Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Real Talk

I've been told that I have a good ear for dialogue. This is encouraging, given that I still harbor a secret wish that I might someday write a successful screenplay, and screenplays are largely based on dialogue. It is not, however, enough to carry me through the act of writing dialogue for fiction.

My problem is that I let characters talk too much, and usually about the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the issue at hand, I give them topics like work, play, whatever. I need to learn to rein myself in a bit, narrow my field of vision, home in on the necessary details. 

Fiction is never going to be hyper-realistic, even if it appears thus. Because it's a world created from scratch, and so I can't, uh, talk like this or, you know, like a bumbling moron because, um, that would be bad, right?


Maybe I should borrow the famed expression "loose lips sink ships": talk too much, and the ship of your characters' conversation will succumb to the sea around it, sending it to the bottom of the ocean where it will be inaccessible. (I'm bad with metaphors, but you get the idea.) This seems like a reasonable piece of advice to me.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"There Must Be Things in Books, Things We Can't Imagine" (From the Archives)

I will take literally any opportunity I get to talk about my favorite book, Fahrenheit 451. Since I first read Fahrenheit when I was in high school and another school year has just begun across the country, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts about the book with you in another From the Archives post.


One of the greatest touchstones of my life is, and has been for a number of years, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I have read it multiple times, written numerous papers about it both in high school and college, and given copies of it to my father and my best guy friend, among a few others. It means that much to me.

I've never been able to properly explain my attachment to Fahrenheit. Part of it is the batshit craziness that is Clarisse. Part of it is the near-android detachment of Mildred. Part of it is the dedication that Faber shows to literature. Part of it is the megalomaniacal antics of Beatty. A larger part of it has to do with that greatest of Firemen, Guy Montag.

But mostly it's about the writing itself. There is one passage that I repeatedly point to above all others to showcase the simple beauty of Bradbury's language: "[...T]he heart is suddenly shattered, the body falls in separate motions, and the blood is astonished to be freed on the air; the brain squanders its few precious memories and, puzzled, dies" (158). For me, words like that represent the ultimate culmination of centuries of literature that came before; it is poetry, it is drama, it is truth, it is fantastic. It makes me want to be a better writer.

I could expound upon the merits of Fahrenheit at length. But, this being a blog, I feel that it is not the proper forum for doing so. However, I will leave you with the truest words I have ever encountered, from the coda: "There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority [...] feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse" (176-7). And it is because of Bradbury that so many authors have been willing to break free from such oppression--he proved that he could do it, and so should we.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The HUMANities

Alexandra Petri, a columnist at the Washington Post,  wrote an interesting article at the end of June in which she discusses the need for humanities studies as we move into the future as a society. By far the best part of her argument is this: 

My biggest problem with all the people speaking up to defend the Humanities is that they seem to be coming at it from the wrong end of the telescope. “The future will still need the human skills that the liberal arts promote, and perhaps will need them more than ever: skills in communication, interpretation, linking and synthesizing domains of knowledge, and imbuing facts with meaning and value.” Is that really all it is? I didn’t realize I was gaining skills in imbuing facts with meaning and value. I thought I was lucky to get to reach back 300 years or 3,000 years and see how the people alive at that time struggled with the most fundamental and fascinating questions of existence [...]. In a nutshell — What is human?
If you don’t realize that these disciplines are inherently exciting because they have a monopoly on these questions, [...] I quake for the Humanities.

I'm just now getting around to piping up with my two cents because, well, I was too busy doing the things that humanities-centric people do: reading, writing, no 'rithmatic. In other words, I was:

- blogging
- conducting research for a paper I'm writing about Madonna's Ray of Light
- rewatching the Harry Potter movies
- promoting a book I recently edited
- pondering the cosmos

Okay, that last one is an exaggeration. But think about what I WAS doing:

- reaching out to people with my words
- helping to expand the understanding we have of popular culture
- reexperiencing something that changed the world
- contributing to the discussion of a very important topic
- bringing joy to readers by helping someone share his work

This probably makes me sound a little snobby, like I have a very high opinion of myself and my activities. But please don't misunderstand. This is how I feel about the humanities on a general level. I have the same amount of respect for the sciences, because they expand our knowledge of the physical universe, and that's important, too. 

What I do not respect, however, is the way the humanities are consistently shunted aside in favor of other things. The humanities are the best way we have to understand ourselves as humans. That's why they're called humanities.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Talk like an Egyptian

I was well into my first year of college before I realized that Midwesterners have A Sound. It was probably about the time a girl from Wisconsin, who sounded like she was from Wisconsin, accused me of sounding like I was from Michigan (which I am). 

Imagine Chicago, if you will: nasal, elliptical vowels. Reduce it by thirty percent, and you have my speech pattern. Or, if you'd prefer to hear a good example, witness my (deeply in denial) homegirl Madonna:

Try as she might, Ms. Ciccone can't mask the fact that she grew up in southeastern Michigan. You can hear it most blatantly in the way she says learn and burn, but also in hide and, to a lesser extent, bruise and lose. This is also how I form words.

I grew accustomed to the sound of my own voice during my youth. I was aware, after trips to Boston, Charlotte, and elsewhere, that not everyone in the United States has the same speech patterns. I just never thought of my patterns as being especially strong.

Nowadays, I laugh at myself when I hear werd and maahm come out of my mouth, because they are the two strongest indications of my background. And I'm glad to have a distinct verbal mode that ties me to my home state, which I miss often.

So here's to all the boys and girls out there whose mouths will always remind them of their roots.