Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wildcard: A Book of Pure Awesome

On Wednesday of this week, I was wandering through Whitcoulls, the local bookstore, when I stumbled upon A Book of Pure Awesome.

Said Book of Pure Awesome
When I saw it on the shelf, my eyes widened and I blurted hysterically to the people I was with, "Look at this!" Except I cracked about three highs in that short sentence. Then I proceeded to remove the book from the shelf and immersed myself in its awesome.

Needless to say, I went home that day with another book, called How Language Works, to add to my collection. I've always been interested in linguistics and phonetics, but I've never actually taken the time to do much research on either. But this book is a great place for me to start, and so far it's fascinating.

Look, it even has diagrams!

More diagrams!

A family tree!
Obviously, I'm excessively excited about reading this book. The author, David Crystal, is incredibly clear and concise, covers a wide range of related topics and is a great teacher. Plus, it's a book on linguistics. What more could you want?

Have you come across any Books of Pure Awesome lately?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Writing Advice: Inspiring Dialogue

Have you ever come across dialogue that is meant to be inspiring, but just isn't?

Whether it was in a novel, film, play, TV show, short story, or whatever, you found yourself cringing. The line (or monologue - which is even worse) was supposed to be wise and motivational, a deep insight into life, but the way it came out made you think, Puh-lease, this is so lame. No one would ever say that in real life - it's so cliché!

I'll give you an example from Eragon by Christopher Paolini (and this is one of the few criticisms I'll make of it because it's one of my favourite books). This monologue comes from Eragon's wise-guy uncle:
"First, let no one rule your mind or body. Take special care that your thoughts remain unfettered. One may be a free man and yet be bound tighter than a slave. Give men your ear, but not your heart. Show respect for those in power, but don't follow them blindly. Judge with logic and reason, but comment not. ..."
And that's only half of it.

Of course, these are all great messages that Paolini expresses, profound and true. But do they connect with us? Not really, no, because this kind of self-aware insight is rarely found in real life. No-one I know would ever speak like that, and if they did, I'd have to stifle hysterical laughter.

So how does a writer express his or her ideas, viewpoints and life lessons without stating them blatantly? Through story. Through events and turning points and character responses. Every time we write, we are showing the reader what we think life is like. "This is my perception. This is my vision of the world, and the nature of the people who inhabit it. This is what these people would do under these circumstances for these reasons."

Story is a metaphor for life. It's a vessel through which readers become emotionally attached to an idea. You could tell someone of the repulsiveness of teen violence, or they could read the Hunger Games. Which do you think would leave them more convicted? You could have a character say, "There's always hope," or you could show it by having your protagonist achieve his or her goal despite the immense odds stacked against them. Again, which would connect to the reader more?

When it comes down to it, it's a question of showing or telling.

And of course, there is a place for telling. There is a place inspiring dialogue - JRR Tolkien was especially good at using it. But if you use it too much, or in the wrong way, it ends up having the opposite effect.

So, as a rule of thumb, let telling dialogue compliment your showing. Express yourself first and foremost through events and character - and if you need dialogue to finish the job, go for it.
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