Tag Archives: storytelling

Mixing it up.

What we’re doing when we write and revise fiction is what composers had to do before the digital age made push-button music possible. Yes, if they’d had the electronic tools today’s musicians have, they’d have used them. But think of what the great maestros like Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner accomplished back then, with only their brains. Like them, novelists are orchestrating complicated pieces with many players to communicate messages, although the cognitive aspect of our form of communication is as significant as its emotional impact (see my post, “It’s All In The Family,” https://wp.me/p30cCH-1xh).

It’s no coincidence that many songs tell stories, because musical and lexical art have much in common. So when you write and revise a story, let its internal song help guide your efforts to communicate.

WHAT THE HELL

Too bad revising fiction isn’t as easy as clicking buttons and twisting knobs

It’s starting to look like I’ll have a new novel on offer this fall. Indie, of course, since I seem to be persona non grata in the world of literary agents. C’est la vie.

I have another project I’m going to query agents on later in the year, but that’s probably my last shot at the Big Time, I’m afraid. I’ve thrown my best stuff at them and they ain’t biting. A bloke gets weary you know, and a bloke gets cranky too, so I doubt that I’ll have the emotional wherewithal to go the agent route for future work after that one.

But this forthcoming indie book is perfect for self-publishing because it’s timely, it’s political, it’s unorthodox (in some ways at least), and it probably wouldn’t stand a chance in New York. I’ve already designed…

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The Elephant in the Room.

Somebody in the room said Dan Piraro drew this cartoon.

Idioms, and Why We Need Them.

Writing gurus commonly condemn idioms, and label them as clichés (cliché means “click”). In their haughty opinions, the use of any such well known expression constitutes old, tired, weak writing, and must be avoided or purged.

One reason why this attitude is not correct is that idioms occur in every language. Another reason is that not everyone has heard every idiom. For example, there may be no German idioms that correspond closely to many English idioms.

English idioms not found in German.

This does not mean that German people have no way of expressing the concepts that these particular idioms convey, but only that their cultural context is different. Undoubtedly there are many German idioms that don’t correspond exactly to any English expressions.

A great deal of fuss is made about our “increasingly global” community, but I believe that this is not the true state of affairs. Back in a more cosmopolitan time, people who were literate were usually expected to have learned more languages than their mother tongue. This means that many people had extensive access to the richness of other cultures, as expressed through their varied languages. These days, not only are fewer Anglophone people than ever learning other languages, but also the expert exemplars of language usage – writers – are being exhorted to abandon the most colorful parts of English speech: adjectives, adverbs, and idioms.

Real people use idioms in their speech every day, and we who write fiction about people in the Parallel Universe need to make fictional people’s lives read plausibly. If it’s not plausible for a real or a fictional life to proceed unwaveringly along a perfectly plotted path, it’s not plausible to purge traditional idioms from fictional people’s speech. If you write fiction, and are having some trouble with coming up with realistic dialogue, why not read some lists of idioms, and then write whatever snippets of conversation may come to mind? You may find the meat of many good scenes that way.

Idioms distill the human experience of millennia into brief, succinct statements that do, indeed “click” with their audience. Idioms are the germinating seeds of storytelling. The language of an idiom provides instant mental imagery, which reassures readers that they perfectly understand the text at that moment. Text that cannot paint a picture in the mind is only a collection of marks on a page. Mental imagery is the lifeblood of writing. Writing that lacks mental imagery is dull, hollow, and dead.

Drain your writing of its lifeblood language at your risk!

 

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Do You Write Leitmotifs?

People seek storytellers who can meet their need to find patterns in life.

Leitmotif is how this is done.

leit·mo·tif

also leit·mo·tiv (līt′mō-tēf′)

n.

1. A melodic passage or phrase, especially in Wagnerian opera, associated with a specific character, situation, or element.
2. A dominant and recurring theme, as in a novel.

[German Leitmotiv : leiten, to lead (from Middle High German, from Old High German leitan; see leit- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots) + Motiv, motif(from French motif; see motif).]
Source: American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Irish Firebrands features both thematic and character leitmotifs, perhaps because I like to write to music, and developed a “soundtrack” over the three years it took to write the novel. But this kind of writing certainly doesn’t have to be confined to Literary Fiction, just as melodic leitmotifs don’t have to be confined to Wagnerian opera. Below is a famous example of specifically leitmotif-based music that’s combined with a story: Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. (And the cat in the picture looks just like mine!) 🙂

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