Read Like A Writer

There are two ways to learn how to write fiction: by reading it and by writing it. Yes, you can learn lots about writing stories in workshops, in writing classes and writing groups, at writers' conferences. You can learn technique and process by reading the dozens of books like this one on fiction writing and by reading articles in writers' magazines. But the best teachers of fiction are the great works of fiction themselves. You can learn more about the structure of a short story by reading Anton Chekhov's 'Heartache' than you can in a semester of Creative Writing 101. If you read like a writer, that is, which means you have to read everything twice, at least. When you read a story or novel the first time, just let it happen. Enjoy the journey. When you've finished, you know where the story took you, and now you can go back and reread, and this time notice how the writer reached that destination. Notice the choices he made at each chapter, each sentence, each word. (Every word is a choice.) You see now how the transitions work, how a character gets across a room. All this time you're learning. You loved the central character in the story, and now you can see how the writer presented the character and rendered her worthy of your love and attention. The first reading is creative—you collaborate with the writer in making the story. The second reading is critical.

John Dufresne, from his book, The Lie That Tells A Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction


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Friday, May 12, 2017

Figures of Speech by F. V. N. Painter


Definition. A figure of speech is a deviation from the plain and ordinary mode of speaking. Its object is greater effect. Figures originated, perhaps, in a limitation of vocabulary; and many words that are now regarded as plain were at first figurative. But the use of figures is natural, and at present they are used to embellish discourse and to give it greater vividness and force. To say with Thomson, for example,—
"But yonder comes the powerful King of day,Rejoicing in the east,"—
is far more vivid and forceful than to say "the sun is rising." Nearly all great writers, especially poets, enrich their style by the use of figures.
Kinds of Figures. There are various kinds of figures, which may be reduced, however, to three classes or groups. The figures based upon resemblance are similemetaphorpersonification, and allegory. Those founded on contiguity are metonymysynecdocheexclamationhyperboleapostrophe, and vision. Those resting upon contrast are antithesisclimaxepigram, and irony. Other forms of classification have been proposed. There are figures of diction and figures of thought; the former are found in the choice of words, the latter in the form  of the sentence. To figures of diction has been given the name of figures of intuition, because they present a sensible image to the mind; to figures of thought has been given the name of figures of emphasis, because they emphasize the thought. We thus get the following division:
Figures of IntuitionFigures of Emphasis
Figures of Resemblance. (1) Simile is a form of comparison in which one thing is likened to another. It is usually introduced by like or as, or some other word of comparison; as,—
"The twilight hours like birds flew by,As lightly and as free."
It is obvious that the things compared in simile should have some sort of resemblance. When the points of resemblance are too remote the simile is said to be farfetched. This was a frequent mistake among the so-called "metaphysical poets" of the seventeenth century. Except in burlesque or mock-heroic styles, dignified subjects should not be likened to what is trifling or low. The effect of such a simile is ridiculous, as in the well-known lines from Butler's "Hudibras":
"And, like a lobster boiled, the mornFrom black to red began to turn."
(2) Metaphor is an abridged simile, the words expressing likeness being omitted. In the sentence, "Roderick Dhu fought like a lion," we have a simile; but when we say, "He was a lion in the fight," we have a metaphor. The metaphor is briefer and more striking than the simile; it springs from greater emotion or mental energy, and often imparts great force or beauty to a passage. Thus, likening human life to a voyage at sea, Shakespeare says:
"There is a tide in the affairs of men,Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;Omitted, all the voyage of their lifeIs bound in shallows and in miseries."
There are several errors that are not infrequent in the use of metaphor. A metaphor should not be blended with plain language in the same sentence, nor should it be extended too far. The latter fault is called "straining the metaphor." Two incongruous metaphors should not be used in the same sentence. In the following lines from Addison his muse is first conceived of as a steed that needs to be restrained with a bridle, and then as a ship that is eager to be launched:
"I bridle in my struggling Muse with pain,That longs to launch into a bolder strain."
(3) Personification is the attribution of life to inanimate things. When we speak of "the thirsty ground" or "the angry ocean," we endow these objects with the feelings of living creatures. Personification is a bold species of metaphor; it is the offspring of vivid feeling  or conception, and often lifts discourse to a high plane. Thus, in "Romeo and Juliet," we read,—
"Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund dayStands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops";
and in Shelley's "Queen Mab,"—
"How wonderful is Death,Death and his brother Sleep!One, pale as yonder waning moon,With lips of lurid blue;The other, rosy as the mornWhen, throned on ocean's wave,It blushes o'er the world:Yet both so passing wonderful!"
(4) Allegory is the description of one object in terms of another. It is a sort of continued metaphor in which, however, the main subject of discourse is not mentioned. In the following beautiful allegory, the Jewish people are described in the character of a vine: "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt; thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; and the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself."
The parable and the fable are closely akin to allegory. A parable is a brief narrative of real or imaginary incidents for the purpose of inculcating some moral or religious truth. It has been described as "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning." A considerable part of Christ's teaching was in parables, many of which are as beautiful as they are profound.
fable is a fictitious story introducing animals or even inanimate things as rational speakers and actors, for the purpose of teaching or enforcing a moral. The fables of Æsop are almost universally known, and the fables of La Fontaine exhibit a high degree of artistic merit.
Figures of Contiguity. (1) Metonymy consists in naming an object by one of its attributes or accompaniments. It is based, not on resemblance, but on relation, such as cause and effectcontainer and thing containedmaterial and thing made of it, etc. When we say, for example, that "gray hairs are venerable," we mean old age, putting an effect for the cause. In the sentence, "Socrates drank the fatal cup," the container is put for the thing contained, namely, the deadly hemlock.
The general effect of metonymy is to bring before the mind a definite image, and thus to impart a graphic quality to the style. To say, "The pen is mightier than the sword," is more graphic and forcible than to say, "Literature is mightier than war."
(2) Synecdoche puts a part for the whole, or a whole for the part; as, "The harbor was crowded with masts." Synecdoche is a species of metonymy, and has the same effect of giving vividness. This is apparent in a well-known quatrain from Goethe:
"Who ne'er his bread in sorrow ate,Who ne'er the mournful midnight hoursWeeping upon his bed has sate,He knows you not, ye heavenly Powers."
(3) Exclamation is a figure of thought. It is the result of kindled emotion, and expresses in exclamatory form what would usually be stated in declarative form. Thus Hamlet, outraged at the conduct of his mother, bursts forth:
"O that this too too solid flesh would melt,Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!Or that the Everlasting had not fixedHis canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,Seem to me all the uses of this world!"
Though chiefly confined to poetry, exclamation is frequent in fervid prose, and Carlyle's works fairly bristle with exclamation points.
(4) Apostrophe is a direct address to the absent as present, the inanimate as living, or the abstract as personal. It is closely allied to personification, with which it is often associated. This figure is expressive of intense emotion. The following passage from "King Lear" will serve for illustration:
"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!You cataracts and hurricanoes, spoutTill you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!"
(5) Vision is a description of absent things as present. It is suited only to animated discourse in either prose or poetry. In the midst of the argument of Milton's "Areopagitica" we find this splendid outburst portraying the future of England: "Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks; methinks I see her, as an eagle, mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam; purging and scaling her long abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms."
(6) Hyperbole is an exaggerated form of statement, and is used to magnify or diminish an object. It is quite natural, under the impulse of strong emotion or imagination, to use exaggerated statements, and frequently it serves to lend piquancy and force to style. But this tendency is dangerous, and should be kept under restraint. As a rule it is best to see and describe things as they are. The following from "Julius Cæsar" will serve as an example of hyperbole:
"Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow worldLike a Colossus, and we petty menWalk under his huge legs and peep aboutTo find ourselves dishonorable graves."
Figures of Contrast. (1) Antithesis presents a strong contrast of words or sentiments, usually in the form of balanced sentences. It gives force to style by uniting opposite things in one conception. Its excessive use, however, becomes monotonous; and antithesis in construction, without a real contrast of thought, is confusing and disagreeable. Macaulay, perhaps, makes more frequent use of antithesis than any other of our great modern writers. Of the Puritans he says: "If they were unacquainted with the works of philosophers and poets, they were deeply read in the oracles of God; if their names were not found in the registers of heralds, they felt assured that they were recorded in the Book of Life; if their steps were not accompanied by a splendid train of menials, legions of ministering angels had charge over them."
(2) Climax arranges its words, phrases, or clauses in an order of increasing impressiveness. Its proper use gives an accumulative force to the sentence. No better illustration of the climax can be given than the well-known one in Cicero's oration against Verres: "To bind a Roman citizen is an outrage; to scourge him is an atrocious crime; to put him to death is almost parricide; but to crucify him—what shall I call it?"
The arrangement of the words or clauses in a descending order is called anticlimax or bathos. It is frequently used in wit and humor. The following sentence is a ridiculous anticlimax: "The enemy is now hovering upon our borders, preparing to press the knife to our throats, to devastate our fields, to quarter themselves in our houses, and to devour our poultry."
The principle of the climax is of wide application. Not only in the sentence but also in the paragraph, chapter, and entire work, there should be, as far as possible, progress in the importance, intensity, or amplitude of the thought.
(3) Interrogation strengthens an affirmation or denial by throwing it into the form of a question. It is a figure frequent in poetry and emotional prose. The following example from Gray's "Elegy" will be sufficient for illustration:
"Can storied urn or animated bustBack to its mansion call the fleeting breath?Can Honor's voice provoke the silent dust,Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of death?"
These questions are not asked for information, but for rhetorical effect, and they forcibly suggest the truth of their negation.
(4) Epigram is the pungent phrasing of a shrewd observation. It may be recognized by two characteristics,—it must be brief, and it must have an unexpected turn of thought. This turn of thought may spring from an apparent contradiction, from the solemn assertion of a truism, from a play on words, or from other sources. There is an apparent contradiction in Wordsworth's epigrammatic line,—
"The child is father of the man."
There is a play on words in the following epigrammatic characterization of a loud and violent speaker: "He mistakes perspiration for inspiration."
(5) Irony expresses a thought contrary to the form of words. Its seeming praise is really condemnation; its compliments are insults. Its advantage lies in the difficulty its victim experiences in making a reply. It is useful in chastising follies and vices; but as a rule ironic touches are to be preferred to continuous irony. The following is from Thackeray: "So was Helen of Greece innocent. She never ran away with Paris, the dangerous young Trojan. Menelaus, her husband, ill-used her; and there never was any siege of Troy at all. So was Bluebeard's wife innocent. She never peeped into the closet where the other wives were with their heads off. She never dropped the key, or stained it with blood; and her brothers were quite right in finishing Bluebeard, the cowardly brute! Yes, Madam Laffarge never poisoned her husband, and Mary of Scotland never blew up hers; and Eve never took the apple—it was a cowardly fabrication of the serpent's."

Excrepted from Elementary Guide to Literary Criticism by F. V. N. Painter.

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