Thursday, 17 September 2009

Missing Statement

The concept of writing some sort of 'Mission Statement' is too self-aggrandising. While I may prattle on about the Twenty-First Century novel needing to do something a bit different to those of the preceding century, I am not seeking after converts among fellow authors. I am content to try and offer any jaded readers of fiction something they may find refreshingly 'other'. On "You Write On" an online writing community, I have been branded a "Literary Jihadist". A badge I wear with pride if the plaintiff meant it in its sense of an individual struggle, rather than a cultural one. (I suspect such quodlibets were beyond the accuser, an elision of mein kampf and kulturkampf).

Anyhoo, the position of ploughing one's own furrow is no less self-indulgent. Wallowing in one's own solipsism. If your writing is too subjective, too personal an artistic 'vision', no reader is going to get it now are they? The novel, in whatever form, still has to communicate to countless subjectivities of its unknown readers. That means it must have points of convergence within that strange interchange; wherein an absent writer whispers silently inside the private intimate space of the reader's mind.

I also steer clear of the concept of laying down a rulebook. There are no flaming rules. Language is plastic, grammar and idiom constantly mutating. Is there even a formal written language left anymore? If there is, there is no compunction to compose all fiction in it. Witness the vernaculars of so many Scottish authors. Rather than rules, there is only the market for books and all sorts of nostrums as how to best play it as a writer. Wannabe authors then drawing their own conclusions as to what works and bureaucratising them into a code of 'good practice'. Temperamentally I am an anarchist. Formally I am an auto-didact. The number of 'Classic' novels I have read can be counted on the fingers of my two hands and maybe one of those plastic hands in display windows of jewellers. Bling bling rather than carated diamonds. I was a member of those generations not taught grammar at school. Good, I see it as a strength not a weakness. There is an element of me making it up as I go along when I write. So I eschew rules. I can hardly lay down prescriptions if I ignore them myself now can I? But at least I feel no constraints on experimenting.

So to this end, my only personal target in writing a novel is a pursuit of emotional intelligence. A writer in absentia can only appeal to a reader through lacing his/her imagination with emotion. And through this, maybe share notions of what it means to be human in this fluxus of the early 21st century.

Emotions, good. Take a gander at a thesaurus: 'Joy' has 1 & 1/2 columns of synonyms. 'Unhappy' covers 2 columns. 'Drunk' covers more than either, while 'reprove' covers 4 whole columns. There appears to be a bit of a shortfall in the words conveying emotional states. If you were to plot an emotional spectrum, you might have 'elated' or 'ecstatic' at the pole of the scale for 'happiness', but would you really use such words with writerly pride? I find it curious that we are served relatively poorly in our lexicons for the fundamental emotional states. You can be wrathful, but is it significantly different from the primary emotion of anger? Then there are those feeling states that are borderline. Are fear or vengeance actual emotions? Is numbness the absence of emotion due to shutdown? Jacobean medical theories posited 4 basic feeling humours, choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic and melancholic. Are we little advanced in terms of our possible lexicon of feelings than this? So the direct approach to emotional intelligence renders little, well er 'joy'.

Writers only have words in their utility belts. Playwrights are supplemented in their words by the skills of the actor, in inflecting their words, in facial expressions, in other accentuating gestures. In that private susurration between novelist and internal reader, there is no facial expression unless described on the page. No gesture unless specified. And just as the playwright cannot put in every 'um' or 'er' to reflect 'real' speech patterns, the novelist cannot really append a description of a gesture or an expression to underscore every single penned line. The text would grind to a halt.

Emotional intelligence does not just derive from 'realistic' character. So much character analysis is akin to reductionist psychological types. I am not really interested in portraying character in this pre-determined, pre-set way. I am more after giving impressions of a character. Primarily through VOICE. How they express themselves, in thought or speech. Vocabulary, idiom, metaphors. I don't describe the physicality of my characters, but I believe you will have the fullest picture of them just through how they express themselves. How they view themselves and others. Theirs is the voice that must commune with the reader. If the reader is receptive to the seduction of a character's voice as written, then the emotional intelligence can flow between the two.

As said, all we have to construct this VOICE, are words on a page. But we have rhythms, lyricism, assonance and reverberation, to assist the reader's imaginative envisioning. Whether singly, or in combination, I am looking for words to throw up echoes over and above themselves. Maybe individual words that have opposite meanings, or different meaning shades, but both are suggested within the one usage. Or words that have deviated from their original root meanings. I honour puns and made up distortions of words, all as pieces in the mosaic I am after weaving. I yearn for word plosions inside the mind of the reader, dropping my cluster bombs of lexical bomblets, some of which will detonate, others which will lay dormant but little matter. I desire the literary equivalent of Mongolian overtone singing: whereby the larynx produce the normal harmonies, but the resonating anatomy of the throat region produce the overtones. I want to set in motion that same resonance within my audience. Lacking calcified bones, I only have the vibrations of words rubbing up against other words. The language is rich, but it is not just the extent of vocabulary. It is the relationship between the words, how they spark and sculpt one another.

Some of the above entails dense layering. You have to offer the reader a sporting chance, for us to take a joint victory lap with laurel wreaths cresting our unpinched brows. So I break up my sentences. Choppy. Staccato. The shrapnel of jagged thoughts, which after all are not linear in the human mind, even if dreary old grammar orders and arranges it so when set down in print. Within online writing communities, I am reproved for ungrammatical sentences and breaking the rules (!) Well I'll just have to take that on my chins. Like I say, can you enlighten me as to how human thought is syncopated? Sometimes nothing comes to mind despite our best efforts, other occasions see us overwhelmed in a flurry of thought sparked off by some catalyst. All coloured and tinted by our emotions.

Language, language, language. It all comes down to language. It is both our marble and our chisel. But to merely delight in words themselves is self-indulgent and limiting. There has to be content of worth through the words. I am interested in the world, the culture immediately around me. The hidden trends, the submerged power and status relations. I want to go under surface perceptions and skin deep analysis and challenge the reader with they way they may look at the world. Possibly make them re-evaluate their emotional take on certain things.

Emotional intelligence. It's what makes us human.

Pleasure, there's an emotion for you. I hope you are able to luxuriate in my words. To commune with my characters love 'em or hate 'em. And then scratch the dermatitic itch provoked by the themes of the novels.

I'll have a book out soon enough and if you're minded, you can judge for yourselves.


Agnieszkas Shoes said...

Wow! What a wonderful piece of observationalism. I can almost here the combined voicses of Peter Ustinov and Jonathan Miller

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi there - popping over from my blogoffee party to thank you for calling in there. I enjoyed this piece - lots of good points in it, and thoughtful insights into communicating with readers. Power to your pen!