Posts Tagged ‘words’

Love Letter to MikeTheBlogger

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

It turns out this love letter needs a prologue. So here it is.

I’ve known of MikeTheBlogger since he was born and certain of my siblings babysat him. I don’t think we ever spoke until a couple of years ago. To be honest, the only reason we talked was because a few years before that his mother (unbeknownst to him) gave me a copy of something he wrote. No expectations. Just, here. (But of course she was hoping for validation of her son’s talent. Which she got, only I don’t think I told her that because the words belonged to MikeTheBlogger.)

So, okay. I read his words and, unlike every other piece of writing that comes to me from people who don’t know me in my writing life, I not only got past the first page, I got to the last one.

I read them and I kept thinking, I can’t show this to my agent because it’s not ready yet, but I think she’d be interested if it were. So, not ready to show to agents or editors in that form, but in a couple of drafts it would be.

To my knowledge he didn’t do the drafts I hoped he would.

Then he started blogging and that same voice rolled out. Sharp and bitter, wrapped up in vulnerability. So I talked to him again. By then self-publishing had taken hold, so even though any of the Big 5 would probably buy a project from him, he had options.

But to my knowledge, he didn’t work up anything up that he got out there. Maybe he did, but I believe if he had, he’d have sold something.

Dude.

Do over. Allow me to speak your language.

Dude, Jesus fucking Christ, what the hell, motherfucker?

Words are a gift for the writer who can put them on the page and make people feel. That’s your gift. And the very best writers are the ones who sit there in despair saying “I suck so fucking bad at this why am I even doing this?”

Because the words are there and they won’t go away.

And that’s where gap theory comes in. (We talked about this at your birthday party. I’m not sure you were sober, but whatever.)

The very best writers transport us, and the readers who are born with writing in their souls know those words are very, very good. And they see all the ways their own words are not. They forget they’re reading the written, re-written, edited, revised, re-revised, complete redo, re-edited copy edited and proofread version.

MikeTheBlogger, your worst words are better than 99.99% of the other words out there. You only see the gap between you and authors you love for their words.

Until you take a piece of dreck first draft work and work on it until you see places where it’s really good, and where you’ve actually written a story, goddamnit-how did that happen?-you won’t learn that your very, very good words belong. In your voice that is not anyone else’s.

There’s no guarantee of outside success in writing words. But if you have words in your heart, you should be writing them.

Please do.

 

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Precision

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

One thing a writer should possess is a keen understanding of the meaning of words. Words are, after all, the tools of the trade. We need to know which word to use in this place, a decision that should be driven by the words that precede and follow. A single word comes with shadings, multiple meanings — which shading and which meaning are derived from the context.

Take, for example, the word spell.

  • How do you spell letter?
  • Can you spell me for a bit? I’ve been awake for 20 hours.
  • Come sit a spell.
  • I am under his spell.
  • The witch cast a spell.

Indeed a word with multiple meanings. Each meaning comes loaded with information. Suppose you were thinking of spell in the last sense listed. The witch cast a spell. There are lots of words we could choose instead but not as a direct replacement. enchantment, glamor, hex. If I thought harder about it, I’m sure I would come up with more (bespelled, ensorcelled, see?). Each choice requires that the sentence be cast (heh!) in a slightly different way, each choice affects more than the meaning of the words, the choice affects whether the sentence is makes us think of danger, deception, illusion or something else.

A writer needs to make deliberate choices. I used this word here for a reason. Maybe to call attention to itself. Maybe to pave the way for something yet to come. Perhaps to call attention to some other portion of the writing. You are shaping the story through the words you choose. To do this, you absolutely must understand the nuances. You must satisfy the perquisites of the word. If, for example, you chose the word refute, then you have implied a precedence of logic. Something before had a flaw in its logical structure and at the place where you have chosen to use this word, you darn well better have set up your choice. It does not mean mere disagreement. It implies someone or something has the power to disprove. There is power in this word and by your choice of it, you have the ability to to draw us a character whose mind is impressive or who lacks the wit to, in fact, refute anything.

Sloppy use of words does not make for strong writing. Don’t choose a word because everyone else does in this situation. Choose it because it works here. In this place. Surrounded by these words.

I was moved to this post because I just finished an otherwise delightful book that was spoiled, for me, by imprecision.

When you use words, you are calling upon powerful magic.

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Weekend Report

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

I’ve been working on the last chapter most of the day. It’s not done yet. At this point, I’m not even sure it’s the last chapter anymore. I may need to continue it to another chapter. It’s going well enough, I guess. I also worked on the requirements for the Master’s final project. Very tedious, let me tell you. But the title page is done, copyright page, authorization page, and abstract, which took longer than I wanted, plus the acknowledgment. That makes all the parts done.

My new resolution is to stop stressing over whether Magellan’s Witch is crossing some lines. I’m transgressing some genre rules and right now I just say too darn bad. There’s going to be a HEA** because without that I’m not transgressing, I’m writing something that’s not romance. This book is definitely romance, but some conventions I’ve just thrown out the window for now.

**Happily Ever After

Lastly, I’m listening to Paolo Nutini’s These Streets and I’m just loving this album. Every once in a while his Scottish accent comes out and it’s just awesomely sexy. Not to mention I’ve always had a fondness for being able to hear the voice and lyrics, too. The best part is the lyrics are quite nuanced so it’s not painful to hear them more than once. Makes me wonder what his music will be like when he’s actually got some maturity on him.

Here’s a just a portion of a longer song (mindful that this portion is acoustic guitar, minor key and sung slowly, also that these particular lyrics are, for some reason, not in the liner notes, so if they’re not accurate, that’s my fault.)

a great sense of passing through
a great sense of passing through
a great sense of passing. . . . through
Oh, for once there was beauty
here for me
Under these wide Northern skies
I felt the green was blacker
And the blues darker still
My roots are lying deeper than I ever think they will
I know
Heartache and poesy under these Northern skies.
a great sense of passing through
a great sense of passing through
a great sense of ….. you

For me, that pause after the third passing is chilling. The images are gorgeous, and the final replacement of passing makes these lyrics reach meaning far beyond the words. Not to mention the use of the word poesy. Now, it’s quite possible he’s saying poetry but I listened several times and that’s what I kept hearing.

In fact, consider this my latest sharing of poetry.

Back to work.

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More poetry — with a mystery at the end

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Since it’s still National Poetry Month, here’s another favorite poem of mine. My Last Duchess by Robert Browning (1842). When I read this poem (for the Brit. Lit survey I took right before grad school) I immediately saw this poem as a nice compact lesson for fiction writers. My analysis of that below:

Ferrara
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
"Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
Over my Lady’s wrist too much," or "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart — how shall I say? — too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace — all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men, — good! but thanked
Somehow — I know not how — as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech — (which I have not) — to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark" — and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
–E’en then would be some stooping, and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

OK, so what do you think? Did the Duke murder his first wife? And what’s going to happen to the next one? If you care about such things, Wikipedia has a pretty good article about the poem.

Browning never once mentions murder or evil intent, and yet the Duke is simply not a nice man. He chills your blood doesn’t he?

When you’re writing fiction, you need to do what Browning has done in this poem. Make the reader know someone is a murderer without actually telling. Well, yeah. If it were easy, we’d all be Robert Browning, right?

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