Friday, August 15, 2014

When dialogue kills a story



In the past week I've begun to read two books. I never finished either of them.

The first, an historical novel written in 1976 by a famed and multi award winning Australian writer, the second, a recent publication and fourth book by an Australian writer. Both lost me almost at the first quotation mark because the dialogue lacked credibility.

With the first book there is dialogue on the second page between two Tasmanian Aboriginals pre-European settlement, written as spoken in articulate high-educated English. Although the unnaturalness of this jarred, I accepted it as one might accept a translation from an unknown language, squirming a little as the speculative speech between these proud people was reduced to class-valued interpretation. Two pages over, when the daughter of the former was speaking, the dialogue had been written in the worst interpretation of pidgin English I’ve ever read, making an intelligent woman sound like a complete simpleton. At this point I found I could not take the book seriously. I felt insulted on behalf of the historical figure being portrayed and embarrassed for the writer despite her fame. I closed the book.

The second book, also speculative non-fiction of early Tasmanian history, had been extensively researched. It had a strong story line that stood out above the telling rather than showing narrative, but the dialogue was, for the most part, quite unbelievable for the era and setting. There was also an issue with consistency, i.e. in one string of dialogue, ‘here’, is written with a dropped aitch (‘ere), two lines down the aitch is pronounced, then the same word is misspelt as, ‘ear, in the next. Dialogue, as an extension of characters, needs to be above all true and consistent. What really stood out for me in this book though, was the phrase, ‘man up’, which has been around for less than a decade, suddenly thrown in as dialogue between characters. At this point I lost interest in reading further, conceding that, while I’d wasted money in buying this book, I didn’t have to waste time in reading it.

There are many aspects to writing dialogue if it is to be believable and, when used well, it is an excellent technique for injecting needed breaks into numerous action scenes, long narrative and/or descriptive passages. Unfortunately, writing realistic dialogue proves to be one of the most difficult aspects of the creative writing process for some writers and without this, readers can quickly lose interest as such false notes often distract from the essence of the story.

Visit the following page for an informative article on writing dialogue - http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com.au/2011/03/dialogue-wisdom.html

Friday, June 20, 2014

The carousel of blogging



It's two months since my last post - a dead stop in the middle of two challenges - the A-Z of Blogging and NaPoWriMo. Without mention of all the other challenges of life that get in the way of regular blogging, I think the timing of this latest hiatus says a lot about taking on too much at the one time and the need to set achievable writing related goals.

Blogger absenteeism is comparable to school truancy, where each day off compounds the issue, putting an ever-increasing gap between student and education. It's like jumping off a playground carousel, watching it spin and being unable to time the leap back on.

So, after watching the spinning of the carousel of time, I've made the leap back on to a blog that's lost its spin, hoping I can find the momentum to set it in motion once more before it spits me off again. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 18 - letter P in A-Z of Blogging



Peace is that elusive place much sought after, yet rarely found. It is the Nirvana of harried mothers and fretful fathers and the fantasy of the troubled. 


Peace is...

Peace hand holds with silence
in night darkness
until a rill of conscience
washes over the sleeper;
cease-fire ending
as the nightmare begins.
              
Peace is...
the silence
after fists of passion
have been spent
and she answers back no more
his heart pounding
hers stilled forever.

Peace is...
the stillness
after the last cannon fires,
when smoke settles over corpses
strewn across battle fields
in the period of shock
before the keening begins.

Peace is...
the calm
of a starving child
born into famine
accepting of its fate
no blame or shame

to fill empty bowls.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 17 - the letter O of A-Z

Ooooooooooooo! Really?

Ousted



It’s a strange feeling
this state of being ousted
from civilised society
no harsh words flung
at twenty paces
or less
no direct hint
of the exact transgression
or which social more
has been broken
just the chill
of a silent phone,
the blank stare
of an empty mailbox,
and the clipped consonants
of polite conversation
when avoidance is impossible.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The letter N in the A-Z of Blogging



Nintingbool Niceness


Yesterday we had a trip out of town to pick up two chairs we’d purchased on EBay, very nice retro yellow and grey to match our recently renovated kitchen. Deciding not to waste the long trip we combined several activities into the day, shopping at stores not available in the small town we live in. First stop Bunnings garden centre, a sort of retail heaven for me. A red grape, several punnets of seedlings (including our favourite nasturtiums), a hibiscus to fill the gap down the drive and a slow dawdle down the herb aisle. I’d picked up two pots of thyme and was hanging about the salvias when a lady struck up a conversation about these plants, pointing me in the direction of one that had caught my eye earlier and telling me of its bird attracting qualities. Two of my weaknesses – plants and birds and I was sold, picking up another just for good measure.

We still had an hour or so before chair pick up time so drove across town to a shopping centre for lunch and a browse. My husband needed more canvases and I needed more, well more of anything if it was a bargain, a use for which could be worked out later, such is the serendipitous nature of idle shopping. Lunch was pretty ordinary, a dried out eggplant quiche and a side serve of limp salad, but the coffee was to die for. I saw two people with familiar faces while we were having lunch, one a younger man with a gaunt face I’d almost spoken to when his blank look told me the recognition wasn’t reciprocated. It was then I realised he’d been one of the contestants of The Biggest Loser TV show that recently finished. And I won’t say any more on the subject of this ‘reality’ show for fear of litigant action. The other person was immediately recognisable, and I was still trying to put a name to the face when I realised who it was staring back at me. I’d been staring at my own reflection in an adjacent mirror. Embarrassed at my elderliness, I returned my focus to the limp salad and conversation with my husband, who thankfully I could still recognise.

Then it was time to set off for Nintingbool and the chairs. I’d scrawled some vague directions on a scrap of paper that thought I could decipher when the time came, and I almost could apart from a slight mix up with a couple of roundabouts. One phone call and a short detour later we arrived as a house in the country with a beautiful welcoming garden edging the long drive to the house. Here we met the friendly Sandy, who offered us coffee and cake with that country friendliness you don’t see that often these days and we loaded the chairs into the car. As we opened the back of the wagon she spotted our earlier purchases from Bunnings, asking what plants we’d purchased, leading on to a discussion on gardening in general. She then asked if I liked irises, canna lilies and belladonna lilies. I said yes and before I could turn around she was digging up her garden beds and handing me plants to place in plastic bags for the trip home.

We left with much thanking and arm waving to find our way home, not caring too much if we got lost or otherwise side-tracked, still under the spell of Nintingbool niceness. 

Day 15 NaPoWriMo and M in A-Z of Bogging



Day 15 of NaPoWriMo and M in the A-Z of Blogging

This is a poem I wrote that was published in Australian Writer in 2004 with some new edits.

Triazine Mist

beneath fragrant Sassafras
and lush tree ferns
an inquisitive quoll 
explores the understorey
of the forest floor,

he nudges the limp form
of his companion;
his mother,
who went before him
to slake her thirst

alone now 
he looks around
the heart of the forest,
the soul of our planet
as it falters 

and dies


under the lethal mist 
of triazine


My story The Mist (unrelated to the above poem) can be read by clicking the link.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The A-Z of blogging


WeLL and TruLy Layered

Quite without realising it – and I admit there’s a lot I don’t realise these days, I committed to National Poetry Month (USA) and the April A-Z blogging challenge. The former requires a poem written each day and the latter writing every day to a topic beginning with the letter for that day.

Today’s letter is L and I find I’ve completely missed A-K so it comes as no surprise that I find myseLf over-Layered with unmet commitments. Laminous.

Swamped, and drowning in a sea of good intentions, confident I can make landfaLL before the end of each day, but I can’t swim against the tide and find myseLf caught in the rips of everyday Living. FLoundering in the depths of Life.


Other unmet projects rise up to taunt me, as Lifebuoys that fLoat beyond my grasp, and I yearn for the steady progress of the Longer, known work. No poems written on the hop, nor Letters of the aLphabet frowning to be written to, just the pLodding of the long distance writer.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 13


Another Oscar

Across the ocean
another Oscar
cries rivers of denial,
before the dry eyes
of the victim’s mother
tears long replaced
by the numbness of grief,
she watches and waits
for a verdict
in this trial
where privilege
overshadows the tragedy
each character playing
the role of a lifetime
before a black-robed wisdom,
and the idol teeters
on invisible feet
as he stands
on the brink of judgement.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 12



An Oscar with a difference...

She walked into the room
and owned it
the stage was hers,
the applause, her due
her glory days eternal
never conceding
to a single wrinkle
she stood,
a waxworks caricature
of her former fame
to please this city
that disdains older age
and the media whispers
became a roar,
indignation
a united demand
for the surgeon’s scalp(el)
and litigation
for this woman
chiselled and sanded
beyond recognition
for her big night out.

Friday, April 11, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 11



A clever man, Oscar
wit expressed
as words of wisdom
much quoted
after his demise,
respectable in death

he cited education
as an admirable thing
despite his claim
anything worth knowing
could never be taught

yet he implied
experience
came at a price
while I would argue
nothing of value
can ever be bought

Thursday, April 10, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 10

‘Experience is one thing you can't get for nothing.’ ~ Oscar Wilde


Experience
is the gift of having lived
an incidental adjunct
to the lessons of life
a serendipitous return
to that freely given
shared love, pain and joy
that teaches us
and others
kindness absolute
and, as such
it has no cost.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 9



Draft 2


time stands still
on these streets
where past
is ever present
and future
unimagined

repressive social values
passed father to son
expectations of submission
passed mother to daughter

passive faced buildings
belie eyes behind windows,
ears alert at keyholes,
where and the faceless who whisper
the shame of the fallen

time stands still
on these streets
where church bells toll

the virtue of the city

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 8




1st draft


time stands still
on these streets
where past
is ever present
and future
unimagined

repressive social values
passed father to son
expectations of submission
passed mother to daughter

passive faced buildings
belie eyes behind windows,
ears at keyholes
where the faceless whisper

time stands still
on these streets
where church bells toll
the virtue of the city

Monday, April 7, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 7




Draft 2 - My grandfather

After edits (shown below)

my grandfather was a carpenter
artisan of chisel and lathe
surrounded by wood shavings
he hummed to an invisible tune

in older age he sang
melodies from his homeland
a trembling range of one octave
each note evocative

but poetry was his true love
memorised from youth
voice modulated
to draw emotion from every word
until his breathing slowed
then stopped

yet I hear his voice
in the scent of forests
the soft burr of song
and the rhythm of words
carried on the breeze


my grandfather was a carpenter
an artisan of chisel and lathe plane
toiling knee deep surrounded by wood shavings
he hummeding to an invisible tune

in older age he sang
melodies from his homeland
a trembling range of one octave
each note evocative

his true love was but poetry was his true love
memorised from youth
voice modulated
to ring draw emotion from every word
until his breathing slowed
then stopped

his voice is still heard
yet I hear his voice
in the scent of forests
the soft burr of song
and the rhythm of words

carried on the breeze

Sunday, April 6, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 6



my grandfather was a carpenter
an artisan of chisel and plane
toiling knee deep in wood shavings
humming to an invisible tune

in older age he sang
melodies from his homeland
a trembling range of one octave
each note evocative

his true love was poetry
memorised from youth
voice modulated
to ring emotion from every word

his voice is still heard
in the scent of forests
the soft burr of song

and the rhythm of words

I'm posting this poem as a first draft as it still has some distance to go...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 5 - a reflection

figure







"A poet goes through very hard work. Anyone who thinks that a poem which has any merit at all is written easily is very mistaken, because a poem is an architectural thing. It's the building of an idea into form, and the idea that is suggested to the mind begins to bring its own symbols and metaphors, and perhaps even its own language. But it has to be very carefully chosen—the ideas have to be carefully chosen, and how the lines will fall, in what manner they will hang together right, which is a very rough expression of what a poem is. But to do that requires much working on, sometimes perhaps days of working and even into the night you are thinking about it. So it is not by any means something to scribble off.

- Sara Bard Field (1882-1974)


Reading the above quote by Sara Bard Field caused me to stop and think about the quality of what I have written (will write) during NaPoWriMo in producing a poem a day. I understand there are many who can run off a poem in minutes, but I am not one of those. The writing of a poem for me most often takes days, if not weeks. It begins with the concept, a thought or a string of words that persist and take form over a period of time. Usually I write these words in my journal, other notebook, or on any handy scrap of paper, adding and deleting words as the poem finds its shape. Once I have the bones of it I then put it on the computer to work on refining, layout etc. Poems work better for me when worked in stages - a slow construction, making sure each element is sound and consistent with the whole. I have shown the process of writing and re-drafting a poem in many of my previous posts.

Reflecting on what I've written over the last four days, I have to say there is nothing I feel particularly good about. These are poems that grew from expedience rather then that urgent pulse of words and images and it shows. I will continue to participate in NaPoWriMo. but with a greater awareness of what I'd like to achieve, viewing each poem posted as nothing more than almost pre-conceptual, each needing to be taken back to that scrap of paper and constructed from that point.




Friday, April 4, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 4



Their love had been a river
of smooth entry
and rippled finish
water under the bridge, now
as memories become
a distorted reflection
of the reality
they had once built
together.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 3



I saw you again this morning
in the vibrancy of dawn that
coloured the mountain peaks,
tinting the coming day
with optimism

I heard your voice
in the birdsong you loved
whistling my reply
as you had taught me
with heartfelt joy

I felt your touch
on the  breeze that paused
to touch my arm in passing
that gentle brush
of oneness

I smelt your scent
in the garden you created
earthy and native to
this great southern land,
belonging

It is only at night
I can no longer find you
left on my own
to count down the hours

until I see you again.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 2



Shadows and lichen
deep clefts and crevices
rockscape deconstructed

nature’s time capsule
telling the story
of turbulence before rest

weather patterns recorded
in eroded surfaces
form sculptures in time

in the foreground
a sea lion
weeping salted tears

behind this a dolphin
nestled against
a mammal in petrification 

the sun does its best
to soften the scene

yet the portent remains…

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 1

NaPoWriMo Day One


April temperatures soar
in unseasonal warmth
a trick by nature

perhaps

or the prompt for   
naming of new seasons.
Sprinter and Brummer,
by an academic
with comedic aspirations

or was this just
a traditional joke
taken literally

and we fell for it

overcome as we were


by the heat.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cultural Contexts in Poetry



While there can be cultural contexts in poetry, this is often abstract in delivery and meaning making it difficult to determine if it is a factual record of history or the poet's perception of this. For me, the answer to this question is a combination of the two.  

To quote from Aristotle, ‘History reports what happened and is therefore subject to all the constraints and imperfections of actual life, while poetry uses words in their fuller potential, creating representations that are more complete and meaningful than nature can give us in the raw.’

Poetry predates literacy as an oral history employed to remember and pass down family history, events, genealogy, and law. Many of the poems surviving from ancient times form of a record of cultural information about the people of the past, religious subject matter, politics and wars and the myths of their societies that formed its structure.

Postmodernists claim all experience of the world is with and through language, although this concept is difficult to accept since some experiences have more to do with bodily physiology and social usage, therefore cannot be readily conveyed in words.

The cultural context of poetry from different countries is not always about the history of that place. Many eastern forms of poetry, traditional haiku, for example, frequently focus on natural themes or images, while tankas are often used to describe the human condition in relation to place.

However, language in poetry certainly influences our perceptions and responses because of the intentions, associations and histories of usage that employs the traditional resources of language. This is separate to the forms of poetry, which are more than ornamental to impart a more exact commentary and expressive power. Looking beneath the pattern or prescribed form, poetry attempts to tell the truth in a fuller and more authentic manner. The language of poetry illuminates truth and sharpens perception and understanding. It heightens the emotional experience of history.

Poetry enables us to see life, past and present, with clarity and understanding. It reconciles us to the visible incongruities, injustices and the brutalities of our natures.  In poetry we learn to see life as it is directly given to us through timeless ideas.

William Blake used poetry as an ideological weapon raised in defiance against the establishment, and in doing so contributed to social change, while others such as Whitman in America and Lawson in Australia recorded the social and economic history of their time.

The two cultural contexts in, To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell, can be interpreted as an allegory for political rebellion and the challenging of traditional beliefs about female sexuality. As such it provides a factual history of the conventional beliefs in mid-17th century England. This contrasts with The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop, which is more an insight into a personal history within a specific culture.


So I see poetry as providing a combination of record of factual history and the poet’s perception of events as seen through their own experience, a truth, but not necessarily a shared truth. One thing is certain, however, without poetry the world would be a poorer place for the knowledge we have gained from it about the past and the people who lived before us.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sounds in poetry


Euphonics: a Poet's Dictionary of Sounds 



Sound can have a profound influence on the meaning of poetry, adding depth and layers to imagery and significance, while adding to the mood or feeling when matched with the senses of the poem they appear in.

Creating a poem involves more than plucking words at random and putting them on paper. Words are chosen for their sounds as much as their connotation and meanings. While it is understood that some of these choices may not always be made from a conscious level, the role that the sounds of words play is undisputable. Poetry is an aural art form where the words intimately connect with sounds in a way that is important to the poem, resulting in a relationship between various elements, a matching of sound and sense.

A number of sounds and sound patterns are used in poetry. The same sounds can convey different meanings depending on the context of the poem. One of the most familiar stylistic sound devices is rhyme, where there is identical or similar sounds at the end of lines. ‘Once in a while a moon painted blue/emits its beams in amazing hue’ is an example of a rhyming couplet from a poem I wrote some time ago.

Other sound devices include alliteration, in which groups of similar sounds are grouped together.  The three basic types include similar first letter sounds as in the old tongue twister, ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers’. 

Assonance, or similar vowel sounds is another sound device. ‘It beats as it sweeps as it cleans’ was an advertising slogan for Hoover vacuum cleaners in the 1950s, while consonance is the use of similar sounds as in, ‘Ralegh has backed the maid to a tree/As Ireland is backed to England/And drives inland/Till all her strands are breathless’ (Ocean's Love to Ireland by Seamus Heaney) .

There are other sounds or types of sounds that are used in poetry to convey the meaning of the poem. For example, the mention of snakes with repeated ‘s’ sounds to evoke and reinforce the imagery of the poem. ‘s’ is also used to illustrate a sigh, whispering or silence. Identifying the sound patterns helps the reader to understand the deeper meaning of the poem.

Onomatopoeia is using words that sound like what they are i.e. buzz, slap, crash etc.  for sound effect to add to the atmosphere of the poem and to create different effects in diverse contexts, which are more meaningful when occurring in some kind of pattern. An excellent example of onomatopoeia can be seen in Silver Bells by Edgar Allan Poe - Silver bells!/What a world of merriment their melody foretells!/How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,/In the icy air of night!/While the stars that oversprinkle/All the heavens seem to twinkle – although the whole poem can be seen as onomatopoeic.

Other sounds used in poetry:

Accent
The rhythmically significant stress in the articulation of words, giving some syllables more prominence than others. 

Consonance
A pleasing combination of sounds with the repetition of the same end consonants of words. 

Cacophony
Discordant sounds often deliberately used in poetry for effect. 

Dissonance
A mingling of harsh, inharmonious sounds that are grating to the ear.

Euphony 
Harmony of sound that provides a pleasing effect to the ear. 

Internal or middle rhyme 
Rhyme that occurs within the line.  

Meter 
The measure of rhythmic quantity. The unit of meter is the foot and metrical lines are named for the constituent foot and for the number of feet in the line: monometer (1), dimeter (2), trimeter (3), tetrameter (4), pentameter (5), hexameter (6), heptameter (7) and octameter (8);

Modulation 
The harmonious use of language relative to the variations of stress and pitch.

Phonetic or sound symbolism
The association of particular word-sounds with common areas of meaning so that other words of similar sounds come to be associated with those meanings. 

Resonance
The quality of richness or variety of sounds. 

Rhyme
 A type of echoing that utilizes a correspondence of sound in the final accented vowels and all that follows of two or more words, but where the preceding consonant sounds must differ. 

Rhythm
The regular or progressive pattern of recurrent accents n the flow of a poem as determined by the metrical feet. The measure of rhythmic quantity is the meter.