Week fourteen study diary – Advanced Creative Writing
This week we were learning about rhetoric and style. It’s a subject that fascinates me so I have done some wider reading, a summary of which will be included in this blog post, together with completed exercises.
Rhetoric is the art of using language to persuade. As writers we wish to persuade the reader to accept our fictional world as real for at least a short period of time. We also want to persuade them to keep reading.
Style, like voice, is the distinctive manner (use of words and literary effects) peculiar to the author. It includes pattern, rhythm, repetition, lexicon, tone, and the sounds of words when read aloud.
Some of the terms used when discussing rhetoric were previously unfamiliar or vague to me before studying this week. I will include definitions of those. If any others are not familiar to you they can be found in a good dictionary or please comment below for clarification.
Analogy, Anaphora (rhetorical repetition), Antithesis (welding together of opposing ideas to create a sense of symmetry within a sentence), Metaphor, Parenthesis (interrupting a sentence to qualify a statement or create the effect of an aside), Synedoche (using a part to represent the whole).
Indirect techniques like metaphor, make the reader want to look again, while pointing the way towards where the truth can be revealed.
Jeff Mason -
“By relating the familiar world to something strange and unfamiliar, we indirectly invite radical reflection upon the familiar world.”
Terms include – Assonance (corresponding sounds), Contrasts, Euphony (echoes such as internal rhymes), Onomatopoeia (the sound of the word imitates the sound of the thing represented), Phonaesthesia (the aesthetic value of sounds), Repetition and Rhyme.
“Repetition controls the rhythm of reading in all literary fiction. Our view of objects is refined and clarified by such repetition. A slow, patient unfolding of information will help the reader focus and refocus, as if leading them into a succession of dark rooms, in which they have to acclimatise themselves to the level of light.” Derek Neale.
“We rarely notice the repetition of grammatical words, whereas lexical repetition is instantly noticed.” David Lodge.
Hemmingway, in “In Another Country”, used a lexical repetition of certain words, fall, cold and dark, to suggest an unwritten word that connected them (death).
“Comedic repetition gathers weight until there is darkness beneath the comedy.” Ursula K. Le Guin.
Pattern relates to the whole and can limit the story and characters by containing their growth artificially.
“To most readers of fiction the sensation from a pattern is not intense enough to justify the sacrifices that made it, and their verdict is ‘beautifully done, but not worth doing’.” David Lodge.
Rhythm, on the other hand, is not there all the time, but waxes and wanes “to fill us with surprise, freshness and hope”. E.M. Forster.
Rhythm includes echoes, memories, parallels, repetition plus variation. It can include the length and structure of individual sentences. At it’s best, E.M. Forster suggests it can create,
“chords that sound behind us as we read and when we are finished every item leads to a larger existence than was possible at the time.”
Below are three short pieces of writing that came from set exercises this week.
Activity 13.2 By using repetition, antithesis and qualification write a short piece of fiction based on the 1943 Bethnal Green disaster report by L.R. Dunne.
People rushed, surged, pushed their way towards the shelter. Down, down, down. Feet hurried to descend the dark stairway. From behind, each felt the constant pressure, the forwards movement of those trying to escape the threat of gunfire, a salvo of rockets, an explosion – was it a landmine?
Pouring from two cinemas, disgorged by three buses as the alert sounded at seventeen minutes past eight, terrified people threw themselves to the ground as an explosion roared, then hauled themselves back onto their feet and hurried to the illusion of safety, pushing at the blocked mouth of the shelter, forcing those ahead to move faster with the unstoppable force of a tsunami.
A woman tripped near the bottom, pulling her child with her. A man fell on her left. The surge was unrelenting. Unaware of the tragedy and simply wanting to be inside, shelter from the munitions, the crowd tried to force its escape from the street to a place not exposed to the deadly skies. On the turtle backs of the fallen, many tried in vain to step safely, but the force of those behind, running in mindless terror from guns and bombs, tripped and trapped the ones below. A wall of bodies, five or more deep, lay at the bottom of the dark stairwell, and still came the pressure from behind, pressing air from lungs, crushing life from flesh and juice from veins, until death was above and below and all were blind from panic.
Activity 13.5 Using third person, write two short passages about the sea – one where the water is tranquil and the other depicting a storm.
The sea whispers. Foam, resembling bubbles along the edge of an antique mirror, is carried gently forward. As the water retreats the foam rests for a while on the darkening sand, only to be swept away by the soft pull of the next wave, and replaced by close relatives. Further out, the jade water is uninterrupted until it kisses the sky at the horizon, creating an enormous looking glass that reflects the bellies of gulls as they glide inches above its peaceful membrane. A pleasure yacht drifts a mile from the beach. Two figures, shiny with oil, recline on sunbeds on the deck. Champagne flutes, held by tanned hands, tip towards relaxed smiles. On days like this, Charles, captain of this fine vessel, finds it easy to believe he is the master of water, of life, and of his beautiful wife. In this somnolent sea, the boat rocks less than a cradle in an empty nursery.
Waves rush to the shore, led by galloping stallions, carrying on their backs all manner of detritus ripped from the deep. The sea roars. Its angry shout accuses all ears of throwing trash to the tide. In the distance towering waves of gunmetal grey rise and fall, displaced by a tantruming giant. Gulls shriek as they soar and dive over swells and valleys like daredevil surfers. Waves gather speed as they race each other, crashing against rocks, spitting foam into the sky. The crew of a fishing boat shout obscenities as water pours onto faces and soaks through clothes. Their captain grips the helm, saying prayers through gravestone teeth. The roaring sea drowns out all other sounds, and the crew’s curses, like the captain’s prayers are unheard. Lives depend on controlling the vessel as it rises above mountain peaks only to nosedive again as it breaches their summits. The captain knows how tiny, how insubstantial he and his crew are against the might of the sea, and questions every decision he made that led him to this point, where his life can be ripped from him in a water-logged instant by such capricious elemental forces.
Activity 13.7 Write two pieces, one of them in as relentlessly upbeat a tone as you can manage, the other wry and understated.
Crisp winter afternoons, how I adore them. My woollen skull cap pulled tightly over my hair. All modesty aside, I look cute as an elf. Every window I gaze at is festooned with coloured lights. Children pass me, running. Air, warmed by their lungs, puffs out of talkative mouths like smoke from sweet smelling chimneys. There’s the feeling of excitement, within and around me. Families prepare for festive gatherings, while children write letters to Santa Claus. Gardens sleep soundly, waiting to burst into colourful life after the threat of frost has passed, and what frost! It glitters like diamonds on paths and walls, making everything seem magical. It’s a time of promise, of expectation – joy, love, and Christmas carols. December is a time for guilt-free gluttony. Fancy a piece of cake or a mug of hot chocolate? Go ahead, that extra layer of fat will help keep you cosy. We have months to lose those soft inches before it’s time to don a swimming costume and stretch out under the hot sun. I love to wrap myself in layers of wool and read books in front of a fragrant wood fire. In December you can appreciate all that is good, the smell of orange and cinnamon, the velvet evenings, studded with stars, the laughter of children, hundreds of cards from friends now scattered around the globe. Beneath my twinkling spruce tree, dozens of carefully chosen presents, wrapped in red and gold paper, lie patiently for the moment that they will surprise and delight my beloved family and friends. And here is my door, revealing decorative envelopes for me to open and remember each person whose life has, in some way or other, blessed my own.
Trudging carefully over icy paths on a December afternoon, I see fairy lights in each window, and wonder how these struggling families will pay their electric bills in the new year. To avoid the ubiquitous ear ache this north wind brings, I wear a wool hat. It flattens my hair, but I suppose the effort of styling it at each end of my journey is no greater than removing the tangles I acquire in a spring breeze. Layers of jumpers, scarf and overcoat do nothing to improve my figure and no doubt my family will expect me to join them in their compulsive overfeeding next week. It’s part of the ritual, eat too much now and starve yourself in January to compensate. Traditions are nothing if not predictable. Like the obligatory gift giving, standing in crowded shops and long queues to purchase a moment of thankfulness before the presented item is buried in some cupboard and the credit card bill makes consumers weep with buyer’s regret. Then what, drunkenness on the last day of the year, followed by dry January? A few days off work only to return to piles of files needing immediate attention. Puddings at Christmas, chocolate at Easter, candy at Halloween, leading to shame when our bodies aren’t beach-ready. Years progress in this way and however much you or I might wish to avoid each holiday, it is pushed in our faces by those who worry that we might be left out. Heaven forbid anyone be lonely at Christmas.
Crystal, David, The English Language.
Forster, E.M, Aspects of the Novel.
Le Guin, Ursula K., Steering the Craft.
Lodge, David, The Art of Fiction.
Neale, Derek, A Creative Writing Handbook.