In "Two on Two," Brian Doyle has crafted an economic piece that breaks many writing rules and at the same superbly conveys the personal rules he values: passion, loyalty and devotion. The theme of love pervades this two-page essay as well as his other writing. "I had someone write to me once that all I ever really write about is love. Love thorough or insufficient. It's true I guess."
The piece is perfectly symmetrical, containing only four paragraphs, each a sentence. The first two begin like a fairy tale, "Once upon a time," and are written in the past tense. The second two, in the present tense, end like a prayer; "ever and ever, amen." "At first, I had written much more description about the action and plays of the game. In both halves. Then I decided it slowed it down too much and I wanted it to move faster. Like the game. I wanted it to convey how much I was feeling, the joy of it and a sense of the quickness of the game. The liquid, fluid grace."
His disregard for the rules of grammar and his love of the semi-colon help achieve this outcome. "I believe that sometimes the rules can be too confining. "I just sort of launched into it … (and) I think breaking the grammar rules helps in this case."
He loves the genre of nonfiction and collects ideas somewhat haphazardly on slips of papers he finds everywhere in his pockets. It was just after having this experience with his children that he jotted down the words "Two on Two" on a piece of paper and wrote the essay shortly afterwards. "I have things I think are good, but I let them sit for a while" and percolate.
Doyle sticks to nonfiction writing: I can't imagine "how people write fiction, making up worlds. I have enough trouble understanding the layers in the one I'm living in. This genre (creative nonfiction) gives you a certain kind of freedom to discover things you didn't know when you began."
His writing career began at age 11 when he wrote a piece he gave to his mother called "A Faux Letter from Hell" refusing her admission. Since then he has published over 100 pieces all of which he labels "personal essays or familiar essays as Epstein calls them. He has also written some literary essays on William Blake, Stevenson, and Graham Greene.
"Get to the point," he answered immediately, when I asked what advice he can offer newer writers. "I usually have a speech I make to my students. "Cut to the chase. Tell a tale. All things are stories; romance, work, education, religion and stories are how we most commonly and easily eat information, eat the world; so the storyteller has enormous power and pop if the story is naked. The best tales are direct and unadorned."
"Two on Two" is a great example of exactly that.