The English language has built over time and has rules of construction; just as any other builder has to follow a code, the writer should be able to don their hard hat and survey their handiwork. Kick the foundations and see if it wobbles.
In order to do this effectively the writer needs a good and up to date understanding of the rules. I recommend a yearly tune-up with a good grammar.
Of course, there are times when the correct use of grammar is simply incorrect, such as when we represent everyday speech.
Speech follows a whole different set of social rules,
Ya get me blud?
No one said you have to follow the rules all the time but it’s more fun to break them what you know are there.
I suppose everybody has their quirks. We all have those things which set us apart. Some people love a good equation, others a new pair of shoes. I love words. I love the way that they are born, evolve, grow and naturally die. I love the way that you can trace their family trees back through generations to a particular place, time and experience. I love those that make it into common usage and those which fell by the wayside. Every word tells us something about the thoughts and feelings of the people who coined it and used it. Sound, explosiveness, mouth-feel, vowel pattern speak about the history of our language and ourselves. Language is vocalised thought. Words are the history of thought. I could go on. I won’t
I will go back to quietly collecting the new and the archaic to the befuddlement of onlookers, cherishing my map of morphology and polishing the odd verb, because I am an unashamed word nerd.
And the best bit is, I get to use all of them and any of them at any time.
Isn’t that the basic premise of fiction? I spend all of my days writing about people who don’t do the things I say and certainly aren’t in the places I mention. Usually they aren’t even real people. In fact I am a great big “Liar liar pants on fire” most of the time.
The funny thing is that amongst all the fibs, of which there are many, the thing I am searching for is the truth. The truth of what it means to be human. The truth and mechanics of relationships. To engage a reader in a story you have to find the spark of recognition, the place where a reader realises yes I know this, I have lived this, this man is like me.
In order to get to that place your writing has to remain true to your character. Are you trying to make a person behave in a way they simply wouldn’t? Does it ring true? You see people really don’t step outside their normal range of behaviour unless they are placed in extreme circumstances and even then it is unusual.
So figure out what your character’s usual reactions would be and then you will know if you step outside them. If you are going there, do it with purpose and conviction. There are times when you can use this fact to advantage but it must be with a character your audience knows very well and I think possibly several books into a series just to shake up the pace. Part of the truth behind people is that we do things for certain reasons; sometimes we don’t know the reason, sometimes we have some insight. We are complicated and understanding and using complicated characters to get to the truth is just about the highest goal of literary fiction.
I have found a surprising reluctance in many of my friends and colleagues to visit the pen-smiths of the past. I agree that many of the works written in the 19th century are so far removed from modern journalistic style that they seem to represent a different species rather than a different time. The 20th century brings long descriptive passages and worthiness doesn’t it? Don’t ever assume that you know a writer’s work on reputation alone. Dickens!
If you make assumptions about literature then you run the risk of missing out on those writers and passages of prose that sing with you. Sometimes you find literary joy in the strangest of places.
My personal discovery this year was Proust. I’m not a literary snob, I read everything including shampoo bottles and cereal packets but I had assumed that Proust was probably not for me.
( Assumptions, pah!)
I approached the first tome of “La recherche du temps perdu ” in trepidation.
I found literary description that you could bathe in. Proust sings with me.
Now, not everyone you read will click with you. That isn’t a deficiency in their writing or in your understanding, that is just the joy of difference. Go out into the world and find those writers who ” Sing with you “. and you will gain more than you ever thought possible.
Oh, and the occasional Dead White Male will be a Woman.
We read a lot. Books, magazines, cereal packets, shampoo bottles. Sometimes even the previous day’s work. We also collect words. Words are scrumptious. Words make thoughts.
words make write good
I’m being silly now but you get the point. If you want to write my friends then you need to read.
Read as though you are afraid someone will take the words away. Read things you like. Read things you dislike. Read things you might like. Put the words in there. The words make thoughts. Then thoughts make words. Like bunnies only less hoppy.
Today I read “How not to write Bad” by Ben Yagoda. It’s an excellent overview of common writing problems and how to avoid them if that’s your bag. Of course you might not want to avoid them. Look at you smarty pants.