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Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

I have recently been working on finding quotes about a variety of concepts.  I started by looking things up for my wall at work, where my Action for Happiness poster is a little lonely because I have taken down some photos – I need to change things up sometimes!

I have subsequently been looking for quotes for other things, and other people.

I am not sure why they help but they do.  Perhaps it is the knowledge we are not alone in feeling something, or that a positive thought has a positive impact, or even that it gives us a different way of looking at things.

Whatever it is, it’s actually quite fun to look at lists of quotes.  As you may remember I was even inspired by a quote to write my poem Cicero and now I am pulling together a new set list I may well use that technique again.

There is power in words to inspire, delight, agitate and infuriate – and all of these can spur the writing imagination. Plus you might find a comic gem or two along the way!

So quotes are now in my basket of writing tools to draw upon when I need to spur my imagination – or my sense of humour!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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Last week I talked about purpose in writing and this week I thought I would expand on the idea and talk about how word choice impacts on perception.

We see examples of this every day – from politicians to journalists and even in the most mundane conversations we might have at work or in a shop.  Word choice can make someone feel good, or leave them deflated, unsure, or scared.

It makes sense, therefore, to think hard about the type of language a character will use.

Maybe you have a cheerful, happy go lucky character who always sees the possibilities of a situation.  In conversation they would be upbeat and positive, and using a phrase like ‘I hate her’ would would be completely out of character.

That’s not to say they can’t say it – it might be a reflection of the extent to which another character should be disliked or distrusted – but that it wouldn’t be a throwaway comment like it might be for a teenager complaining about their classmate.

Of course language is also more subtle: a description of someone as being ‘unlike my friends’ instantly makes them an outsider, something other, and puts up a barrier between the narrator and the person.  A description of a group as ‘infesting’ somewhere makes them a plague or like vermin.  When your narrator says someone is ‘worn at the edges’ it tells you that the person they are describing is a little scruffy and tired looking, and your narrator is making a judgment on that basis.

There are countless examples in every book so it’s worth reading with the word choice in mind.  Change a few words in your head, and see the impact.

Word choice can fundamentally change the perception of the reader and it is incredibly important to get it right. If you want a character to be likeable, don’t make them use mean or unpleasant language.  If you want someone to be mysterious, don’t make them verbose.

The same principle applies to all elements of writing: scenes, descriptions, expositions all need to be approached with a clear view of how to convey your message, your story, through the words you choose.

That is the best way possible to share the world you imagine with your reader.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

 

 

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This week I am sharing a poem that is very special to me – W.H. Auden’s ‘Carry Her Over The Water‘; partly because it’s Valentine’s Day and partly because it’s a poetic example of what I have been learning recently about style, setting and language.

I hope you enjoy it, and for those people who know why it is special, I hope it brings back some happy memories!

Carry Her Over the Water, by W.H. Auden

Carry her over the water,
And set her down under the tree,
Where the culvers white all days and all night,
And the winds from every quarter,
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

Put a gold ring on her finger,
And press her close to your heart,
While the fish in the lake snapshots take,
And the frog, that sanguine singer,
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

The streets shall flock to your marriage,
The houses turn round to look,
The tables and chairs say suitable prayers,
And the horses drawing your carriage
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

(I originally found this in a book of love poetry but it can also be found at allpoetry.com)

Happy Valentine’s Day reading,

EJ

🙂

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I finally finished my reading on setting at the poetry stage, and this week’s book is Penguin’s Poems for Life, selected by Laura Barber.

What I wanted to pick up was how feeling and setting interact but what I got was a little wider than that.

What I took was that description is an art.  In much the same way I am studying the importance of the right word, the power of poetry is linked to picking the right language.

For example, Seamus Heaney’s The Railway Children describes ‘shiny pouches of raindrops’ a phrase that describes their appearance, reminds the reader of the industrial nature of trains, gives a sense of something hidden within them (in this case, words) and makes them tiny gifts.  All these ideas are part of the setting of the poem: on the railway cutting.

Another example which caught my eye was Walt Whitman’s poem A Noiseless Patient Spider.  The sense that the web of a small spider could be a metaphor for life, a soul, creation was rather beautiful and unexpected.

This is a good reminder really – you can be both literal and figurative in poetry but sometimes you also need to be bold: follow a thought through its twists and turns and see if the journey is worth recording!

I had a fair number of poems I could share, different examples of poetry I love, but poetry is a particularly personal medium and my passion won’t necessarily match yours.

The best and most important point though is that truly effective writing, in whatever form, is a connection between the writer and the reader. The more you are able to bring them into your world, the more trust they will place in you and the more likely they are to lose themselves in your work.

I forget to think about poetry when concentrating on prose writing but that is very short-sighted because it means I miss opportunities to improve my work.

As a result of this reading exercise I have decided to make sure I read  at least one poem a week, analytically, to understand it and see what lessons I can learn for my own work.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I have found my writing mind wandering rather a lot over the last few days, seeking out the perfect words to start a story.

It comes, of course, from studying the importance of language and the need to find the right word.

I don’t have a story, as such: what I want is an opening line.  A selection of sounds that creates a rhythm, a selection of ideas which form a substance.  A selection that say exactly what I want them to say.

But I am torn, because I know this urge to just write has to be contained in some way: I jump into writing with no plan too often and struggle to build a back story to support my beginning.

So I am going to try a new writing exercise, an experiment in control.  I am going to work at writing a great sentence, honing it and moulding it until it is exactly what I want – and then I will put it aside and start on another one.  And then another, and another and so on. But I will not use them; instead they will sit, ready and waiting, for my planning and shaping to be done.

It feels odd and slightly ridiculous to want to find a perfect sentence and risk never using it, but that isn’t the point of the exercise.

No, the point is that all sentences deserve that level of attention – and still they might never make it into a story.  Meanwhile I will get into the habit of working harder at seeking out the exact word I need, and checking for the sound of my work, in all aspects of my writing.

I am really excited to see what I can produce!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

 

 

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I am keeping this post short as I have a lot going on tonight, and will write more on this subject another time.

This week I started a writing course about style.  A big focus of the teaching is on the effective use of language, and how we use words to convey particular and specific meanings.

I have always believed that good writing is accessible writing.  You can be the cleverest person in the world, with the widest vocabulary and the greatest ideas, but if no-one understands your meaning, you aren’t a good writer.

In fact I find part of the joy of reading those moments when you come across a word that is new to you but you know what it means because of the way it has been used. I accept I may be in the minority on that one!

I sometimes struggle to find the perfect word, that elusive set of letters that will be the crowning glory of my work. I might substitute with an approximation, which is the best way to keep writing, but I know it’s not exactly what I want to say.

And that’s the other lesson I have taken from the course: it is my job, as the writer, to find the right word.  Readers can only respond to what they are given and however good their imagination is, it is being sparked by the words on the page. If we want to take our readers on a journey into our worlds, we need to give them the right directions.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

 

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I’ve been all about the poetry again this week, whilst trying to rest up following exposure to some rather unpleasant germs – not what I want when I’m still recovering.

I find it particularly frustrating as a writer, because sluggish body = sluggish mind: I am constantly struggling to find the right word for the scene or emotion I want to convey.  I have some extremely erudite friends and I often feel the need to expand my capabilities, but even for me I’m being pretty basic at the moment.

It’s very problematic when my vocabulary lets me down.   I spend ages not just trying to think of the right word for a particular feeling, but any word that is approximately correct which I can use to hold the space…

So I am going to try to minimise the impact, and get back to reading the word for the day I get tweeted each morning – I have neglected Twitter on the basis it’s really not essential right now, but as a tool it has its uses.   And I’m going to use it!

Hopefully the next couple of week will see me get back some of my writing confidence – or if not confidence, at least ability.

In other news – this week coming is a big project week for me at work, and I will be hard pushed to get any posts written on Tuesday or Thursday; I’ve done very little reading over the last few days anyway so I don’t think you’ll be missing much, but if I get a chance I might just post a positive quote or a happy song.  It’ll be something else to think about when I need a break from project talk!

This is a short and sweet post, but that’s ok, I think.  The important thing for me is being here, and getting back into the groove.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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