Tag Archives: Mark Twain

Not So Trivial Pursuit of the Perfect Novel: Colloquialism and Place

Welcome minions! I’m finally adding another installment to this never-ending blog series. I find myself looking forward to these posts more and more because it gives me a chance to truly reflect on what kind of piece I’m developing and to share what I’ve learned along the way.

Onto the topic at hand—where is my story going? No, I’m not talking about the plot or the character’s movements from room to room. I’m talking about the where. The setting. The place. Whatever you call it, it’s the magic behind the scenes or a character all its own. In the dozens of writing workshops and seminars I’ve attended, place isn’t something you just throw in or use without proper consideration.

Not utilizing the full potential of place is as much of a writing crime as too many adverbs. This may not be a carved-in-stone rule of writing, but hell what rule is carved in stone? Mostly, I just want to express how underutilized place is in a ton of commercial writing. When I say commercial writing, I mean books that are made with the intention of being sold or published on the commercial market i.e. Amazon, Createspace, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Scribd etc. Whether it costs money to read your book or not, never ever forget about place. It represents the where in the all-important foundation of your story (simplified: who, what, when, where, why).

If you simply choose New York for your  alien story because it’s easy—think again! Place can ground readers in history like Anglo Saxon Britain or allow the reader an escape to a faraway galaxy uncharted by humanity. I, for one, have fallen prey to laziness in this department for a few of my unfinished pieces that I dare not share with the world yet. This is especially true for my earlier drafts of Dollhouse Daughter, which was initially set in London during the late 1700’s. Without knowing it, I set myself up for disaster.

I knew nothing about the 1700’s much less London in that period. It was after two pages that I made the switch to a modern London with a few chapters based in modern U.S. The change in period was a fantastic relief because it made my job as the writer so much easier, but I unknowingly still struggled with place. My manuscript, still untitled at that time, had grown to a whopping six chapters before my laziness caught up with me. Eventually, my Irish mentor suggested I write what I know because in the chapters I’d written there was little to nothing about British culture. At that moment, I realized the right place for my story wasn’t in London; it was a town called Warrenton, Georgia.

Step 1–to finding the true place for your story is research. A normal part of every story has at least some research. Outside of realm of “write what you know”, we wordsmiths crawl onto the world wide web searching for delectable bits of information. Now that I’ve found the right setting for Cassie’s story, I had to figure out what it meant to live in the deep South. Being a native Northerner, I had quite the task ahead of me, but research is only useful if you…well, if you use it. So, I studied youtube videos, pictures, and articles in hopes that I could catch the essence of Warrenton. But I couldn’t research too much. I had to put a limit on how much I perused because I’m not writing an essay of the culture of the deep South. I only need to learn enough to keep my story moving. And I hope others can appreciate place a little more after sharing the fundamentals I used in my own novel.

Step 2–Dialect is both the easiest and hardest part of showing place because it can be simple for someone to write a dialect they know, and so easy to create stereotypes or bog the story down with unintelligible dialogue.  Mark Twain is by far the best and most controversial example of how dialect can transform a simple novel ( The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) to a piece of timeless literature. He had a magic formula that made his writing seem realistic without distracting from the story. So my challenge was not only to include accurate, exciting Southern dialect to give the right characters flavor, but my Haitian Kreyòl had to be just as present if I wanted to truly represent the vodou of  Haiti. It was even more thrilling to know that my past French classes were put to good use since it was a major component in the construction of Kreyòl as a language.  Below are just some examples of my own use of dialect in Dollhouse Daughter:

Southern:

“Burn my biscuits, that woman’s nose is up so high in the clouds she could drown in a rainstorm,” Betty said.

“And just to ruffle my feathers, that foul woman had the au-da-city to tell me that Sandy should be having little Samantha baptized in a Lutheran church instead of St. John’s.”

Oh, honey,” Jessica said, flashing her too-bright teeth. “It’s all Coke in Georgia. They mustn’t teach common sense in them Northern schools.”

Haitian:

“No, pitit mwen, it will not hurt.”

“Papi, please hear me.Your LeeLee needs guidance.”

“Bonjou, pitit Brigitte,” he bellowed, his baritone voice thunderous even against the sound of the drums. “You have come to us humble vodouisants on a special evening. Tonight we celebrate the changing of the moon by meeting Mambo Azalee’s nouvo zanmi, Cassandra from the North.”

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Let me know what you think and especially if anything screams out as being inaccurate or unrealistic because I want to make it the best it possibly can be. The next installation of N.S.T.P.P.N. will be coming up shortly with an emphasis still heavily devoted to place. It should be posted within the next few days, so don’t forget to check back. And as always Happy Reading and Writing!

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The Funny Side to the E-book Debate

As the sales of e-books soar past print books without a second glance, I feel the need to bring some laughter to this heavy issue. I will not be stating any argument on the debate, as I feel there is merit to both print and digital books. I will, however, give you an example of the downsides to e-books only Cracked.com would bring to our attention.

http://www.cracked.com/blog/8-unexpected-downsides-switch-to-e-books/

What happens when you take a well-known comedic site and combine it with the debate of oh the next 50 years or so? The monstrosity of an article shown above. It details the satirical and true downsides to e-books coming to power.

The first downside, you ask? Where will assassins hold their guns? With security and surveillance becoming more high tech, assassins and hit men must become more creative in hiding their weaponry.  So why not just hide it in your coat? Metal detectors solve that problem outright and as the author of the article goes through the strangest places to hide a gun, we come across books as the cliched place to hide a gun. If e-books take over and make books obsolete (don’t think it will happen for a while) then carrying one around will be odd and out of place, making guns in books undesirable for killers.

The list continues to include mundane tasks like holding up a wobbly table and doodling in textbooks. While people might not find ultimate value in these odd reasons, the root of them is the same. What happens if we change the entire facet of books? Just like phones when they became mobile, the culture began to change to create something people 50 years ago wouldn’t recognize. The mobile phone example is perfect because while most people use their cell phones,  land lines are still prominently used. The influx of cell phone eventually leveled out and became consistent while land lines were simply used less. To me, this seems like a possible example future for books. As print books have been such a long standing form in the medium, I believe they will hold strong to the people who need them. At the same time, there isn’t anything wrong with using both for different reasons and keeping the history of the medium alive.

One of the most interesting downsides on the list is the use of ancient texts and mystical books in movies and games. Many movie plots and even whole genres rely on the use of books that either have a magical quality or important information only found in old books. There would be no plot to The NeverEnding Story without the old, mysterious book. If you replaced the mysterious, almost magical book with a Kindle, the movie wouldn’t have the magic in it.  Where would the old witch find her potion recipes or the young sorcerer learn his trade. For the fantasy genre, it almost solely relies on the use of these ancient books in the plot to suck us in to the story. Would we take those out and replace them with e-books as most technological updates have required of movies? I don’t know, but I sure don’t want to live in a world where I’d have to find out.

We move on in the list to the use of books in opening secret passages and the sanitation of bathroom reads. One of the things people don’t understand about new technology is how it truly affects our perception of the world and changes our culture. While some people prefer to read harlequin books in the bathroom rather than take them out into the world, e-readers require you to have all your books in one place. This isn’t ideal for the bathroom reader, but neither is by two Kindles just so you can read on the John.

Speaking of changing culture, the most shocking realization of e-books rising above print books is book burning. What has plagued controversial books for decades? The threat (or not) of book burning. Contrary to Fahrenheit 451, replacing paper books would make book burning less appealing. Would you rather burn a bunch of 5 dollars books or burn a $200 electronic device that doesn’t actually hold the only copy of the book. It make the statement of book burning completely useless.

For authors like Mark Twain and J.K. Rowling (as well as librarians and bibliophiles) this could be a relief. However, the point of book burning is not such a terrible thing, is it? Does it stand to reason that a book, which can rile the masses to burn its pages is important? Without this option, how would we know that books hold a power above just the pages? If a book on an e-reader is too controversial, you would just get rid of it. You wouldn’t burn your Nook. The only indication that a book was too controversial would be the peer reviews on the app and Oprah’s Book Club wouldn’t read it. Although I’m obviously against burning books (unless I’m stranded and have a bunch of Twilight books), there is something powerful in that action to stand against someone’s view of the world. Though many people would find it a blessing to be rid of this act, I find that the world would be a less honest place if radicals couldn’t burn books and provoke people to read them more.

Either way, there are upsides and comical downsides to e-books, but this much is true. There is no way for us to know the results (positive or negative) of this new technology until it has had more time to prosper. Print books have had hundreds of years of head start. Give e-books time. They may have their hindrances, but everything in the world does. Cracked as always gives you a relaxed way of looking at a heated, sensitive issue.

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