Tag Archives: literary

Letters on Literary Devices 16: The Exclamatory Question?!?

To the conventions of punctuation:

Although I have a great respect for convention, especially when related to punctuation marks, I’ve recently become aware of a certain informal mark known as the “interrobang,” which has completely opened my eyes to the potential pitfalls of relying blindly on writing customs.  For anyone else, who like me, has been living in ignorance of this communicative gem, allow me a short explanation.

Here it goes: The interrobang is a punctuation mark that most people already use. If you’ve ever closed a text message with WTF?! or WTF?!? or WTF!?! or if you were really excited WTF!?!?!?!?!?! then you’ve used an interrobang. Any combination of question marks and exclamation points is an interrobang… well sort of.

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You see, about fifty years ago, one of the great innovators of punctuation, Martin K. Speckter, invented a mark that concisely combined the question mark with the exclamation point. Well, at least that’s what I initially read on Wikipedia. And, like always, after some additional research clicking the links on the bottom of the Wikipedia page, I found out that the public contributors got it right, more or less.

Check this article I found on it: The Interrobang is Back, or if you’re a fellow millennial and would prefer a hilarious youtube video about it, click this link: What the Heck is the interrobang

For those of you who didn’t check out the video, here’s the mark he invented:

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I know. It looks awesome. An exclamation point superimposed on a question mark. Simple but awesome. The problem is that it never caught on. Just look down at your computer keyboard or keyboard on your phone: Why no interrobang?!? WTF!?!

And that’s the problem. If we don’t have it on our keyboards, how can we use it?!?

But is it really a problem? The sober people in the audience are probably wondering this: do we really need to use it? (Notice that sober people don’t use exclamation points)

My answer to that question is an unreserved YES! (I DO use exclamation points) Currently, there is no set convention for showing an excited question. Everyone does it differently, and THAT goes against the spirit of punctuation.

Look, as authors and writers we employ a huge set of literary and conventional tools to communicate with our audiences. And punctuation, although underrated, is one of the most important. It’s like the body language of writing. You know, like how body language says more than words. Its the same with punctuation. So no, it doesn’t get the same glory as “what’s said,” but it serves the important communicative role of “how its said.” And anyone who’s gotten in a fight with a girlfriend or mother or boyfriend or teenage boy selling movie tickets, knows that it isn’t the “what’s said” that matters. No, its the “how it’s said” that you’re probably fighting over.

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I’d go so far as to say that punctuation, when used by an author writing fiction, could be considered a literary device. Yea. I said it. I think that fiction writers can do a lot with punctuation alone. And I think it would be foolish and closed-minded to limit ourselves to the punctuation marks handed down by our great-great-grand parents. Why not use something new, especially if that “something new” saves us a key stroke and adds clarity.

Think about it: Someone invented the period. Someone invented the quotation mark. Someone invented the colon (The punctuation mark, that is. The other one can be attributed to evolution or God or whatever or whoever you’d prefer to thank). So, punctuation isn’t inherent. It evolves over time meaning that as a convention, punctuation can change.

Unfortunately, no one can change convention alone. And for this to work, for us writers to bring the interrobang out of the depths of obscure history and into the collective understanding of English readers the world over, we all need to start using it. We all need to use the interrobang. And I know. It won’t be easy. There is no key for the interrobang, but it does exist as a symbol on Microsoft Word, and I heard that its possible to turn that symbol into a “hot key”. I have no idea what that means, but I do know that there’s hope. And one day. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not next week. Maybe not next year or in my lifetime. But maybe, just maybe, my children’s children will have keyboards with an interrobang key. And no, it might not be next to the letter J or F or any of the other keys in the middle of the keyboard. But it will be there. Maybe next to the O so they can reach it with their future pinky’s while holding shift.

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I’m talkin’ small steps people. I don’t know about you, but I know the next time I write something and feel a need for an excited question, I won’t simply insert a question mark and exclamation point. No, next time, I’ll use the interrobang. Because–well, why the f@#k not‽

 

Sincerely,

Eric James-Olson

 

If you liked this, help out the interrobang cause by sharing it with everyone you know. Use the button below to Tweet it, Like it, Reblog it, or use whatever other social media you’re into. And if your interested, here’s the link to my books: BOOKS. As always, thanks for reading and have a nice day.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Writing with Style 2: Could we go back to the future…tense?

When I first started writing, I read all sorts of advice regarding verb tense and which ones are suitable for novels. I’ve written about this once before but focused only on the present and past tenses. Basically, most of the advice I read said to either use one or the other, preferably past tense because it’s easier.

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Now, for most new writers this is probably sound advice, but for me it didn’t work. I wrote my first novel, Farmers and Cannibals, primarily in present tense to make it feel more like a movie. That fit the book because the characters were unknowingly participating in the recording of a propaganda film. It was nice using present tense because I could switch over to past tense to create seamless flashbacks, and I was able to draw a distinction between the filmed actions of the characters and the filming of those actions using verb tense alone. And for me at least, despite the advice I’d read, it worked.

(For more on how to use both the present and past tense together in fiction with examples from famous novelists, check out this blog post: Letters on Literary Devices: Back to the Present )

So, what’s my point here? It’s this: the type of advice that says to ALWAYS do this, or NEVER do that in writing is inherently flawed. Writing evolves not because someone didn’t do something; it evolves because writers DO challenge conventions and AREN’T afraid to experiment with new forms of expression. Think about it, if writers didn’t challenge convention, we’d still be writing in olde English. And that stuff is awful.

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Speaking of challenging convention, I’d like to talk about another verb tense that gets a bad rap in story telling. I’d like to talk about the future tense, and the ways in which it can be purposefully used to foreshadow events and create suspense.

Now, first of all, when I first read about tenses, most writers said to avoid the future tense entirely. While I agree that I wouldn’t want to read an entire novel written in the future tense, I don’t agree with the idea that it can’t be used at all. And actually, many writers probably use it without even thinking about it. The easiest way to use future tense is through character dialogue. Check out this example I just made up:

Elton sat alone at the breakfast table with a bowl of cheerios and a sour smirk. His mouth was still cut open, and his right eye was swollen. It was just black, no blue.  He looked up from the cereal and pictured his mother standing there with her arms folded across her chest. She wasn’t actually there. He just pictured her there telling him that he didn’t have a choice. He could see her mouth forming the words, “You will be going to school today. I don’t care how scared you are. You will be going to school.”

He heard her footsteps coming down the stairs. Her arms weren’t folded across her chest but her eyes were hard. “Don’t you say a word,” she said. She was really saying it now. This was real. “You will be going to school today.”

In this I used past tense for the narration and a combination of present tense and future continuous tense for the dialogue. The future continuous is in BOLD. Primarily, the future tense verbs are used to foreshadow events to come by highlighting an inescapable future conflict for the protagonist. This type of paragraph could work anywhere within a chapter or story. Because the tense changes are in the dialogue, it’s unlikely that a reader would get confused. Well, unless he or she suffers from severe stupidity or some other intellectual handicap.

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Ok, so that was easy. Now, lets take the same story but get rid of the dialogue. Some writers might think this impossible but here it is:

Elton sat alone at the breakfast table with a bowl of cheerios and a sour smirk. His mouth was still cut open, and his right eye was swollen. It was just black, no blue.  He looked up from the cereal and pictured his mother standing there with her arms folded across her chest. She wasn’t actually there. He just pictured her there telling him that he didn’t have a choice, that he would still have to go to school. I won’t go, he thought. She can’t make me go.

He heard her footsteps coming down the stairs. Her arms weren’t folded across her chest but her eyes were hard. She didn’t say a word. She didn’t need to.

He will be going to school.

As you probably noticed, this example isn’t nearly as seamless as the first. It would be a challenge to transition back to the past tense. But it still works to foreshadow the same inescapable conflict as the first. This would work at the end of a chapter as a cliffhanger leading into the next. It could also be used to open a chapter, especially if an additional space is given before the next paragraph. The point is that it’s more suspenseful. Compare the line “He will be going to school,” to the past tense equivalent, “He went to school.” In past tense, the line doesn’t stand out like it does in future. It doesn’t cause the reader to pause and think in the same way.

So, that’s it for today. If you know of any other ways that authors can use the future tense, feel free to post those in the comments section. If you liked this, share the love by hitting that like button, sharing on twitter or facebook or whatever social media you’re into.

If you’d like to check out my fiction just click this link: BOOKS. Each book has an Amazon Link and Farmers and Cannibals, my first novel, is on sale this week. Click the picture of the book below for the Amazon link with the special promotional price.

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As always, thanks for reading and have a nice day.

 

 

 


How ’bout an excerpt

Hey folks,

It’s been a while since I posted an excerpt from one of my books, and seeing that I’m in the process of editing one, I figured I’d post a paragraph or two. I just read over these lines that I must have written about six months ago. It caught my eye because I’m teaching anaphora this week to my high school students, and I used one in the first paragraph. I also liked the use of sentence fragments. Check it out and let me know what you think:

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Gene drove home. He looked out to the right. The scarred, rocky face of the mountain stood straight up. It had been cut almost two-hundred years ago. It had been cut for the railroad. It had been cut by a man with vision. It had been cut with purpose. It had not been cut so that a single train could get from A to B. No, it was never that simple. The veins of industry. That’s what one man saw. The veins of all industry.

There had been rain earlier that day. Water seeped through the gaps and spaces in the mountain and flowed through the cracks in the rock. Gene felt poetic. “She’s crying,” he muttered looking up at the rock standing straight up beside him. “She’s crying.”

That’s silly though. Rocks don’t feel. When the railroader came and cut through the rock for the sake of progress, it didn’t feel. It’s lifeless, without purpose. And so is Gene.

 

That’s it. Let me know what you thought by leaving a comment, hitting that like button, or sending me an e-mail! And if you get a chance, check out these other books I’ve written:

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Writing with Style 1: How to Write an Ending

Tonight I take a break from my mock-epistolary style with a different type of blog post. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I get a lot of questions from fellow writers who’ve read my books and have asked something like, “How’d you keep the pace moving so fast,” or “Where’d you come up with the idea to use … as a symbol for …” or “how do you keep the writing so clean or so tight?” Originally, I thought it was enough to address these types of questions with my bi-weekly, Letters on Literary Devices. But it appears that most folks prefer serious answers over sarcasm, and I figure, eh, what the hell, I’ll give sincerity a shot.

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For those of you who follow along with each post, you probably remember last’s week’s Letter on Literary Devices where I discussed a bizarre new way to conceptualize the development of a book ending. If you didn’t read it, check it out: The Predictability Spectrum. In that, I shamelessly compared foreshadowing the ending of a book to different variations of fecal excretions (Shit, that sounded like hyperbole). In this, I’d like to expand on the ideas expressed in that post with a slightly more serious approach and hopefully some decent tips for all you folks working on an ending for a book.

Here it goes:

One of the greatest challenges a writer faces in closing a book deals with the following questions: How explicit should I be? How much should I explain? How much should I leave open for interpretation?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a single answer here. Fortunately, I do have some important considerations that could help lead you to a decision.

Consideration 1: Are you writing Genre fiction? Readers expect certain types of endings for certain types of genres. So if you’re writing a mystery, a thriller, or a romance; you’re going to want some twists and turns in your ending. You won’t want to give to much away by means of foreshadowing, but you will want an ending that wraps up neatly. No room for interpretation needed.

Other genres bring other expectations. It’s important to know the expectation, so that you can either choose to follow it or choose to cleverly break the rules.

Consideration 2: Is your book literary? If it is, good. You have a lot of freedom. Although you can’t ignore convention entirely, you have a lot of options. The one thing to avoid is laziness. Whatever you do, don’t just end it because you don’t know how to end it. Don’t just make everything work out fine or kill everyone off for no reason (Unless you’re writing a farce). There should be reason behind an ending. (Unless you’re trying to make some homage to modernism. In that case, good luck to you).

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Consideration 3: Should the ending be suspenseful? That’s easy. The answer is yes. However, there’s more than one way to create suspense. You don’t have to end the book with a shootout to keep the readers attention. If you’ve done a good job developing your protagonist, your readers will want to know what’s going to happen to him or her. By simply building suspense up to the moment where the conflict resolves, you set yourself up for a decent ending. This can be done in a number of ways. Personally, I try to make the main conflict multi-dimensional. I like it to affect more than one character; I like it to involve some type of decision; I like to foreshadow its resolution symbolically; I like to use a lot of repetition of images or actions; I like there to be a moment of recognition (Aristotle called it anagnorisis) where the protagonist or antagonist realizes and even verbalizes his inescapable fate.  And these are just the things I can think of as I’m sitting here. There’s tons of ways to build suspense towards an ending. Get creative and don’t be afraid to ask readers whether or not the ending held their attention.

Consideration 4: Did you develop any major symbols or recurring motifs throughout your novel? If you didn’t, it might not be a bad idea to go back and add a few. That’s one of the things I always do during the first round of revision. Often, an ending can be hinted at through a symbolic event or passage earlier in the novel. In the book I just finished writing, the major symbol was the image of a hawk struck by a speeding truck. There was also a set of dancing eyeballs and a puddle of stagnant river water and this song that kept playing on the radio: Always the same, / Don’t you never change…”. There was more but I don’t want to give away the potential title. The point is this: to end the novel I allowed these symbols and images and motifs to converge towards an inevitable, believable conclusion. There weren’t twists and turns per se, but that’s ok. The symbols contradicted each other suggesting more than one possible ending. And that’s what creates suspense. It’s not about foreshadowing a single ending. Its about foreshadowing several possible endings. That’s why adding symbolism can be so powerful. Inherently, symbols allow for interpretation.

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Consideration 5: Should the ending be explained, hinted at, or left totally open? Personally, I like ambiguity in endings. But that doesn’t work for every book. I have four published novels now. The first ended in a tell-all. Here’s what readers said about it: “the ending is fitting” , “Throughout the story there are twists and turns, which keep you guessing right up to the very plausible and fitting end.” And that’s the type of feedback this type of ending is likely to receive. My third book was left open-ended. Check out what folks said about that one: … Yep, that’s right. No one commented on the ending. After that I decided to do a tell all with my fourth book. Check out what one reader had to say: Probably the most brilliant way to tie up loose ends in a series ever” The point here should be clear: readers remember the tell all ending. But that doesn’t necessarily make it better. It just makes it more memorable.

 

Well, that’s it for now. Hope this was helpful. If it was, and you liked this post, help me out by hitting that like button below. If you’d like to read more posts by me, feel free to click the follow button on the side of this screen. Want to check out my books. Just click this link: BOOKS. As always, thanks for reading and have a good day.

 

 

 

 


An Update: It Seems Like I Might’ve Written Another Book

For those of you who’ve asked, I haven’t posted in a couple weeks because I’ve been focusing my attention on finishing another book. I know, I know – lame excuse. But the first draft is finished now and I  can put it aside for awhile and get back to writing about writing. As far as the book goes, I have a title but don’t want to commit to it until after the first round of revisions and until I have a better idea about how I’d like to have it published.

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So what’s the book about? Well, I’m keeping that to myself for now.  But I can say that its dramatically different from the genre fiction that my fans know me for. The picture below serves as either a hint or a false lead.

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Now, for those of you who could care less about my fiction, don’t fret, I’ll be posting the next Letter on Literary Devices this week. I’ll probably post weekly through December because I’m taking a break from writing fiction until January. You might notice a few changes to my blog in the next few weeks too. It seems like most of you are interested in the posts regarding writing and how to incorporate a variety of literary, rhetorical, poetical, syntactical, and grammatical devices into fiction. So, that’s what I’ll focus on. In addition to Letters on Literary Devices, I’ll start writing shorter posts focused on creating unique narrative style.

 

For now, that’s all. If you’re interested in my books click this link: BOOKS. Take a second to click the link on the side to subscribe to my blog. If you’d like to comment, do it. As always, thanks for reading.

 

 


A Travesty – and yes, I did it on Purpose

But the Angels Never Came is on sale next week (OCTOBER 21 – 28) for a dollar. For this reason I’ll be answering some of the most common questions that readers have had about the book. And for each answer I’ll provide a little sample for those of you who haven’t had the chance to read it yet.

One of the most common questions has been this: “What’s the deal with the dreams?”

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Dreams and visions are common motif in But the Angels Never Came because at its heart, the book is a parody.

So, what’s it parodying? Well, that one’s obvious: the bible.

In writing But the Angels Never Came, my goal was to create a travesty of the “binding of Isaac”, that classic Old Testament narrative where God tells Abraham to go up on top of a mountain and sacrifice his only [good] son. And Abraham actually goes up there to do it.

I wrote the book as a travesty meaning that it is a “grotesque imitation of a serious work.” But that doesn’t mean the book is silly or slapstick. I wrote it to be ugly. I wrote it to challenge the assumptions and point towards the absurdities inherent to the original.

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Now, anyone who’s familiar with the “binding of Isaac,” knows that Abraham has lots of dreams. In those dreams, God tells him what to do and makes all sorts of grand promises to Abraham and his future people. It was one of these dream sequences that I parodied in the following excerpt. Check it out, then check out the link at the bottom of the page if you are interested in comparing it to the original:

from But the Angels Never Came

But the Angels Never Came by Eric James-Olson

That night the storyteller woke from a nightmare. The same dream had haunted his nights since he was a young man. It first appeared only in glimpses. He would wake from the nightmare and only remember fragmented moments in time. Then it came to him as a full vision during a time of great difficulty. It was late in the day when the vision appeared, and he had not eaten for a week. In it, he could feel the presence of an inescapable force. His whole frame was gripped with fear.

There were concrete objects in the vision as well. He could see a young boy murdered. The murdered boy awoke. “you have no son,” the boy said. In the vision and in the dream, he always said that. A spirit floats out of the dead boy’s body. “Disinherited,” it would say as it floated upward towards oblivion.

The boy, now spiritless, turned his head in an unnatural direction. His skin was ashen grey. He was naked. From the wound of a dagger, black blood flowed. “He shall NOT,” the boy said “come forth out of thine own bowels who shall be thine heir.”

On most nights the dream ended here, but the original vision had more. The dream the storyteller had that night, was much like the original vision. In the dream, the boy stood up. Behind him, a field of dead flowers, each flower six feet tall swayed with a wind that the storyteller could not feel. “Count the number of these dead stalks,” the boy said, “if thou be able to number them, so shall thy seed be.”

The storyteller believed in the boy. He counted on him for his treachery. From amongst the flowers, a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon appeared. Each had its throat slit. Black blood flowed. Carrion pecked at the dead. And the storyteller did nothing.

He turned back towards the boy. “This land shall thee inherit,” the boy said with his arm pointing out towards a vast, untamed wilderness. “Know of a surety,” the boy continued, “that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall be hunted by them, killed by them, be afflicted by them four hundred years.” At this, the storyteller always felt horror and great darkness. “And after,” the boy said. “When that nation should fall, when the men that hunted thee shall depart from this world, thy seed will inherit the fruitless void, and chaos will reign.”

The wound on the boy’s chest suddenly healed. His skin colored peach. His lips were red. His eyes disappeared into the blackness of hollow sockets, yet the storyteller always felt that the boy could still see.

When he felt particularly brave, as he had during the dream this night, the storyteller walked up to the boy and stared into the empty eye sockets. The boy leaned his head back. From above him, the storyteller stared directly into the sockets. Within the shell of the skin, there is only nothingness, and nothing else. And then, the eyes became mirrors, and the storyteller saw his self.

The storyteller was afraid of this nightmare, but from it he did not despair. The dream appeared to him as a threat not as inevitability. He saw it as a manifestation of his greatest fears during a time of terrible desolation, not as the words from an immutable power outside of himself. There were times when he thought he saw this vision before him. He thought he saw the dream in the people around him. There was one time, long ago, that he lived it not knowing until it was too late.

He closed his eyes, but he did not sleep.

So, that’s it. If you’re interested in comparing this to the original check out the next link. If you’re interested in buying the book for a buck, check out the links below!
Genesis 15

 

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THANKS!!!!!!!!

 

 

 


Letters on Literary Devices 12: The Double Ellipsis

To The Double Ellipsis:

The other day a co-worker showed me a text-message that read as follows:

I have a plan……We can make this work……I’ll call you this evening…….

Two things stand out here. First, my co-worker receives cryptic messages. Does he sell drugs? Is he planning a bank robbery? Does he have a lady on the side? A man? – I didn’t ask but assumed it was innocent. Why else would he show me?

Second, the message contained a punctuation mark that I have seen before in poorly written fiction, but have never truly thought about: THE DOUBLE ELLIPSIS. That’s right folks, we’re talking six periods in a row.

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Now, you’re probably asking, “so what? It’s cool. What difference does an extra period make?”

Well, I’ll tell you the difference it makes.

A traditional ellipsis point(that’s actually the only kind) is made up of three periods. For those of you who can’t picture what that would look like, look here: {…}. Yep, that’s three in a row. In rhetoric and non-fiction writing generally, the ellipsis fulfills a finite function. It is an indication that a word or phrase or even a whole sentence or paragraph has been omitted.

So naturally, the text message with the double ellipsis had me asking this: how much did you omit between “I have a plan” and “We can make this work”? Was the plan hidden by the ellipsis? Is that what went there? Is that what was omitted? Was the plan so intricate that it needed not one, but two whole ellipsis? Back to back?

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In the moment I was convinced. As I looked at the screen of the cell phone, I searched for this mysterious plan between the spaces of those six periods. I looked. I squinted my eyes and held the phone an inch away from my face (I didn’t actually do that. I’m just being dramatic). And I saw…nothing (I felt that the single ellipsis would do here).

But wait! There are other uses of the ellipsis because fiction, unlike non-fiction, allows for greater flexibility with its punctuation marks.

You see, in fiction, the ellipsis can be used for more than just an omission. In fiction, the ellipsis implies trailing-off in speech, a brief pause, or stuttering/stammering. Perhaps the writer of the text message wanted to seem as if he was trailing-off and then trailing-off again. A double trail-off? “We can make this work……” Or maybe it was the double pause? Or maybe the fella speaks with a stutter and likes to present that in his text messages. In the case of the latter, his stutter really isn’t that bad. I’ve met folks who might warrant a triple or even quadruple ellipsis.

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Unfortunately, I won’t ever meet this mysterious text-messager. I’ll never have the chance to ask “why not just one ellipsis? 0 + 0 = 0! You can’t double omit! You can’t double trail-off! There’s no need for a double pause! A pause is a pause no matter how long it is! And if you speak with a stutter, that’s fine, but you don’t have to show that in your writing!”

Sincerely,
Eric James-Olson

If you are interested in my books, check out my links below. KindleUnlimited members can borrow for free. For everyone else, the books are priced slightly higher than the cost of dirt:  between 2.99 and 3.99. If you like this post, hook a brotha up with a like.

 

 

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THANKS!!!!!!!!


Flashback to LD 11

Hi again,

About a week ago I wrote a post on overwriting. In that post I promised future explanations of literary devices that cause a piece to feel – well – overwritten. If you haven’t read that post, it’s cool, just click this link: Letters on Literary Devices 11: Don’t Be So Dramatic. If you’ve read it already, you probably remember the following explanation which details the type of literary device capable of making a novel appear overwritten: “Well, any literary device used as a descriptor has the innate qualities necessary for causing readers to throw up.” I then listed a few and proved how “apostrophe’s” (the literary device, not the punctuation mark) when overused, can seem overwhelming.

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In this post I’d like to apply the same scrutiny to the literary term “epithet”.

For those who don’t know already, an epithet is a word or phrase precluding a characters name used for description. This strategy dates back to some of the earliest influences in Western Literature. Anyone who’s read the Iliad and the Odyssey, probably remembers the “Swift-footed” Achilles and the “Grey-Eyed” Athena. For ancient writers of epics, the epithet served a duel function. First, it was used as a descriptor. Second, it allowed more flexibility for poets who had to write within the constraints of dactylic hexameter. By having a list of several different epithets for each character, all having a different number of syllables, the poet could plug in the best rhythmically fitting epithet into each line.

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Well, that’s great and all, but how does this apply to novelists today? Obviously, no one writes full length fiction in dactylic hexameter anymore. It would be cool if someone tried, but probably unreadable because English doesn’t lend itself to dactyls. Writers still use epithets though, even if the rhythmic function of the device has become outmoded.

Now, I’m not going to point any fingers at my contemporaries. I’ve read some books using epithets for characters that have worked really well; I’ve read some books where the strategy just didn’t work.

Instead, I’ll just point out an example from my own writing.

In my first novel, Farmers and Cannibals, I used a epithet to describe the principal antagonist, “Big” Frank. Here’s the line from when he’s introduced: “Deep, dark, mahogany – the desk was chosen to say a lot about the massive man who sits behind it. “Big” Frank founded General Wheat Corporation sixteen years previously as a small time farmer willing to take a risk.”

“Big,” is Frank’s epithet and I chose the word because of its ambiguous context dependent meaning and relatively neutral connotation.

Now, I could’ve been annoying; I could’ve been guilty of overwriting if I used the word “Big” every time this character was mentioned. I’m glad I didn’t though, because as a descriptor that’s unnecessary. Throughout the novel, I only placed the word “Big” before his name when the character exerted his characteristic “bigness”: his tendency towards viciously controlling the fates of other men. That both gave the word “Big” its meaning within the novel, and served as a recurring motif chastising the behavior of the novel’s antagonist.

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Personally, I think this is a good way for novelists to use epithets. Overuse, can be annoying and seem overwritten. When used sparingly; however, the epithet is another tool for constructing layers of meaning.

Well, that’s it, if you have any examples of annoying epithets, good use of epithets, or any questions, disagreements, etc. please feel free to comment below!

If you are interested in my books, check out my links below. KindleUnlimited members can borrow for free. For everyone else, the books are priced slightly higher than the cost of dirt:  between 2.99 and 3.99. If you like this post, hook a brotha up with a like.

 

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THANKS!!!!!!!!


Letters on Literary Devices 11: Don’t be so Dramatic

To all of you painfully affected, truly moved, earnestly touched, really warmed, really and truly heartened melodramatists who can’t earnestly prevent the painful deluge of exaggerated emotion flowing through your writing:

This letter’s for you (For everyone else, for anyone with taste, sorry about “the painful deluge” of adverbs).

For those of you who haven’t got it yet, the topic of this week’s letter is “overwriting” and the most basic way of “overwriting”  is demonstrated above with my introduction. It’s got too many adverbs: painfully, truly, earnestly, really, really/truly, earnestly (And yes, I repeated some on purpose). Although I’m sure there are folks out there who like this sort of thing, for most folks the preponderance of words ending in “ly” has a nauseating effect.

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While adverbs tends to be the chief culprit in ‘overwriting’, unnecessary adjectives can induce vomiting as well (Substitute for syrup of ipecac anyone?). Either way, too many descriptive words take away from the action of a plot, the point in a paper, the creative license of a readers imagination.

So, that covers “overwriting” basics: too much description = puke. This, of course, begs the question: what other literary devices, when used overmuch, cause readers to lose their metaphorical lunches? Well, any literary device used as a descriptor has the innate qualities necessary for causing readers to throw up. And which would those be, you ask? A whole bunch. Watch me name five just off the top of my head: metonymy, epithets, periphrasis, circumlocution, and apostrophe (not the punctuation mark), …that’s five.   For the sake of word count, I’m just going to focus on one and promise to write follow up posts on each of the others somewhere in the future (Flashback to LD 11 yo). So, which will I pick? Let’s start with the last on the list: apostrophe. (Dude, check out all the colon’s in this paragraph. Yea, that’s where your lunch SHOULD go).

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Apostrophe: So, you thought this was just a punctuation mark? It’s also an ancient Greek literary device that’s most commonly used in drama, but has also seen action in novels. What is it? It’s a shout-out to a God or ghost or naturally occurring phenomenon or anything that’s not really real. Let’s start with a  few classic examples. Remember the Iliad? It’s that ancient Greek epic by Homer. Check out the first lines of the poem: “Sing, O muse, of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.” When he shouts out to the “muse,” oh yea, that’s an apostrophe. The muse ain’t there and she ain’t real, but as part of Greek literary convention, the author calls on this muse to speak for him. Now, is this “overwriting” because he used an apostrophe? HELL NO! Homer was one bad dude, and he ain’t gonna be shoutin’ out to no muse every other line. He doesn’t do it too much, and that’s why it isn’t “overwritten.”

Let’s check out an example from good ol’ Bill Shakespeare:

Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou comest in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee: I’ll call thee Hamlet,
King, father, royal Dane: O, answer me!

In this, Hamlet is calling out to the Ghost of his murdered father. Like Homer, Shakespeare uses the apostrophe as a plot device, as the inciting incident that sets off the events of the tragedy. Does he have Hamlet call out to the ghost every other line? HELL NO! Shakespeare, like Homer, was one bad dude. Sure, there are places throughout the play where we are reminded of the ghost, but it never becomes overwhelming.

In contrast with these “bad dudes” of literature, Mary Shelley, in Frankenstein, commits sin, after “overwriting” sin. I happen to be teaching the novel to an AP class at the moment. And even though I love the novel, the students and I have both noticed long dragged-out sections where the adverbs and adjectives are piled on, and the sickening overuse of apostrophe overwhelms the senses and the stomach.

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Allow me an example: “Oh! Stars and clouds and winds, ye are all about to mock me; if ye really pity me, crush sensation and memory; let me become as nought; but if not, depart, depart, and leave me in darkness.” (I think I just threw up in my mouth). Victor’s shout-out to nature here wouldn’t be so repulsive if it were alone. But these types of lines litter several of the chapters with melodrama, which actually detracts from the seriousness of Victor’s emotions. I mean, shit, the creature killed his whole damn family. Is that how you’d respond to finding out your whole family is dead? Would you be calling out to “stars and clouds and winds”? Would you accuse the sky of mocking you?

And yes, I know she was being poetic. And by itself, that line is great. But seriously, similar lines are repeated over and over throughout novel. It just gets old. It detracts from the action of the plot.

 

Well, that concludes this letter. What was my point in all this? There’s nothing wrong with descriptive writing. The problem is when there is too much of it. So watch for your adverbs, adjectives, and shout-outs to the supernatural. If you do it too much, you might be accused of “overwriting.”

 

With true and humble regards (puke),

Eric James-Olson

 

 

P.S.: If you are interested in my books, check out my links below. KindleUnlimited members can borrow for free. For everyone else, the books are priced slightly higher than the cost of dirt:  between 2.99 and 3.99. If you like this post, hook a brotha up with a like. If you’d like to receive e-mails for future posts, click the link on the side to join my e-mail list.

 

 

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THANKS!!!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


An Announcement… of sorts

Hey Folks,

For all of you out there interested in my fiction, my books can be borrowed free from Amazon. It’s through the KindleUnlimited program which is now offering a free 30 day trial (US ONLY). Don’t know much about the program? Check out this link: KINDLEUNLIMITED

I know – it’s awesome. And if you’re not interested in my books, or have already bought them, there are tons of other author’s with books listed through the program.

 

OTHER NEWS

To all of you who e-mailed, my next “Letter on Literary Devices” will be out later this week. I know, I know, I haven’t posted much recently. I’m not sure if any of you out there are inclined towards believing excuses, but I do have one for anyone who happens to trust me (Suckers): for the past month I’ve been painstakingly editing and revising a new novel – well, the first half of it at least. I’m planning on having the second half written by the end of the year but am not sure of when it will be published, who it will be published by, or any of that stuff yet. I have a title, but that might change too.

So, that’s it for this evening. Below are the links to my books for anyone interested in a free borrow. As always, thanks for checkin’ out my blog!

But the Angels Never Came:

Farmers and Cannibals:

Just After the Fall:

The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you!


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