into what I call kreptdedoodle – writing bits that are outside the story and easily skipped but so gosh-awful that you have to read it two or three times just to ponder why the author thought it was a great idea to include it.

Here’s an example from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2061 (Clarke, by the way, as his career lengthened, has become an absolute kreptedoodle artiste, which is unfortunate because I really enjoy most of what he writes).
“. . . lucky you missed the annual ball: believe it or not, it was just as grisly as last year’s And once again our resident mastodon, dear Miz Wilkinson, managed to crush her partner’s toes, even on the half-gee dance floor.

“Now this Shaka business. We know you love pulling our legs, but frankly, Jerry and I were horrified! I can see why Maggie M turned him down – yes, of course we’ve read her Olympic Lusts – very enjoyable, but too feminist for us . . .

“What a monster – I can understand why they’ve called a gang of African terrorists after him. Fancy executing his warriors if they got married! And killing all the poor cows in his wretched empire, just because they were female! Worst of all – those horrid spears they invented; shocking manners, jabbing them into people you’ve not been properly introduced to . . .

“And what a ghastly advertisement for us feys! Almost enough to make one want to switch.”
I hope you get the point. Here we have the kreptedoodle come out in a purely Vaudevilleian portrayal of homosexuality. I know it’s couched under the sci-fi cliché of tolerance and acceptance of every little thing in the distant future, winking as us provincials of the past who let divisions, well, divide us, but the way it’s written here, outside of the story, not vital to anything, is pure unadulterated kreptedoodle. I’m glad I can skip it.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of kreptedoodle in 2061, from the golly-bob-howdy revelations that passengers on a spaceship bound for Halley’s Comet can swim in the ship’s water propellant to the inclusion of everyone but white anglo-saxons to the point the only way you can figure out they’re even there in the story is that the author doesn’t have signposts pointing out with flashing bulbs that they aren’t members of some “other” ethnic or national group.

I feel like this reading kreptedoodle of this magnitude.

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