Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Second drafts and letting go

I'm really enjoying revisiting this novel-in-waiting after the thriller stalled.  Partly, that's because it's such a completely different type of book:  thrillers are all about plot and tight, sparse language.  If your prose interferes with the page flipping, inhibits the pure story-telling, then that's bad.   The story I'm working on at the moment is much more about the carnival of language, as my Creative Writing lecturer at Massey puts it. 

An exercise I've always enjoyed is trying to write like  foreign languages translate into English. Translated Spanish and Italian novels , for example, have this wonderful quality to them - I can't really describe it as anything other than a lilting music.  Books written in or by Indians - whether in another language first or in Indian - have their own music too, a curious mixture of sub-continental flare and a tight, correct use of words.  (I wonder what a linguist would say about that: if British Colonialism is the common ancestor of modern Indian English and English English (for want of a better word), why is it that the Indian version seems to be so much more correct?  Has the presence of other languages in the country slowed the evolution of the language, or do they contribute in some other way to keeping it more correct?  I digress, wildly.) 

This story's set in Italy, rooted in a time at the end of the first world war.  So it's an interesting exercise trying to find the right voice - there's not only geographical considerations, but historical ones too, and it contributes to me using language in a way that I, at least, am loving, which in and of itself drives the story in ways I hadn't planned or foreseen.

Which does present its own set of problems.  Because I'm so proud, really, of some of the writing I've done, it makes the whole business of re-envisaging areas in the story rather bereaving.  This side of editing is one I suspect many novelist struggle with:  after all, carrying out a complete revision of a short story is one thing, but investing the time and energy to completely chuck out a whole novel?  The thought of it would make a strong man weep.

Maybe I'll get to the end with a better understanding of what's going on with this, look back and decide to chuck it all out and start again. What's fun though, is letting the language alone be the driver.

Oddly enough, I'm finding that working on this is also rekindling my confidence to go back and tackle the thriller again when it's time. I can't help but feel that maybe at the end of the day, they're all parts of the same puzzle.


Melissa Donovan said...

I too have noticed that many people for whom English is a second language speak it far more correctly than those of us for whom it is the first language.

I started getting ideas about this when I was taking French in high school. My theory is that when you learn a language via academia (rather than by mingling in its culture), you tend to miss the slang and current colloquialisms. Also, many casual aspects of language are geographically localized. Even here in the U.S., there are expressions and turns of phrase that are not familiar to people across state/county lines.

All of this is pretty fascinating. Language is always evolving. I wonder if the advent of the Web will make all languages more consistent throughout the world?

Si said...

Hi Melissa, thanks for commenting. I also wonder - in my idle and uninformed way - if, in the case of Indian English, there's not something sociological going on too. I'm probably going to put this all wrong, but maybe the strictures of living with a caste system, for example, also places a brake of some sort on the pace of change - I'm sure there must be other cultural influences that affect the rate of change. Access to media has got to be one of them, and I suspect that sadly, you're right about the web homogenising language. Another reason to travel now!

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