Many authors talk about their love of language, but for me, it goes far beyond the meaning of words. See, most writers get a kick out of double entendre and the clever turning of a phrase. Poets adore images invoked by using precisely the ideal word, or the ambiguity of a sharply placed homograph. Let’s not forget the linguistics of Billy “The Bard” Shakespeare and the haughty analysis of his work which continues to this day, finding, by the hour, nuance and subtlety and deeper meaning to his craft. As one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes says, “The difference between the right-word and the almost-right-word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
However much I share those sentiments, as I said, my love for language is more than witty phrases and sharply punctuated adjectives. What I love of language goes right down to the ink on the page (or the pixels on the screen, as the case may be). I am entranced not only by the phonation of a paragraph, but even by the shape and form of the letters. I love the look and flow of certain characters on the page, right down to the grammatical structure itself. I’m intrigued by great authors who break all conventions taught in school for “good writing” and toy with one word sentences, run-on sentences, repeated repeated repeated words, dissonant dialogue, heck, even…
I love phrases that are duplicated for emphasis and how the sound of impeccably resonant words can remain ringing within your ears for hours, even when they were read in utter silence.
To be clear, I’m not speaking about mere typography either. Typography is concerned with readability and legibility. Typography studies the quality of the engine. The passion of which I speak is a concern for palpable thrill of flowing with the motorcycle upon the road.
Feeling that love for the first time was the moment I realized, my affinity for writing was different from that of other authors. My awareness happened when I became conscious of my esteem for the aesthetic contour of words. I have spent many decades reading about writers. Interviews. Articles. Autobiographies. Whatever. And in all those countless words of advice, among all those endless pontifications of what writing means to them, of all the writers I idolize and admire for their dizzying talent, never once have I seen a single author mention their infatuation with the glorious form of text on paper. Now, I’m not going to claim I’m the only author to ever possess such a passion. There may very well be hundreds of others who feel the same. Be that as it may, I’ve never heard a single one of them proclaim it. Only me. So, while my delight for the beauty of lettering itself may be commonplace, I’m blissfully ignorant of such a commonality, if it does indeed exist. Anyone can commend the craftsmanship of calligraphy. None speak of love for serifs, sensually bespeckled across leaves of a mass market paperback.
My fondness for such visual presentations even causes me to break some conventions of “proper” grammar. For example, the end punctuation of a sentence is always supposed to be placed within quotes:
Sally thought he was kind of “cool.”
Bobby said, “She’s really awesome.”
Grammatically, both of those examples are correct. I have no problem with the second sentence, where the period ends inside of a direct quote. However, aesthetically, I simply don’t like the first sentence. I contend, if it’s not a direct quotation, the punctuation should fall outside of the quotation marks. For example:
Sally thought he was kind of “cool”.
To me, that looks more pleasing to the eye. Therefore, that is the way I choose to punctuate my writing, even knowing it fails to follow “correct” conventions of grammatical structure.
Trivial to some. Vital to me. Mr. Twain was correct, but it’s even more than lightning and the lightning bug – it’s the way your heart feels when you see the flash.
Most people judge books within the first few pages, based upon the tone of a story and the ease with which they can read it. I do that as well. Nonetheless, I also judge by aesthetics. Formatting. Margins. Tabs. Spacing. Is there dialog on the very first page? There better be. I want to know the voice of the characters. Are the paragraphs short and poignant? Do they snap and sparkle off the paper? Or does the author open with two massive blocks of text which are nothing but descriptions and 30-word sentences? I’m instantly turned off by that too. You wrote a damn novel! You have 300 pages to construct your world. Don’t try to build it all up in the first 2 paragraphs. This is foreplay. We’re just getting to know each other. Take your time. Explore. Don’t bludgeon.
I loathe to be dropped into a mire of text. Books shouldn’t start with a dense and muddy swamp of phonetics. They should be brisk. Open. Inviting. Even if the story itself literally begins in a dire setting of dank and foul marshes, reading it should feel as easy and blithe as a summerday in a comforting hammock. Give the words room to breathe.
Consider the power and beauty in single words.
Hear how “snow” sounds. Light. Feathery. Just like the physical object it describes. Look at the form of the “s” and how it gently slithers down the page like a falling snowflake. It drifts. Blissful and naive.
Hear how much more poetic “sunshine” rings?
One of my favorite words ever. I don’t think I’ve ever used “propinquity” in a single book I’ve written. It sounds like the peal of silverbells or windchimes. Such a lovely word. Looks so sophisticated upon the page. So proper. The letters “i” in repetition and the descender of the “p” and “q” and “y” nearly symmetrically spaced. Beautifully balanced, that word. Dignified.
Consider the name InkShard for this blog. I’ve always been a fan of imaginative compound words. Compound words start to conjure even more meaning than a singular counterpart. InkShard summons a vision of ebony crystal, melting like mercury and flowing across vellum in magic puddle waves. Forming words in a wishingwell daydream. “Shard” sparks crisp off the tongue, as the sword it remains mightier than.
Vials. Parchments. Blades. Quills. Crystals. Shale and stone. Indeed, there be countless images to equate with InkShard.
Of course, examples of individual words pale in comparison to how paragraph structures decorate a page. Therein lay true beauty. Like dollops of paint upon a canvas, they are nothing more than haphazard vandalism, until you start to see them blend together and form coherent dreams. Once that happens, they exist twofold – once as story and once as artistry of physical form.
Ask any author if they love the form of ink on paper and they will most likely tell you they do. Not because they are being sincere, but because the question will never have occurred to them before, and once they are poised a query which sounds eccentric and cool, they’ll feel obligated to conform with it. Read their books though. It’s obvious most of them have no appreciation for the aesthetic beauty of words.
Break. Up. A. Fucking. Sentence. On. Occasion.
Lots of them, professional and amateur alike, have no idea how to do that. Description. Dialog. Description. Description. Dialog. Description. That’s all they know how to do. Glance at the page – don’t read a thing, just glance at it – and the form doesn’t look pretty at all. It should. The words should flow and undulate, like so much moss in a stream.
Writing isn’t what teachers tell you.
Writing isn’t what editors proclaim.
Writing has nothing to do with the wisdom of publishers and their experiences.
These people know only of what sells writing. They have no idea what makes writing. They are the ringleaders of the circus, there to show the magician to the crowds, with no understanding whatsoever from whence the wizard conjures the magic. Writing isn’t merely about the love of a story or the foundations of a sentence. Writing isn’t merely about caring for the characters. Writing isn’t merely about liking the smell of old books or appreciating literature. For the words of great storytellers are not merely the tools to conjure wonderment – the words alone are wonderment too. Writing must dance upon the page as minnows flutter. The very letters themselves, frozen as photographs, just waiting to be imbued with life, and scurry to dance before your awestruck eyes. When the scent of parchment intoxicates you as the sweetginger breath of a lover who is too young for you; When you see beyond the things you were told makes for good writing; When you know more about ink upon the page than anyone you’ve ever met, because it ripples rivulets into your bones like acid, carving stories in scrimshaw from the inside of your skeleton out, seeping through your very marrow, then, then, you start to know what it means to write. Then…
Then you start to focus the prism of your vision, into the blinding Light of Creation.
Let there be lightning!
(And lightning bugs.)