Tuesday, February 02, 2010


I posted this today on the excellent blog of Tom Conoboy

Hi all, in the Boot Camp "gridding" process, language has a PAR mark of 10 whereas opening is 11, character and theme and plot 12, pace 12-13 and ending 12.

Why do I appear to "downgrade" language when I so love it, and occasionally write (myself) in a writerly way?

Because a great story can be great with fairly ordinary language. Adequate, of course, suiting the purpose, of course, and perhaps, though apparently "ordinary" (think Raymond Carver) it is actually very polished language.

In that latter case we score for "invisible excellence"

But beginning and intermediate writers and many well-published authors(and BLOODY BANVILLE) need to understand, as Vanessa says, that language is ALWAYS the servant to the story, never the leader.

In BC we would also have the case that if language par was for a fairly arty, "languaged" style then 99% of BC stories would always be marked as (linguistically) UNDER par and the result would be writers adding bells and whistles to try to gain higher marks. UGH!

No, we first learn to write good stories, led by character and meaning, in whatever linguistic weight/complexity serves us at this time.

We then learn to lose the cliches, the stock phrases, the redundancies and accidental repetition or bad, accidental internal rhymes.

and we slowly attain a gentle flow, a more natural, smoother flowing narrative. BUT this could still be (at first glance) "unlanguaged"

A year or two in we are using a single perfect word where once it was a sentence or half a sentence, and we have learned flow and rhythm, pace and pacing, when to hold the reader's hand to the flame and so on.

But IMO this should ALWAYS be, a natural "emanating" thing and never IMPOSED.

I believe character, voice, tone, plot, AND language should spontaneously rise up and come from us. Every one of my quotable lines was NOT engineered, and 90% of them were never edited.

The ability to XXXXXX the right phrases (I'm trying to think of a nicer word than vomit) does NOT come from trying (this is why I LOATHE Banville's Booker winner as pretentious shit (I'm holding back here).. it comes from EATING

eating poetry (you don't need to understand it or be a poet, eating stories, eating songs, eating adverts, eating photography

eating all the arts and most deliberately trying NOT to work them out but let them work on you.

I am working-class, from a bookless family, missed years of school, left at fifteen, read Mickey Spillane and Dick Francis, never did serious literature before the age of thirty (and then not much) but learning to be open to things allowed me to get a feel for language.

as an aside, Tom, I find your ability to read (speed wise and depth-wise) astonishing and I feel intimidated by your academic abilities!

Precisely HOW that happened I don't really know, but it's something about going naked as a reader, almost allowing yourself to be f----, I mean seduced by the writer.

I know that the unconscious or subconscious is a thousand times the writer the conscious ever will be.

I tell Boot Campers to argue, analyse BETWEEN stories, but then to forget everything when they write. Strangely, each story they write has a small step gleaned when analysing but "erupting" and not placed when free-writing.

If that's random, so be it. My preferred way!


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