Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

As a writer and editor, I have to acknowledge a reality about the publishing world: There are a lot of crappy books that people buy. I’m talking to you:

Twilightbook

This raises the question of why an author would bother with trying to write a good book. What’s the point? You don’t have to get a publisher to release your work these days, and some well-known authors got their start through non-traditional means. I’m talking to you:

50ShadesofGreyCoverArt

But is the answer that marketing matters and quality doesn’t?

Well, marketing is certainly important. We know about this guy

468px-Shakespeare

because his work was produced in the licensed theaters of his day. He got a following by becoming known in the approved channels. Now, though, there are hundred of thousands of books published every year, so the ones that get put in front of the most potential readers are the ones more likely to sell. The problem is finding ways to get your book distinguished from the herd.

Of course, a lot of readers don’t care about good writing. Thus the sales of the books pictured above. Instead, they want a racy story with lots of plot. But if you set out to write a book that will appeal to the masses, what you’re doing is no better than playing the lottery. The masses, being fickle, are likely to love what you’re writing only when someone else writes it. One year it’s vampires that everyone wants, while the next it’s teenagers with swords, but who knew before the fact that it wasn’t going to be talking cats or rock drummers who solve crimes when they’re not bursting eardrums?

That_Darn_Cat_-_1965_Poster

Besides, it’s not the poor quality of the writing that makes a book sell. Yes, writing at a sixth grade reading level may help, but clunky dialogue and flat characters aren’t a guarantee for success. Look at it this way: The people who read only for the wild plot aren’t going to reject your book if you also write well, but good readers will appreciate your efforts.

There is more to this. I would like to be remembered as having written something worth reading. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle quotes a saying from the Greek lawmaker Solon to the effect that we should count no one as happy until after the person has died. The meaning of that was that we can’t judge the totality of a life before it’s finished. I’d like people to read what I’ve written long after I’m gone and to regard it as good. Yes, I’d also like to make a lot of money by writing, but as I said, that’s a wish, not a goal. We cannot plan to write a bestseller.

And that’s why it’s good to write the best work you can. Then you may need an editor and a promoter to polish and sell your book. As always, keep reading, keep writing, and keep submitting.

Or you can just be happy that your mother likes what you write.

Crossposted at Oghma Creative Media.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

As a teacher of college composition and literature, a writer, and an editor–and as a person–I care a great deal about this wonderful English language. That being the case, when I find a word used in a wrong way, that grates on my nerves. Yesterday, for example, I ran across an article on The Huffington Post on the subject of the scientific meaning of the word, theory. In common usage, the word is treated as a synonym for guess or conjecture, but in science, it means an explanation of data that has been confirmed by observation or experiment.

But some of the readers who commented on the article insisted that because their dictionaries tell them that theory also means guess, there’s nothing wrong with using it in that sloppy manner. This reveals a fundamental problem with how people understand what their dictionaries do. Dictionaries can be prescriptive or descriptive.

1. Prescriptive

This is the kind of dictionary that tells us what a word is supposed to mean. It aims at teaching best practice in language. Noah Webster used his to reshape American English into something different from that found in British writing. This is why Americans typically write honor and color, rather than honour and colour.

450px-Noah_Webster_engraving

2. Descriptive

By contrast, the descriptive approach seeks to compile the way a word is used or has been used. One famous example of this is the Oxford English Dictionay.

Oxford_English_Dictionary_2nd

The O.E.D. asks readers to send in examples of words that they find in published material, and the editors compile these into a sampling of those words’ history. J.R.R. Tolkien spent a couple of years after the First World War working on the entries for W, something that surprises no one who knows much about his interests. (That sentence brought to you by the letter W.)

But just because many people use a word in a particular way doesn’t mean that this is the best usage. Consider some examples. Many think that the word, issue, is a synonym for problem. But issue must always involve something being sent out. When I hear that a person has issues, I have to wonder what the person’s sores are giving to the world. As a figure of speech, issue is acceptable as a word to describe a topic of debate, such as the issue of gun control, since that topic is being sent back and forth between sides of the argument. Or take impact. Today, we hear it used in place of effect all too often. Impact means a blow, which makes talking about the impact of healthcare reform a disturbing subject of discussion–an issue, perhaps? Then there’s nauseous. How often has someone said to you, “I feel nauseous”? The word means a quality that causes illness, thus such a person is claiming to make others sick.

Now if your characters are speaking, feel free to make them misuse words in whatever way is appropriate to who they are. But in your own expression, you ought to be better than errors such as what I illustrated above. I know, I know, people at this point will say that Shakespeare or Chaucer or Milton or so on and so forth and such like used words in the way that today’s lazy person wishes to use them. Fine. If you’re Shakespeare or the like, feel free to do as you choose. But if you’re still working on getting to that exalted state, pay attention to best usage.

Crossposted on Oghma Creative Media.

Read Full Post »

Ben Johnson once said of William Shakespeare that the Bard had small Latin and less Greek. That may, in fact, have been an exaggeration, but regardless, it shows that a person can do great things in one language at a time.

Still, as the Spanish proverb goes, a man who speaks two languages is worth two men. Since my days of high school, I’ve studied Latin. With a dictionary and grammar book at my side, I can operate in it–slowly, to be sure. But it’s time to master the tongue. The books stand ready. I have a stack of index cards, and the spirit is willing.

The pleasure of reading Virgil in his original words
450px-Publius_Vergilius_Maro1
will make this more than worth the effort. But beyond even that, learning Latin–thoroughly, not just in bits and pieces–will make English a deeper and more enjoyable language for me.

If this idea intrigues you, you may also want to watch this space for my poem, “Learning Languages through Chapter Three,” which is soon to appear.

Read Full Post »

Fans of Douglas Adams will remember his character, Dirk Gently, a private detective who believes in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things and thereby justifies a vacation to a tropical beach as necessary to find a lost pet. This notion comes from a variety of sources. Here in the Western world, Carl Jung’s idea of synchronicity comes to mind.

I point this out because of just such a moment happening to me today (24 April 2013). This afternoon, I’ll discuss the play, Antigone with my Composition II students. The title character wants to bury her dead brother, but because he died attacking his home city, Creon, the king, refuses to allow her to do this. The themes are family loyalty, duty to the state, duty to ritual, and stubbornness despite warnings from the gods.

While reviewing my notes, a tweet came up in my Twitter feed, informing me that a mosque in Boston is refusing religious burial for Suspect #1in the marathon bombings. You can read the story here.

What conclusion are we to draw from this? Vengence is justified, even to the point of killing the attacker when that is the only way to stop the attack. But once a man is dead, it is vindictiveness alone that carries on punishing him. Shakespeare had Mark Antony tell us that “the evil that men do lives after them,” but surely we who live on are in part to blame for continuing that evil.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: