Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Power of Words (Part 3)

Stephen King is a bestselling author of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and screenplays. Look for his latest novel, Under the Dome, scheduled to come out 11/10/09.

For the last week and a half, we've been discussing the masters and their amazing use of words to create effects that resonate with readers for years. Stephen King is well on his way to joining their ranks, if he has not done so already; only time will tell.

I bring him up today because his particular style runs rampant with the ever dreaded...swear word! Yes, I'm going there.

There is an ongoing discussion around the swear word. Some believe that it is never necessary, no matter what the situation, while others are a bit more lenient and will concur that people will drop the f-bomb on certain occassions. I'm of the latter opinion. Stephen King, on the other hand, seems to take this argument to the extreme. I will admit that I am often put-off by his blatant use of some words. For one, I can't stand the "c" word or the "p" word in any situation, and I believe that it should just stay out of the literary field altogether. And it seems that he is more than willing to drop the "f" bomb even when the situation didn't necessarily call for it. But, it's his style and a lot of people love it.

The point I want to make, though, is that swear words instantly change the mood (and often, classification) of a piece. I don't care who you are, or what situation you put your characters in, if you are trying to write Middle Grade, you cannot use swear words. The moment you do, your classification has just changed to at least YA. But more than likely, you've just entered into the world of adults. And if you've spent the majority of your novel setting up one of your characters as a lady or gentleman, but just had them spew a swear word, you've lost that impression. You must be very careful in the words you use, and the swear word brings this point out better than any other.

Stephen King gets away with it (and justifies it in his book, On Writing) because he's been in the business a long time and has earned a bit of leeway from the publishing industry and his fans. And, even though he uses swear words a lot, he doesn't make his story about them, which is what a lot of amateur writers do when they want to be "impactful." Too many swear words is the equivalent of a horror movie that is more gross than scary. Yeah, you can show that someone is angry by having them swear, but it's often the cheap way to go and you run the risk of losing your audience.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Are swear words ever justified? And if so, when?


Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday's Myths--The Fairy

It seems fitting that I start Monday's Myths off with the fairy, considering that is precisely what the Auri in my book are.

The fairy, or faerie, has its origins in many different cultures all over world, though people today are most familiar with the Northern European variety. The word itself finds its roots in "fey" or "fay," which means "wee folk."

We tend to visualize stunningly beautiful little creatures with delicate wings, but depending on the culture and/or story, the fairy comes in a variety of classes. Some fairies are a form of the dead (i.e. the Banshee), while others are demons or near-demons. Near-demons were neither good enough to stay in Heaven, nor evil enough to be banished to Hell. Instead, they were cast away to live on Earth where these misvhievous little creatures would steal human babies to replace them with their own, ugly babies. These types of fairies closely resembled gnomes or trolls and flew by way of magic, rather than wings. It was not until very recently that fairies have been depicted with clear, insect-like or butterfly wings.

However, there were tales of fairies that were probably the foundation of what we tend to think of when we think of fairies. These tales told of stunningly beautiful women who would lure men to their homes in the woods (or sea) to have sexual relations with them. In fact, there is a Scandinavian tale of the Huldra, a beautiful, often naked woman with a tail who would reward men who satisfied her and kill those who did not. It is believed that this tale also led to the origin of the mermaid.

Fairies have fascinated writers throughout history, as seen in works such as A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare and countless other works dealing with King Arthur (Morgan le Fay). It will be interesting to see how the fairy will adapt to modern storytelling in the years to come.

In other news, a fellow writer, Lydia Sharp, has been gracious enough to ask me to be a guest blogger on The Sharp Angle (a blog about all things science fiction). Stop by on Wednesday, the 30th, to read my review of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot.

~Emily White

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Power of Words (Part 2)

This series could also very rightly be called, Masters of the Craft. It's impossible to talk about the power of words without also referencing the masters of them.

William Shakespeare had a handle on words that few have ever equalled. Unfortunately, as time has gone on, many readers today do not fully appreciate his work. There are phrases that moved the story along that we just don't use today. For example, when have we ever mentioned our spleen when overcome with anger? And yet, this was a common word usage in Shakespeare's time. Just as we attribute the heart to certain feelings, other organs also had their place.

This shouldn't surprise us. Just within a short time (still in living memory), many words have been given different meanings and some just don't find their place in conversation anymore. When's the last time you said you were gay in order to indicate that you were happy? Or when have we thought, "what a queer little dog" when we see a household pet acting silly? The Post-Modern generation, for the most part, does not. Our grandparents and great-grandparents may still use those phrases from time to time, but those words are quickly adapting to new meanings.

Today, a spleen is a spleen, but in Shakespeare's time it was an organ of anger.

Now why did I spend so much time explaining that? Because a master, in just a few simple words, can portray so much. Which is better? Saying, "the act of the woman surprised and saddened him" or "his heart sank?" I hope that you understand the latter is better. It portrays so much more emotion and feeling. We can relate to a sinking heart. Whereas, the first description was rather flat and the reader would have to stop and think in order to relate to the character.

When describing emotion, think about where you feel it. You feel love, sadness, hurt, etc. in your heart, but your heart does different things for each of those emotions. A loving heart is light, a sad heart is heavy, and a hurt heart, well, hurts. There are other organs that are affected as well. Don't we feel guilt in our stomach?

These words and expressions are powerful because every single person has felt them and can relate to them. And that's the key. A writer and a reader must be able to understand each other. It's all about communication, and a master communicates his point, not only beautifully, but precisely.

The series will continue next Wednesday. In the meantime, Monday will be the start of Monday's Myths where I'll introduce a new mythological character and its origins every week.

Don't forget to check in!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Power of Words (Part 1)

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

Try to start your novel like that and I guarantee you that in whatever writing group you belong to, the people will start going crazy. "It doesn't make sense," "those two things can't be true at the same time," and of course, "it doesn't pop. You should start your first scene with some kind of action."

Clearly, this is the opening of A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. Not only does that opening work, it's one of the most recognizable out of the 168 million+ published novels out there. And Charles Dickens didn't even stop there. The first paragraph (and it's a long one) repeats that contradictory format. In fact, if you keep reading, you'll see that the opening isn't contradictory at all. Instead, it sets up the theme of the book perfectly. Charles Dickens articulated the feelings prior to the French Revolution in a way that few (if any) have done better.

Some consider Dickens rather verbose. And they may be right, but if I were being paid per word, I think I would want to stretch my sentences as well. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that his words had impact. He was a master. Dickens knew just what to say and how to say it. There wasn't a wasted word in the bunch.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of writers out there who think that the admonition to be clear and concise means creating short, choppy sentences. Let's take a look at the whole paragraph from Dickens's work:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

That entire paragraph is one sentence. Let me repeat: one sentence. But who among us would dare think it needs to be changed? It is so completely opposite of how we think we are told to write, and yet, it is nothing but supremely beautiful. At first sight, this opening appeares completely meaningless. It doesn't set us up for the scene, it does not introduce the MC, and nothing is happening (where's the action??). But by the end of the book, we see just how impactful and perfect that opening is.

Charles Dickens, like all the masters before him and after him, shows us that writing is an artform. We are not just telling a story, we are weaving a tale. It must be beautiful as well as concise. Each single word that we put down must drive the story forward and contribute to the picture as a whole.

Our words have the power to create worlds in the minds of complete strangers. We must not take this lightly. If we want to be taken seriously at all in the publishing world, we must approach paper (or a computer screen) with the same solemn respect as any master has ever approached an outlet of his/her creativity.

Don't forget to check in on Friday when I will continue the series on The Power of Words.


Monday, September 21, 2009

A Heads Up

I just wanted to let everyone know that I am still alive and kicking. Life has just been very hectic lately and I've found that I haven't given enough time to my blog. No more! I am here and I'll be getting back to Magic and Fantasy (Part 3) tomorrow. At the end of this series, I'll be starting a new series: The Power of Words.

Don't forget to check in! :)