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Posts Tagged ‘language’

Firstly, this is where my mind went after I typed this week’s post title:

This song brings such a strong emotional response to me, that it’s actually a really good representation of my task for the next few weeks.

I am now in preparation for not one but two open mic nights.  I decided not to focus on new work for the next one, but to get some neglected work up to the necessary quality.

It’s all about getting the mood and the language in harmony, really – finding the right word at the right time in the poem.

I’ll give you an example I am trying to fix: I wrote a poem about walking in the countryside; it’s a painting-inspired and natural poem in which I used the word crepuscular. Not a good choice: too technical, a little unwieldy and unattractive, and put in to shorten a line rather than because it’s the right word.

In a long poem a single word might not stand out, but this one is so wrong it needs a precision removal and an artistic, fluid word to go in its place. Not sure what but I have a few weeks to find something!

Editing is the hardest part of writing but when I do find the right word it is immeasurably satisfying!

So here’s to being inspired by Tracy Chapman and to making my poems as good as they can be.

Happy writing, and listening!

EJ

🙂

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I am sure I am not alone in getting all sorts of strange comments sent to me at the blog.

Recently there has been a decided change because they are nearly all in Spanish.

Normally I just check and trash but having them come through in a different language is quite educational. I try to read them, at least basically, to learn a little.

I am sure you have seen the ones in English that look like random words have been picked from a dictionary; the Spanish ones may well be the same, but at least a word or two are sticking in my brain!

Long term readers may remember that I was trying to use words from other languages or with different roots to English for a mini poetry project. Sadly, after a few efforts it felt a bit forced, and it didn’t last as a concept.

In reading the Spanish spam, I remember that languages have different sound and feel different when you form them in your mouth – that perhaps linguistic choices have to be made differently for a performance piece.

So, once our slightly shortened open mic is done I can think about something new, something with a Spanish feel, for the next time.

And I am already working on the next time.

So when you next clear out your spam, have a quick look at what’s appeared: who knows if it might actually be worth reading!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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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 is my drama show and every night is dedicated to trying desperately to act the part of a competent performer.

It’s funny that one of the biggest learning points from my current course is about purpose, and yet I only really got my head around it by being in the drama group.

Every movement in a scene has to have purpose – we are moving left to right to reveal something, conceal something, interact with something.

That is true of writing, but somehow it is easier to learn from physical experience than it is from academic instruction.

Purpose means cutting words that add nothing, replacing words with better ones, making every word in your story count. Purpose means each scene, each sentence in fact, brings something to the story that needs to be there.

This is a lesson I learnt in principle but am not always great at applying to my prose.  I feel in control of purpose in poetry but I can’t apply the skills across my stories and I really don’t know why.

It’s probably in the revision phase, but I haven’t got to the updated study on that yet…

If I can keep in mind what I have understood about purpose on stage and can apply it consistently and appropriately on the page, I am sure it will have a significant impact on the quality of my output.

Watch this space…

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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This week has been another non-writing one, because sometime life is a juggling act and I can’t take on that extra ball yet.  It’s been a week in which sleep is too precious to miss and most of my time has been spent in various stages of packing.  Moving house is stressful, even if it isn’t your house!

I have foregone writing to cope with living, really…

However, after another visit to the hospital I have some more ideas to play with in setting, I will be returning to my coursework tomorrow lunchtime, and I have promised myself faithfully that tomorrow evening I will spend at least an hour writing.

I don’t know what yet, it might just be a stream of consciousness.  Or swear words.  Either way, I will be launching myself back into my writing work within 24 hours!

I also want to read a book to focus on language this week; I may not finish but I’ll give it a try.

I have a SMART plan, in business speak.  Now I just need to work smartly to get it all done.

Happy writing,

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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