When you describe something in writing, it’s easy to be tempted to overstate. Text can gain power if it is restrained. At least in English, less is more.
I’ve recently been rewriting folk tales in simple English for an infant relative, keeping to a limit of two sides of A4 paper. At the same time I’ve been rereading the best of Patrick O’Brian’s novels, HMS Surprise. I keep coming back to the scene where Stephen Maturin, about to leave Bombay, discovers that his friend Dil has been killed. The list of words and emotions that the author does not deploy in this passage is very long, yet what is left in is unbearably poignant, the tragedy conveyed simply by one short observation after another. I hope I am as successful in the folk tales: withold some of the detail, and the children who listen to it being read will fill in the gaps from their imagination, and that’s how it should be.
January 29, 2013 No Comments
It’s always fascinating to hear a language evolve right in front of you. It’s usually a generational thing. I notice, for example, that when ordering food and drink in a restaurant, D and I usually say, “Can I please have…” where our thirty-something daughter and son-in-law say “Can I get…”. This is altogether deeper and more permanent a change compared to using fashionable slang words.
Goodness, how the latter die! I well remember my embarrassment when my father told a joke which depended for its punchline on a pre-1940s slang word for a part of the female anatomy. In time, ‘can I get…’ will be succeeded by some other formulation proving once again how resilient English is.
November 19, 2012 No Comments
Planning a speech that persuades people to do something? Watch and listen to the master-class that Bill Clinton gave to the Democratic convention last week, and learn. Forget the content or who wrote it, just see how he unpacks a whole toolkit of useful techniques: the way he varies the pace and ‘temperature’ of what he has to say; the building of climaxes, then killing the applause; the tiny pauses to indicate thought; the preachers’ urgency in phrases such as “Listen to this!”; the faux intimacy hinted by the confiding asides, contrasted with the just-short-of-jeering in his attacks; the use of sorrowful regret; the granularity of his just-enough detail. The list goes on: marvel at it.
September 12, 2012 No Comments