Hello and welcome to the 100 Day Writing Challenge, Day 31.
Wow. That’s a whole month’s worth of ten min tasks. Well done.
Now, this time I want you to think of pace. Tone. Line length. The way each word lands on the ear. And what that does to the scene.
When I say to you that once, long, long in the past, on a coast where the cold sea beat the black cliffs, where men crept through woods with spear and net while wolves spoke to the moon, where the land was hard and food was scarce and death watched them all like a large, black bird, you might start to get a sense of a place, a tone, a voice.
It’s not one to use all the time. But it’s good to ask: how do I want to sound? And when? Might I change my voice scene to scene? Might there be times when I want to sound bold and slow and let the flow hold each word so it floats and shines? And, if so, you might well ask: how?
Well, you might spot a rule in how I choose my words. Each word has one beat. Not two. Not six. Just one. We think that a big scene needs big words, but no. Small words have heft. Each one is a punch. Each one says: stop. No more lies. I am here. This is what he did. This is why he did it.
So I’m going to stop speaking like that because I think I’ve made my point. Aside from the first sentence everything I just said was in words of one syllable. And when we say someone was ‘monosyllabic’ it’s usually used as an insult, to suggest they were inarticulate, perhaps truculent and unwilling to make conversation.
And it’s a crime against English, frankly, against the perfect shining pearl that is the monosyllable, that we maintain this bizarre cultural prejudice. All the great epics were set down in simple language. Simplicity has a boldness. It’s powerful. An anxious, low status person gabbles. A strong, confident person rests in silence. When they do speak, they pick their words.
When someone says ‘explain it to me in words of one syllable’ the implication is ‘make your language less sophisticated’ but I’d argue you can achieve hugely arresting, sophisticated effects by focusing on the relationships between words and between clauses, rather than going for fruity technical nouns qualified to within an inch of their lives by half a dozen adjectives.
That’s one of the great things about having to write something in monosyllables, by the way. You’re forced to massively strip down your use of adjectives – i.e. describing words. When you do use an adjective, it’s got to be super-basic: dark, cold, big. Oh my goodness it’s such a relief. And I say this as a chronic over-writer. I love baroque, multi-claused sentences filled with tarty nonsense like ‘palimpsest’ and ‘bricolage’, words which serve almost no function except for the author to stitch them to their jottings like scout badges, saying look at me, I learned some mildly recondite vocabulary because I think being precocious is the only way to get affection.
You know where this is going. You’re smart. We’ve hung out long enough that you know my ways. Today, you’re going to take your metamorphic fluctuating scene from days past and you’re going to recreate it yet again, this time telling the whole thing in words of one syllable.
Doesn’t mean it has to be unsophisticated, quite the contrary, but it does mean you may have to be ingenious to pass certain concepts through this particular grade of mesh. Names, for example. Some character names may be more than one syllable. Some objects or creatures that appear may be more than one syllable. How are you going to get round that? What alternatives do you have to hand? Some of the dialogue may need to be either altered or reported in a different way, summarised perhaps.
I don’t know. I don’t want to lead you by the hand too much, as you’re becoming a bit of a veteran by now. So, get one of your previous versions ready so you’ve got a document to work from, and get ready to transform it into this new form. Don’t worry if you don’t get through it all, just work at your own pace.
Ok. Are you ready? Three… two… one… go.
And that’s it. How was that? What have you come out with? A lot of people find this surprisingly creative, because they’re forced down lesser travelled avenues. For other people it’s a rather awkward hobbling of their lovely lyrical prose. Neither result is wrong – as with any experiment, the point is to pay attention to the result and learn from it. And by writing in new ways, you’re building your creative muscles, so when you return to what you consider your core style – if you still want to, of course – you do so stronger, with an enhanced sense of where it sits in the larger suite of options.
Okay. Go treat yourself to something nice, even if it’s only your own positive self-regard for having turned up and completed another challenge. Go you! And I’ll see you again tomorrow for more adventures.