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bear by san

March 2017

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writing goddamned verbs slithytove

break in the sun till the sun breaks down, and death shall have no dominion.

Last night the writerchat was talking about poetry and its density of image, the layering of meaning and contrameaning, the conflict between what a poem may say, on one level, and what it may demonstrate in contravention of what it's saying. It was a good conversation, and it left me thinking about prose.

And specifically, that I want many of the same things from a good novel that I want from a good poem, on a prose level. I want the writer to have been aware of connotation and denotation and cognates when he was writing, and puns. I want him to really think about his words and use them such that the sound of the language tells you something in addition to the language itself. Among and amongst are different words, and which one the writer chooses is important.

There are no synonyms.

At the end of Refining Fire, for example, there's a sentence in which Falkner's coat droops in her hand. That coat is symbolically important, and coffeeem and I went through any number of verbs to find the right one. But wings droop, and ears droop, and spirits droop. So the coat had to droop too, and not dangle or hang or swing or cascade or trail. Well, you know, it could have trailed, maybe. Because banners trail. It also might have sagged. Maybe. But the drooping won out, and it was important.

Likewise, there's a scene in Ink and Steel wherein I used every English word derived from the Latin raptus* that I could manage. (Yes, it's that scene. You know the one.) Rapture, rape, raptor, rapt, rapine--

Why did I do it? Because these associations work not in the forebrain, necessarily, but in the back of your head, the place where you process connotation and emotion and feel things, where your gut emotions live. Because it makes a difference, whether or not the reader notices it. Perhaps especially if the reader does not notice it. Because this is part of the craft and attention to detail that makes good writing.

Now, having written that down, I shall now go do these other things I need to do.  Though I am a slow-moving life form this morning, and not very focused. But at least I have tea and raspberries, and the starter is fed so I can make bread for tomorrow morning.

And of course in no wise can I work without a cat upon my knee.



* raptus, meaning, “seized and taken, kidnapped by force, snatched hold of and then taken hostage, carried off or away.”

Comments

*Thank you* for saying that.

After far too many people claiming that Dan Brown doesn't write great sentences so they don't need to either, I needed this. It tells me that maybe I'm not crazy after all.

Anyway, I want to write like you whenIgrowup, not like them *grin*
Well sure, in this world you can get away with doing an awful lot of slovenly work. That doesn't mean you *should*!!!

Besides, why rob yourself of a useful tool?

J.K. Rowling doesn't write great sentences either. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't attempt to.
This is the kind of thing I was talking about on the SU forums when I said that it would be easier to be tormented about the characters (of I&S) if I weren't admiring the craft.

I think I know exactly enough about writing craft to notice things like that a little more consciously than not, and be distracted from the story by how awesome they are. On one hand, I'm glad that I can notice things like that; on the other, it's distraction from the story. Sacrifices I make for my writing, I guess.
Eventually, that stops being distracting and starts being part of the pleasure of reading.

The price you pay is that you will discover that bad prose becomes incredibly distracting. And you'll probably go through a 2-6 year period when you can't read fiction at all.
Thank you! That explains a lot about why I, the un-analytical, appreciate your work so much. Even I, who will never write anything deeper than a journal entry, often ponder the right word to convey exactly the nuance I want. Words matter.
Hooray! No more cultural cringe, no more thinking it's a compliment to call someone's prose "poetic". Prose pride!
Yep, that'd be why my poetry-scholar's heart glommed onto your stuff instantly.
Ah....

It's the writers who get this whose books I keep coming back to like touchstones.
And I despair, sometimes, of ever learning to write like this myself (at least consistently).

Thank you for posts like these - it's helpful to see concepts like this, that I know instinctively, put into concrete words. It's also encouraging to see it explained as work... because I don't know about other would-be writers, but I have this horrible tendency to think that "it all just comes naturally" to those of you who are flourishing in your craft.

Slightly tangential: it was fascination with how words affect people in the hindbrain like this that almost led me to study linguistics or semantics or both in college. But then I got lazy and studied Getting Out Quickly instead.
No, it's really more like a 20-year learning curve, if not longer. (I've been writing since I was in first grade--writing with the idea I might be a professional writer someday, I mean--and I am still learning thirty years later.)

So no, you don't just do stuff automatically!
I'm surprised that any writer would think word choice unimportant...

Crafting prose is a gift and though books exist without careful phrasing and choice words, are those the books we want to read?

There has to be something for everyone.

Funny...my blog post slated for tomorrow is on being a logophile...and choosing 'just the right word' and how important it is. To me.
I agree that there are no synonyms, and one way in which I display that feeling when I write is by not using the word "like" and instead using the words "such as" when prefacing lists, because I don't believe that two things can be exactly alike.
This is where I'm going to refer my husband the next time we get into *that* argument about my writing. The one where he keeps telling me it's a good story, and I should send it, and I keep telling him that the story may be good, but the words are bad.
Well, eventually you do have to release them, you know.
You have just perfectly captured why I love English and am incapable of learning other languages. I think in connotations, which the words rising from deep in my right brain to be translated to language by my left brain, so trying to teach me solely in denotation is impossible. The words slide right off. Even simple things, like how a cup is different from a mug is different from a glass, are in the connotation, since they all are things you put liquid in and drink from.

Oddly enough, the introduction of Internet slang into my speech has actually increased my vocabulary for this reason; the connotation for *sadface* being different from the connotation for sad.
Yes, yes, yes.

In the past year I'm finally understanding, at a gut-emotional-intuitive level, that Mark Twain saying about the right word. I've started to get it that I can say so much with one right word that before took me sentences to accomplish--and badly, at that.
Yes.

And it's the iceberg again. There's the craft people can see and enjoy... and that should be visible, can even have shiny flashy sparkly bits. Then there's the massive amount that's below the surface of conscious thought. ::cuts metaphor short before she gets to global climate change::

If only someone would create a thesaurus where I can search for 'a word with the same core meaning but saggier and with connotations of disgust... no not disdain... disgust' ::grins::
Hee. Yes.
well, thank you. *g*

The next one is out!
This is why your stuff, and Le Guin's, and C.S. Friedman's, and P.C.Hodgell are on the pile of books to go back to again and again and again, and J.K.Rowling's are not. Substance and the lack of.

Also, cat is a necessary part of the creative process, which is why I have a bar stool next to my drafting table for the cat to sit on while I paint.
Cat may BE my creative process.