I recently finished one of David Crystal’s excellent books on the subject of word games, Language Play. Oh what fun! It is full of anagrams, puns, palindromes, and other exercises in word bending that, on their face, might seem to have no bearing on the process of creating and telling tales. As yet, I am not convinced of there being a great value in some of the protracted flourishes (writing an entire nov_l without using the l_tt_r “_” com_s to mind) but I did enjoy setting some odd rules and watching what path a story might take in telling itself:
It tasted tall, wet, cold, with a hint of draft, and a top note: the ooze of decaying trees. So they drank tall cold drafts to wet their whistles with the milk of forestry indifference. There were a slue of slugabed pleasures in slumbering slumped like lotus eaters while sluicing slush over their whistles: slurping sluts.
Into my box of jig-saw puzzle pieces it goes, its utility as yet unknown. Some great poet–and I’m sure I’ll be pointed in the right direction by a Google master, a thing which would have been thought of as a rare and poisonous serpent until as recently as 1995–once said that the rules of the dance for writing poetry made it more interesting because it forced him in unforeseen directions. Why limit this sentiment to poetry? Any set of rules for writing, even the most arcane or eccentric, can push you off the mountain track and into a new landscape. Having avalaunched yourself into the wild blue wander, you’ll need to turn on your editorial rescue beacon. The process of selection and the process of creation need to stay in different cages until that which has been created is ready for pruning.
If you have munched this far through my salad bowl of metaphors, I issue you a challenge: select an unusual prefix or opening phonetic fragment and construct an alliterative sentence using several examples. Place this gem in a setting by writing around it with some storyesque additions. Edit for glaring errors but not for meaning, and post it here. Think of it as stretching exercises for the brain. It might be a rhizome of fiction or a clod of soil, but it might also be the opening gambit in the game that becomes your epic contribution to world literature.
Why I go back – A Study in Human life.
I started traveling 8 years ago. I didn’t know what exactly I wanted in life, and so instead of committing to an academic program when I didn’t know who I was, I chose to travel. Occasionally I’d question that decision and go back to school. The results tended to be disastrous because I wasn’t integrating school with my life goal. My goal in life is simple: see and do and learn, as much as absolutely humanly possible.
I’d like to trek a good portion of the Yukon. Watch volcanoes erupt in Iceland, Hawaii, Chile, and Guatemala, explore glaciers in Russia, and Alaska. I’d like to hang with the locals, eat strange foods and embarrass myself with my lack of language skills. I’d like to travel by boat through the waters of the Ancient Greeks, exploring their coves and towns they called home. I’d like to help build a school for children, interacting with them and being taught their language and manners. I’d like to spend time with the elderly, who know a life so different than my own even though we live in the same country. Dancing around fires with the natives who have never heard of MTV but who have a love of music which supersedes commercial breaks would feed my love of music. I’d like to travel by foot, by horse, motorcycle, knowing that the road is long, and that the people and the lands I cross are not familiar to me, while accepting both for the difficulties of my lack of understanding. My life goal is to live a life showing that this world is what we make of it. It doesn’t always have to be what it is currently, nor do you have to do tomorrow what you are doing today.
All of this sounds idealistic, I’m aware. However, a life of travel and learning is not. I’ve taken in Hong Kong with its buildings the populations of small towns and learned about the city planning of an island with 9 million souls to give home to. I’ve traveled by boat through the fjords and glaciers of Alaska, standing in wilds where you’re 45 miles away from the nearest road. I’ve stood on the site of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, acutely aware that the future once portrayed there never came to pass. I’ve photographed myself in The Bean. I’ve hiked in the mountains and opulence of western North Carolina, partaken in the particular tendencies regulated to the beauties of South Beach, Miami. I’ve been to New Orleans and lived to tell the tale! I’ve stood beside the millions of gallons of water crashing onto the rocks at Niagara Falls! I lived in Washington DC with spooks and wasn’t hauled into the bad office for it. I’ve partied on Super Yachts with millionaires, and have helped varnish a private boat tied up to the dock in Cannes, France. I’ve sat on the end of a runway in St. Martin, knowing that I was spoiled as the island was suffering through America’s recession. I’ve meandered through the near washed out towns of Madeira, weathered the chaos of the Mediterranean in a storm from the bridge of a ship. I’ve seen both Europe and Africa at the same time. I’ve played in a coliseum built by the Romans still in use! Then I swam in the river feeding that town’s aqueducts. I’ve lived in a 4000 year old town on the edge of a sea which was inhabited when the Greeks found it. The market where I bought veggies and cheese has been there just as long.
I’ve stood before the Birth of Venus, David, Mona Lisa and the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, all in the original form. In Florence, I watched a midget play the drum, tambourine and the flute at the same time! I’ve eaten rabbit in a building commanded built by Louis the pick a number in seventeen something or other. I’ve driven the bottle neck on the route Napoleon took to capture Paris, stood where German bombs fell on castles built in 1100. I’ve sat on the beaches where men died to secure their lively hood. I’ve seen the divots caused by ideological differences in the monuments to the past. All of this I know. This is all part of my life’s work; to see, to travel, to taste the air and know that I am there . To learn by experience is my life. However, the next step, after these years of travel, is to obtain academic certifications. My official study will be in the fields of Anthropology and Geography. From my travels and forays into the online world, I’ve noticed that the concepts of the modern versions of Anthropology and Geography are entirely relevant in today’s ever increasing global and technologically based world.
At this point in my career I desire the Academic Credentials necessary to speak and teach about that which I have seen and know. A degree is the next step in my life’s work to see and do and learn as much as absolutely humanly possible. This is all part of my life’s work; to see, to travel, to taste the air and know that I am there . To learn by experience is my life.
Take one fine author’s works and biography; ingest and digest; ruminate and write.
I have found that re-working the style of a respected writer, as I sketch anecdotes, has led me to some interesting ideas. I have recently swum the English Channel: splashing my way through Ulysses, Dubliners, Chamber Music, Portrait of the Artist, but not, I admit, Finnegans Wake. Primed with Joyce’s voice and style, I doodled out a scene for one of my own stories. The editor was out of my mental office and I ran the keyboard like a witty simile. I discovered that I have had an aversion to long sentences. Keep it pithy, I had absorbed from my Strunk and White. But what happens if you break those rules that are so embedded that you no longer challenge them? Well, if they are road usage rules, you are likely to strike pedestrians and have to answer before Judge Greenville of Greenville county or Judge Anderson of Anderson county. [Remind me, which one of those is fictional?]
In this case, I wrote the longest sentences I could control without resort to cattle prods. It isn’t great, but it has encouraged me to see that brevity is often best, but there can be uses for great baggy sentences, thrown together for effect, and adding a certain annoying Je ne sais quois to the text, just as using pretentious phrases adds a certain I don’t know what.
Anyway. My point, to the extent I had one, is to suggest you try it. Read the works of X (long may she/he remain in print!) and then try to write or rewrite a story or anecdote of your own while styling it with the brush of your selected great master. Here is a scene that mimics the side-bar commentary that Joyce employed amid his rambling sentences:
Amram dressed as Natalie Cricklewood to fool them as he fooled about. Won the bronze cup in the Miss KWHS beauty pageant. Why high, King Williams High School for Girls? Why were they high and not the boys? It was a geographical curiosity arising from the contours of Park Vale. Thus it came to pass that Amram, velvet skirted from lumbar 4 to fibial malleolus, thirty-four minutes of make-up, a white silk blouse, and a Christmas tree ornament as a choker to cloak his Adam’s apple, was camouflaged sufficiently to tame the judge: befuddled Shrewie, his beloved school captain at KWS, clear of brow, immense of intellect, inconsiderable in sporting ability, capable of kicking a rugby ball full ten thousand of your earth millimetres, and striking with willow stick a solid one in ten.
“Third place, Miss Natalie Cricklewood. Come up and get your award, Natalie!” On to the stage with a wave, Amram preened puckering, heard under his breath Shrewie whisper, “Am I supposed to kiss you?” Taking the bull by the horns, Amram, planted a big wet lip smush on Shrewie’s shocked mouth below that acne-free brow which would maliciously spread to his entire head by the tender age of forty-five.