Friday, May 31, 2013

Words, Words, Words!

Not only is this a line from Hamlet, a one act play by David Ives, and a comedy routine with subsequent album by a fellow named Bo Burham (I heaven't seen nor heart the Ives nor the Burham works, so I can't vouch for or against them), but it's also a proper invocation for the many words Shakespeare added and or retooled within the English language (his restyling of weird being one of my favorites) and one of the greatest tools and challenges of any writer.  Those darn blame squiggly lines that make letters, then words, then sentences, if only they could emerge from our conscious fully formed into the very work of art we're imagining--our work would be so much easier and quite frankly--boring, vapid, and a word I just learned while writing this sentence-bromidic which comes from bromide--a cliche and a sedative--ha!  Now there's a good comparison--cliche as sedative.

We often talk about the importance of unique language- inventive turn of phrase--lyrical imagery--all of which require a firm and expanding command of language.  Not to mention spelling.  At least, that's what my English teachers always told me in grade school, high school, college, graduate school and at the water cooler at the college where I work (it's in the same room where we host our department gatherings).  So why am I such a blasted lousy speller? I blame it on dyslexia--which took me a devil of a long time to learn how to spell, so did restaurant and I still frequently need help with soldier.  This is my way of saying, do your best with spelling grammar and don't hide behind any excuses like dyslexia, my spell check is broke, learn as many words as you can, inside and out.

I love the opening of "Almost a Whole Trickster" where the narrator (who is never identified by gender nor is the character's gender revealed within the story) pinches Ashinabe words with a dying relative--alluding to the power of words.  Not just how they sound, what they mean according to a dictionary or the connotations we ascribe to them culturally,but also because what they mean to us emotionally.  Those two family members rode to the hospital in the dead of winter pinching summer words.  The very idea is beautiful, poetic, and emotional all in one.

For this reason, we need to understand all of the layers of language and use them in our writing.  To do that, we have to love language, look at words from every possible angle--for instance, is there a reason angle and angel are but flipped letters apart? Did anyone else notice that "lousy" looks like someone's name. Or is that just to me? The girl who loves words like pifflesquat, sluiced, and onomatopoeia (even if she does have to look it up to know how to spell it).  We need to understand their sound, their rhythm, their meaning, their emotional resonance, their cultural significance in various cultures.  For instance-- to be smart here in the US, you need to be intelligent, to be smart in the UK only requires a sense of fashion--or to use another of mine--to be natty.  Play is also a necessity-- throw your words around a bit-- see how they can play off each other-- sarcasm, irony, and no it isn't ironic that John Crapper invented the toilet, after all that's why it's called the Crapper-- he invented it.  And low and behold that Otto fellow and his French rival made into quite a song in the film Beaches are both fictional and the real inventor of the modern female undergarment was Mary Phelps Jacob who did so circa 1913.  By the way, she was also  a poet.  She and her husband were also the first publishers of folks like James Joyce and Ezra Pound.  

In other words, don't be afraid to go where the words lead you--to learning new ones, figuring out how to spell old ones, urban legends, inventors, and the first publishers of writers.  You never know what you might discover by looking at words in all their splendor.

Please do share a bit about words--what new words have you learned lately? Any urban legends you've debunked? New meanings? Pronunciations that have changed how you view a word.  For instance, check out how you're supposed to say cupola.  Is it said the way you thought it was? If so, where do you live? Why should that matter?

Write on, write on...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Dream the Impossible Dream

Writers these days are supposed to Tweet (I believe I can whistle), blog regularly to develop a following (I pretty much have breathing down, except when my asthma flares up, but beyond that I don't do anything on a schedule), update their website (egad, how am I going to afford that?) and so on and so on and SO... I'm going to dream the impossible dream and try the say less, post more often approach. Ha!

I know anyone who knows me is laughing in a yeah-right-kind-of-way at the moment and I don't blame them.  After all, my attempts at writing regularly have usually ended the way most diets do (I don't advocate diets or forcing yourself to write).   I have never even made it one stinking week of writing every day unless I'm coasting to the end of a book--okay, so that usually only takes me three days--but still.

Okay, enough talk.  Now do it.  So, today, I'm blogging about dreams--your dreams, your kid's dreams, your characters' dreams.  I have dreams of many varieties, the one's I don't remember (their good entertainment for my subconscious, but not much help to me), the one's where I'm trying to solve an insolvable problems using something ridiculous like a rubber penguin (my advice if this happens to you: GET UP!  Fix something you've left undone, stretch, and go back to bed), the what did I eat before I go to bed weird dreams that make no sense, and the hurry up and write already dreams. These are the ones where I have an entire night of television of my own television shows designed by the creative team in my subconscious.  That happens when I haven't written in a long time and need to do it.  All dreams are useful--write them down--turn them into a poem, whatever you need to do to make use of the creative juices dripping out of your subconscious.  Some folks keep a journal by their bed--i-pad notes or notes on your phone work too.  Me, I try to keep them in my subconscious by reworking them into a story I tell myself as I fall back asleep.

Speaking of stories and sleep--I learn so much about what my daughters are coping with by the dreams they have because they tend to talk in their sleep. I only bring this up for the parents out there who might not have noticed the gold mine resting in what their children say in their sleep or about their pretend friends (the personification of the subconscious--walking, talking versions of dreams).  My oldest daughter is always going on about what her pretend friends are up to these days.  First it was her grandson whose name was Abis Anderson for a bit, then it changed regularly.  Now it's Kay-Kay--Big Kay-Kay (her alter ego) and Little Kay-Kay (her little sister's alter-ego). What those two girls get up to tells me what my daughter is struggling with herself. It also gives me some insight into what she's thinking about her sister. So, if Big Kay-Kay is digging up flowers in the garden and feeding them to the squirrels while Little Kay-Kay has fallen down a well-- things are going to get ugly unless we have a little mommy and me time--sibling rivalry is so much fun, isn't it?  Then again, my oldest routinely thinks of her sister even when they're not together. For instance, if someone offers her a treat, she says, "Can I have one for my little sister?"  Sound like a ploy to get seconds to you?  Me too.  But the kid actually delivers the candy to her sister-- way to go girl!

Okay, okay, so what does all of this have to do with writing? Well, the more you know kids and dreams, the better you get a writing characters and not just child characters, but big kids too. The dreams we had as kids, shape who we become as adults, the more you know about the dreams of our characters --nightmares and grand hopes--the better able you are to create complex characters, but please, please, please, don't fall into the pitfall of using dreams to convey character identity unless you use it in inventive ways that go well beyond the plot device.  The horror story that ends with the realization that it's all a dream--PLOT DEVICE.  The horror story that ends in a dream, the character wakes up is all relieved, then realizes the horror they faced in the dream has crossed over to their real life--Plot Device. The angst ridden character who reveals inner torment through dreams--you guessed it--device!

So, how do you use dreams in fiction?  Use them in ways that defy the devices--let the horror story be about someone who can't tell dream from reality and discovers they ARE someone else's nightmare and not real at all.  Use dreams in flashbacks, let a character see something in real life and realize they've dreamed about it--use it as psychological symbolism.  A character has been trying to cope with an absentee parent who is there every day on the physical level, but not the emotional level--the child keeps dreaming of that parent without a  face.  You don't show the dream itself.  You show the kid getting up and walking into the kitchen blurry eyed and sleepy (they've been having nightmares, after all).  When the kid looks up, Mom is all blurry--an shazam!  --the dream is a flashback--you're in the dream, you're out, and the reader sees the power of dreams and knows more about both the kid and the mom.

So use your dreams to expand your creativity, use your kid's dreams to learn more about them and character development, and use your characters' dreams in creative ways that expand their complexity and deepens the psychological realism of our writing.  Or share other ways to use dreams in your writing by posting a comment on this blog.  Dream on!