Ninevoices Summer Competition ends on Thursday, 31st August 2017. A mere 99-199 word story incorporating at least one of the endangered words associated with nature featured in our 22nd June post could win you £100. The entry fee is £5 and any profits will go to the charity PMRGCA-UK.
Seeing Kenneth Williams’ party piece Ma Crêpe Suzette on TV last week I thought it deserved another outing, for the sheer fun he has in putting the words together.
I’m old enough to remember Petula Clark and Sasha Distel’s greatest hits.
I’d love to hear the French/English version.
“‘I wandered lonely as a cloud …’ Clouds are not lonely. Especially in the Lake District where Wordsworth wrote that line. In the Lake District clouds are remarkably sociable creatures that bring their friends and relatives and stay for weeks. … It’s not that Wordsworth didn’t know about meteorology, it’s that he did know about metaphor.” (Mark Forsyth)
I distrust books that have blazoned on the cover, “I laughed out loud”. But in the case of The Elements of Eloquence – How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase, I did too. My fellow travellers on the train to Rochester pretended not to notice.
In this book Mark Forsyth explains figures of speech (39 in all) used by writers good and not-so-good over the last 500 years, with examples and comment. Shakespeare, the Bible, William Blake, Leonard Cohen – they’re all here. This is a great read in its own right, and also a mine for the writer aspiring to write better.
Take Merism. This is when you don’t say what you’re talking about, but instead name all of its parts, as in “For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health”, when you could just say “in all circumstances”…
Or Polyptoton, the repeated use of one word as different parts of speech or in different grammatical forms, eg Lennon & McCartney’s Please Please Me. Or the Bard in Richard II – “Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle”.
Enallage, a deliberate grammatical mistake – “Love me tender” works where “Love me tenderly” wouldn’t. Unadverbial Elvis.
When Mick Jagger, singing of his honky tonk woman, tells us that “She blew my nose, and then she blew my mind,” he is demonstrating his use of Syllepsis, where one word is used in two (or more) incongruous ways.
There are Transferred Epithets, when the adjective is applied to the wrong noun, as in Wodehouse: “His eyes widened and an astonished piece of toast fell from his grasp.”
We all know Hyperbole: Dashiel Hammett on a private eye: “He … could have shadowed a drop of salt water from Golden Gate to Hong Kong without losing sight of it.”
Philip Larkin’s most famous line, we learn, is an example of Prolepsis, when you use a pronoun before saying what it stands for. We don’t know who They are, until we’re told they’re Your Mum and Dad. Doesn’t work the other way round, does it?
‘The Fourteenth Rule’ – Mark Forsyth’s own term – is that a number can give an apparent significance. The “sixteen vestal virgins” in Whiter Shade of Pale work so much better than “several vestal virgins”. The Spirit that follows the Ancient Mariner’s doomed ship does so “Nine fathoms deep”. (What was so special about 54 feet down?)
And many more, as they used to say on compilation albums …
Great entertainment, and you’re learning while you laugh! Published in 2014 by Icon Books Ltd, ISBN 978-184831733-8 RRP £7-99
Adverbs, we are told by the experts, ruin our writing. They are the mark of the amateur.
There are fashions in creative writing rather like there are in cooking. (Just now chilli is everywhere; it’s hard to find a recipe or a menu choice without it. Not good if you aren’t too keen on a burning mouth and throat, but never mind, in a few years it’ll be some other ingredient). But is the wholesale rejection of adverbs here to stay or just the current creative writing bandwagon?
I don’t like feeling bossed into following a writing style recipe, but after having a go at getting rid of all the adverbs from a story I have to admit that the anti-adverb brigade has a point. I hadn’t realised how these -ly words had crept in – and weren’t actually needed. Lazy writing? Well, yes. Cutting them out or creating original images to give the same effect – even if this meant using several words rather than the one adverb – gave the writing a fresher, cleaner and sharper impact. It was also a surprisingly enjoyable and imaginative exercise.
I wonder if competition judges and agents stop reading when they come upon an adverb?
‘Hold it up to the mirror,’ said the tutor at the portrait drawing class.
I’d asked her to come and look at my work. It looked all right to me. Secretly, I thought I was doing rather well. I’d followed the usual advice of standing back from it every ten minutes or so. I knew that staying too close for too long in front of a drawing means you lose a sense of perspective.
I gave the mirror idea a go. A nasty shock. How could I not have seen what was now so obvious? Eyes too far apart, neck too thin, not enough back to the head. Errors that I’d missed, but which were clearly shown up in the mirror image.
A writing group can act as a mirror. How many times have I been grateful for the incisive comments of other writers. They’ve homed in on faults and omissions I’d never have spotted for myself. The value of other people’s ideas and suggestions as to how a piece of work can be improved cannot be over-estimated.
But there may be dangers. In a long-established group, familiarity with, and enjoyment of, the work of other members may make the mirror a little dusty. We may sit too close to the work being read to be as objective and sharp in our criticism as we once were.
On one level none of this matters. The happiness gained from sharing the whole business of putting words together and the generous encouragement of others must be worth more than anything. But it would be interesting to learn of the experiences of other writing groups. Any comments, anyone?