F**k your writing. Or…(an essay regarding the use of expletives and profane language in fictional writings)

 

In polite, or politically correct circles one may refer to it as the ‘F word’.

This word first became a public literary issue after it was use in a major novel, Norma Mailer’s ‘The Naked and the Dead’, published in 1948.

Only, it was NOT.

Mailer’s publisher prevailed upon him to change this expletive; this four-lettered, description of sex, to ‘Fug’, so that it did not offend readers.

Given the fact that the book is about men during a war, ‘Fug’ occurred an awful lot of times!

The result was a backlash, a cluster of criticism and discussion in literary circles. This gave rise to the anecdote about Tallulah Bancroft saying to Mailer, “Oh, you’re the man who can’t spell that word”.

 

However, times change.

Nowadays the F-word has lost much of its ability to shock. Far fewer people are now offended by its inclusion in a book or, for that matter, in conversation. Still, authors often debate the role of ‘racy-talk’ in literature.

How much is too much? When have you gone too far, or not far enough?

Okay, before we get stuck with just this one word, let us consider the vast and rich palette of risqué words available and to clarify their ‘technical’ differences. Once we can differentiate between profanities, obscenities, curses and the like, it should be easier to determine how, why and if we should use them.

 

PROFANITY

Is often used to denote an objectionable word. ‘Profanity’ literally means words that are proscribed profane – that is words described by religious doctrine. ‘Proscribed’, in this context means ‘forbidden by written order’, such as, in Judeo-Christian tradition, taking the Lords name in vain (that is, not in Prayer).

“For the love of God, stop complaining” or “Jesus Christ, look at the size of that thing”.

 

CURSES

These call upon a deity, or fate, to cause harm in a visitation.

(Mild) “Damn this zipper”.

(Strong) “God Damn her”.

‘Damned’ is to be condemned to Hell.

‘Hell’ can also be a curse, “Go to Hell”, or a mild profanity, as in “Oh, Hell, the rivers polluted again!”

 

SWEAR WORDS

To swear literally means to take an oath, or to proclaim an oath.

Now, for anyone uncertain about oaths, (married folk take note!) An oath is a resolution or promise which calls upon a deity’s assistance in carrying it out. (Think about how many are in your marriage now!).

Examples: “God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again” or simpler, “By God I’ll show you”

You can swear to bear witness, as in “I swear, you are the best cook in this town”

 

OBSCENITIES

These are words that denote something disgusting or morally abhorrent. (Often connoting sex). The F-word is considered to be one of the most objectionable, along with the C-word.

The relatively modern inclusion of adding the prefix ‘Mother’ often ups-the-ante!

Non, or less objectionable variants of the present participle form of the F-word, beside ‘Fugging!’ include, Fecking, Freaking, flipping and fricking.

To be totally honest, I have no idea why the letter ‘U’ seems to be so ‘flaming’ important!

‘Screw’ is accepted as of the milder and therefore more acceptable terms. Please note, both the F-word and ‘screw’ are used not just used to literally describe intercourse, but to connote ‘Taking advantage of’.

“That Garage screwed me out of £300 for unnecessary repairs”

Generally, words referring to both male and female pelvic areas are considered obscenities.

 

VULGERISMS

I Like this one because this word, this term, covers a lot of bases. If it is crude, objectionable and falls outside the aforementioned categories, you have a vulgarism!

‘Bitch’, ‘Son of a Bitch’, ‘Bastard’, ‘Jackass/Ass, Asshole’ and even ‘Crap’ fall under this heading.

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Now…whether use should use, or not use, any (or all) of the above?

The literary world is somewhat divided around the use of spicy talk, which should not be surprising as our readers are as equally split.

Take two ‘Tough-Guy’ authors, Lee Child and Tom Clancy. Lee does not use any profanities in his writing. Most readers do not notice this. Whereas Tom’s books are littered with profanities…and he certainly sells a lot of copies!

Some readers may be turned off by even one, single, solitary curse word…possible? Maybe. But what is certain is that no-one will buy your books purely because you use raw language. (Although at one time, years ago, they may have well done so).

Does all this mean your safest path is to use no raw language at all?

Writing is a journey and all journeys involve some form of risk. History proves that some writers achieved success, or at least notoriety, because they shunned propriety. Harry Caulfield’s ‘Catcher in the Rye’ was shocking in its era and may still be so to young teenagers today.

As you write, look for a balance with what you feel comfortable writing, what you, as the narrator feels is right within your style for this book and what suits the characters and the story you are creating.

What may be right for one piece of work maybe wrong for another.

 

Okay…Why ‘TO USE’

We humans get angry. We crave precise expression and there is something about cursing and using vulgar language that works for us as a release valve for our emotions.

Who has not, at some time, experienced a moment when a string of expletives has not felt exquisitely sublime rolling off your tongue?

The same is so for your fictional characters. Be true, be honest to them. Let them have their voice.

Moreover, if you want your stories to be realistic about the settings, battlefields, bars and domestic disharmony, well-written raw language will bring your characters to life, give them a heartbeat and authenticity.

 

HOW TO USE

Spicy language generally works best when it’s used sparingly, or at least in moderation. That way, you preserve the element of the unexpected, which can be a pressure-reliever for both character and reader. Aside from conveying anger or frustration, raw talk can also be humorous, in that it reveals how a character truly feels about something.

Take this line for an instance: “I ate another doughnut”.

Compare it with: “I ate another goddamned doughnut”.

You instantly get a clue about this character and her relationship with doughnuts.

You may have one character who habitually uses profanity, in contrast to others who don’t. That, in itself, is a good individualiser.

If you, yourself, are not too familiar with foul language a problem can occur when used wrongly, or as often happens with inexperienced writers, it is thrown in will-nilly. If it is used it MUST sound real. If you are uncertain try visiting areas where this language is commonly used, construction sites, wharves, military establishments and prisons for example. Grab a coffee in a nearby café at lunchtime and eavesdrop on the clientele’s conversations!

However, a word of warning. Even if, say a group of Miners, use an expletive every other word, it is unnecessary for you to make your own characters speak exactly that way. Just as when using dialects and accents, you have to use raw-talk wisely. This helps keep the reader grounded in your imaginary world and avoids the pitfalls of over-use/over doing it.

Consider your characters, employ common sense.

A hospital Matron, wearing a starched linin apron, may not utter a single un-PC word in public, but she may let loose a barrage in the principal’s office over a dispute, or howl out a string of profanities during sexual fulfilment.

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How NOT to USE

I mentioned some writers, Norman Mailer and Tom Clancy who chose to include bad-language into their works, but they pale into insignificance, almost, when it comes to literary genius. The bard himself, William Shakespeare, knew how to spice-up his writings and attract an audience in doing so.

He wrote the mother of all literary cuss-outs. (Cuss is simply a variant of Curse), in King Lear; but interestingly there is no profanity or obscenity as we know it, merely terrifically imaginative vulgarisms, delivered with passion. Here it is, the Earl of Kent preparing to thrash the crap out of Goneril’s loathsome lackey, Oswald:

KENT (TO OSWALD): “A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver’d, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, super serviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch, one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition”.

Knowing the historical references helps; for example, “broken meats” means leftover table scraps. But even without that, we can luxuriate in the rant. This is a beautiful speech for many reasons: It’s forceful, it’s unique, it covers many aspects of insult, it clearly communicates one character’s contempt of another, and—important for many in Shakespeare’s audience—it avoids serious curses and obscenities.

It’s a shining example of how a writer can invent insults way more entertaining than those found in the standard lexicon.

You can do it by brainstorming aspects of your characters and their circumstances:

“He was as appealing as a baboon’s butt”.

“You are the worst thing to happen to the world since call waiting”.

“May you be condemned to an eternity of weak coffee, warm gin and a driveway paved with roofing nails”.

By now, I think you will agree that it’s useful to explore—and perhaps even challenge—your own comfort zone.

Certainly if it is not you, it won’t ring true. But whether you decide to write common curses and vulgarisms into your work or not, your characters do need a verbal pressure valve. Do not use tacky asterisks to replace vowels. Just have fun with the process and remember that a ‘fug’ by any other name might sound remarkably original.

 

NOTE.

If your novel purports to reflect real life, then they must include profanity, if the life they reflect includes the use of profanities.

Let’s get real folks, you may have grown up in an era when books and movies were censored, but do you really think that in the Old West, cowboy’s actually said “You no-good-so-and-so” before drawing their six-shooters and blowing holes in one another?

Did the troops, dug into their fox-holes during WWII always speak in to each other in such a decorous manner?

I think not!

Some popular entertainment admittedly goes OTT in drenching dialogue in profanity, Such as in the opening sequences of ‘Born on the 4th of July’, but that is an exaggeration, not a fabrication, of reality.

 

So, why do people swear?

This will not cover any new territory. I expect that every angle regarding this has been covered in about every bar in every corner of the world!

People swear because the majority of profanity is emotionally charged. It can express anger, fear, sadness, joy, despair, frustration, ignorance, racism, homophobia, ageism, violence, sexism and all the other ‘isms’ and ‘tions’ you can name.

Occasionally a swear word can encompass all the above in a single word. That one word can grab people’s attention like no other when timed appropriately and, let us face it, very few things are quite as entertaining as listening to a person who has raised profanity to an art form.

You may disagree with those statements. I do not give a flying F**k…see what I mean!

When read that you do so as if I had written the word in full. Even though I ‘bleeped’ it out your mind supplied the details. Now your reaction was either positive or negative, depending on your personal personality. But you reacted.

Like I mentioned above, nothing ground breaking. Just a prelude to the answer you are seeking.

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‘Should YOU use profanity in YOUR writing?’

Writing is a process which takes pieces of ourselves and puts it ‘out-there’ for the world to see. It does not matter if you are writing literary fiction or genre fiction. Every character, setting, plot and sub-plot reveals a little about who we, as writers, are.

I doubt, very much, if a single day passes without you worrying about what you are writing.

(read that again if you wish, I’ll wait).

You see, every word we scribe invites judgment, criticism, commentary and, perhaps introspection. When we write something which surprises us, we often, most times, question where it came from.

That is because that we writers are a real self-conscious group. We are half scared to death of rejection! But if we filtered every word, considered the perception of each sentence through, say our Mothers, or Fathers, minds we would write nothing. Nothing at all.

What we have, what is so special, so personal is that little bit of ourselves that we add to the mix. Some reveals itself in plot, some in character, but most in the voice, in the narration, in our storytelling. That is where much of our fears lie, in revealing too much of ourselves, exposing our innermost to that ridicule and rejection.

BUT…if you do not add that to the mix the reader will smell you coming from a mile away. You will small like a fake, read like a fake and be discarded as a fake.

So, how does that answer the question about using profanities in your writing?

CONSIDERATIONS

As a writer you need to be true to yourself. You need to be true to your characters and voice. But don’t forget the other people you need to be true to:

Your Audience/Genre – If you forget who your audience is, for a single sentence or word, you will have lost them. If your audience demands a lack of profanity, then you had better not allow profanity to slip into your work. Not unless you are OK with alienating the very people you are trying to reach.

Your Editor – Your editor wants you to succeed. Your editor wants you…needs you…to sell books. You ignore your editor’s advice at your own peril.

Yourself – I know I have said this before, but I repeat it here for a different reason. If profanity is something that you are personally uncomfortable with then you will sound fake if you try to use it, regardless of the character in question. In fact, if a lack of profanity is one of your defining personal characteristics, then your characters will sound fake if you use it. Because, after all, your characters are nothing more than an extension of yourself. An audience can smell a fake a mile away. Be true to yourself, whether that means using profanity or avoiding it.

I am not going to tell you the world is going to smell like roses after you write something that raises people’s eyebrows. Especially if those eyebrows belong to people who are closely related to you, or who travel in social groups that are important to you. But you did not become a writer to fit in, did you?

I hope not.

Your writing has a chance to entertain, move, and bring people together.

It has a chance to shine a light on topics you care about in ways other writers have not.

It also has a chance to alienate you.

There is a chance your writing will be considered so offensive that society wants nothing to do with you. It is doubtful it will ever get that bad! but writing is taking a risk. Every time you put pen to paper you are stripping down and getting naked in front of the world.

There is never going to be a time where you do not question, at least once, “should I have written that?”

Recently I have read plentiful cursing in Stephen King novels, Nora Roberts books, and even (very sparingly) in John Grisham stories.

I have seen the use of cursing in both genre fiction and literary fiction. In some books just a little and in some a fair amount.

So, in full and final answer to the question… You are a writer. Welcome aboard the crazy train!

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© Paul White 2016


Love reading? Love writing? Why not take a look at Sneak Peek, the site that brings Readers & Authors together.

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How to write better by watching more movies!

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 I for one love to read ‘the book’ rather than watch ‘the movie’. The reason is, I want to let my own imagination create the world the book has drawn me into.

I want ‘that’ character to evolve as I see him or her; guided by the authors words, yes. But not have it forced upon me, not illustrated in such detail there is no room for my mind to fashion form.

There is no choice in this aspect when watching a film. A film shows you the actresses face and how the character’s voice sounds.

There is little left for the imagination.

Yet, I have formed some of my writing techniques from watching movies. Well, not just movies but TV dramas, plays, even commercials. Almost anything in fact that has moving images.

You may think that I am contradicting myself by making what seems, at least on a superficial level, contradictory statements.

So I shall, in my normal ‘Rambling’ way try to convey exactly how watching moving images has enabled me to hone my skill as a writer of words.

 It is mostly to do with the editing, a little to do with camera work and a bit to do with stealing the director’s viewpoint!

However, before I can start on that, I must tell you that when I am watching a film or TV with a ‘writers eye,’ it is not the same as watching for enjoyment or pleasure. Even if sometimes I cannot help but notice things when I have no intention of thinking about writing. (But that is my cross to bear, not yours. At least not yet, not until you have finished reading this!)

 

Ok. The Directors viewpoint. This is probably the most obvious, yet the least important aspect.

Imagine the opening shot of a film scene.

–The camera slowly pans across a room, it is dull. Dust mots hang in the air, highlighted by two shafts of light, beaming downwards through a window. As the camera pans the_room_is_dark_and_empty____just_like_me_by_potpoorri-d5pvf7b.pngtowards the window a small figure of a girl, a young girl wearing a white cotton nightdress, is revealed. —

This is gold dust to me.

That scene, altered to suit my style and the storyline I am writing, can be used. NO…this is not plagiarism. I would not copy it, but use it as a base to create my own, dull room in which I would reveal a figure.

My room could be a log cabin, a large warehouse or a submarine. The light source may be from a fireplace, daylight filtering through a damaged roof or the‘red’ lighting used on a submarines bridge.

The figure may be an old man, a dead body lying on the cold concrete floor or a ghostly specter of an old sailor.

BUT….all this has come to me from watching that opening shot of the movie; seeing it, not from the ‘viewer’s’ eyes, but from the directors. Having an understanding of the mood he was trying to create and how the darkness, light and slow reveal assisted him in doing so.

All that is left for me is to translate that into words, imagining it over and over as I write so that the ambiance and timing is cohesive to the reader.

 

Secondly. Camera work.

While the above scene clearly needed the aid of a camera to record the Directors instructions, all of the actual imagery in a film is down to how things enter the lens. Yes, some of this is to do with lighting and the type of film used, but here I am speaking of the camera alone.

Firstly, the angle, the position of the camera to its subject. Not forgetting its height. Generally, a low shot, ground level, is used to enhance the perception of speed. Think about car racing or chases. How the tyres almost run over the lens or rock the camera as the vehicles flash past. (Yes, depth of field and all that matters, but that is not important here).

4240A high shot, from a boom, tall building, a crane or airship looking down on the subjects can give expression of vastness, loneliness or being lost.

Next time you go to the movies take note of where the camera is situated to get ‘the shot’. I do and that enables me to hold that moment, that feeling of vastness or loneliness, in my mind while I write my next paragraph.

Reading it back to myself, if it does not evoke the same feelings, if it does not conjure the right imagery as my recall of the films scene, then I will re-write, over and over, until I get it right.

 

Lastly, but for me, the most important is the Editing.

I cannot help myself with this! When I have my ‘writers head’ on I am constantly, without any self-control watching for all the ‘cuts’ more than whatever I am viewing. I know that is sad, but it is the truth…maybe I do need to get out more!

For those of you who may not be familiar with the terminology, a ‘cut’ is when two pieces of film are joined together, it is a form of transition. For instance, a boy and girl are holding a conversation. Each time one speaks the viewer sees who is talking. Firstly, you see the boy talking, when he stops and the girl starts speaking you see her face. That change, from him to her, that is a cut.

In fast moving action scenes and in advertising, where time is at a premium, you will see many ‘cuts’ per minute. Chances are you will not have been aware of most of them…until after you have read this. Now you will not be able to watch anything without seeing just how many ‘cuts’ are involved, even in the simplest broadcasts!

I hear you asking, how the devil can that help me write better?

Truth is it may not.

But it helps me and this is how I utilize them.

For this explanation assume that I am writing an important part of my stories plot. I need to get the emotion and feeling soaking into my reader’s psyche. This is one of those parts of my book where I must get the reader totally immersed, living my fictitious world.

I have already written the basic scene, it is in outline form, a rough, very rough draft. Now I need to build it, develop it, into a masterpiece!

Going back to that early shot of the young girl in the dull room I mentioned earlier. Let’s say the story is of a child longing for her dead mother to return.

This time, instead of using that scene as an opening, it is a scene from somewhere within the book, a part that needs far much more input.

It is here I will start bringing in the ‘editing’ tricks.

I shall still start with the description of a dull room, but this time I will place the reader at a set viewpoint, say, where they are looking into the room, through the doorway, from an even darker hallway.

Then I will ‘cut’ the shot.

Now the reader is looking down from above. (remember this viewpoint conjures a sense of loneliness and being lost). This allows me to open the scene up, to use words that reinforce the atmosphere that I am trying to create. Such as “a heavy shadow” or possibly “even the floorboards seemed to weep with sadness as I crossed the room”.

(I want the reader to envisage a large empty room, a figure (my second character) walking across it towards the young girl. I want the floorboards to creak, to give an impression of neglect. (This is to build the atmosphere). By applying the words ‘sadness and weep’ I have managed to blend the sound of the floorboards with the mood of the scene).

Cut.

sophia_blog1Now let’s have a close-up of the young girl. For the first time we see her face, the way the “sallow light settled on her fair skin” or “her pale blue eyes were damp with tears yet unformed”.

(Again using simple words which are descriptive both in their description of the girl, but also in the context of the mood)

Cut.

This viewpoint sees both characters together, gives a juxtaposition of size and age, hints at the relationship between the two. One speaks to the other….Etc.

(The second figure could be a sister, a social-worker or nurse, maybe the step-mother or even the ghost of the girl’s maternal mother).

Cut.

Now the viewpoint is of both of them looking out of the room, into the darkness where they have just heard a noise……ZGPIAp

Cut.

This is how I write my scenes, like watching a movie inside my head, in the darkroom of my mind. I find that it helps me construct a whole, comprehensive section of my plot. It stops me rushing, skimming over sections that really need more care.

Please note that when I say ‘viewpoint’ in this essay, I am not necessarily speaking of the narrations ‘viewpoint’, but that of the images I carry within my mind. Sometimes the two may be in harmony, but that is not always the case. Often a complete scene, or section, can be written from a number of converging narrative angles. As long as the reader is guided along and does not become lost or confused, all will be well.

That is not to say I do not need to edit or re-write, far from it, but each time I do I use the same technique to make the scene work, to create the mood and temperament I am looking for. Editing and re-writes purely allow you to correct the detail and flush out unnecessary and often misleading words.

This way of writing may not work for you. It may go against all you have learnt about writing, or just not suit your style.

But then again it may be worth having a go, maybe a short story or even a piece of flash fiction to start with.

Or maybe you are struggling and I have just come along with this amazing and brilliant idea, which gives you the next bestseller or booker prize winning novel. If that is the case, keep me in mind, please when you receive that big pay-out!

I hope you can glean something from this Rambling, whatever it might be, I really do.


 

 I am, as always open to feedback and comments, don’t be shy. Oh, if you have not done so yet, please feel free to ‘follow’ this blog.

Thanks for reading, Paul.

You can read some of my short stories HERE

or visit my website HERE

where you can see my books, my blogs and what I am getting up-to right now!

 

 

 

 

 

The Wind & the Sun

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  This is a story my father used to tell me as a young child.

  Way back then I had no idea that this story was his version of an Aesop’s fable.

  I loved listening to him regale it over and again; although I had heard this story many times, it was not until I was about seven that I began to understand how the moral of the tale, or at least the basic message it carried, related to life.

   My father has now been dead for over thirty five years, yet I still recall his voice when I think of the Wind & the Sun.

   Moreover I am still learning the true extent of how the simple and basic message this story carries can affect every part of our lives, in work, play, socially, and in our domestic and love life relationships.

   I will try my best to recount this tale as closely to my father’s recitation as I can recall, because I still prefer his version to that of Aesop!

   Maybe you would too, if you could hear his voice as clearly I still do.


One day the Wind and the Sun were looking down upon the earth when they saw a man walking along a footpath.

‘Look at that man’ said the Wind, ‘I bet I can get his jacket off him quicker than you ’.

‘You think you can?’ answered the Sun.

‘Of course’ the Wind replied ‘because I am strong and powerful’.

‘Go on then’ said the Sun ‘let me see what you can do’.

So the Wind began to blow. As the Wind blew the man’s jacket flapped in the breeze. The Wind blew harder, whipping up clouds of dust and blowing the leaves from the trees.

The man buttoned his jacket, turned up his collar, lowered his head and continued walking.

Displeased with his efforts so far the Wind let a howling gale bellow over the ground. It was so forceful that the man had to fold his arms across his chest to stop his jacket from being blown off.

The Wind saw what the man was doing took a huge puff and let loose a tempest.

The man clutched his jacket tighter to himself, holding it firm with both hands.

Again and again the Wind blew and blew. The harder the Wind blew the tighter the man clung to his Jacket.

Eventually the Wind had puffed so hard for so long that he blew himself out.

The sun laughed and said to the Wind ‘Now it is my turn to try and get this man’s jacket off’.

So the Sun smiled and shone his gentle rays of warm sunlight upon the earth and upon the man.

The man took his hands from his jacket.

The Sun continued to smile and spread his warmth.

The man unbuttoned his jacket and loosened his tie.

After a while the man, bathed in the glorious heat from the sun, removed his jacket, slung it over his shoulder and began to whistle as he walked.

‘You see, Wind’ said the Sun, ‘you can accomplish far more by being gentle and giving than you can with brute force alone’.

.

I hope you enjoyed my father’s version of this story.


You can read more by visiting https://alittlemorefiction.wordpress.com/

It’s been a long walk home.

Many of you will be aware that I am (almost) at the publishing stage for a book I have been working on for a little over three years. The book is titled ‘Life in the Warzone’ it is about the effects that living in an area of conflict has on people, be they combatants or innocent civilians, even children.

During my research and interviews (from Sarajevo, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, and the Ukraine) I often come across essays, poems and other forms of accounts which expresses personal trauma.

Here is one such piece I would like to share with you.

This is not my work. I take no credit for these words.

 


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It’s been a long walk home.

(Author unknown)

.

It’s been a long walk home, I’m almost there,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

I’m right back there again,

lost in that same damn firefight,

It’s been forty years,

When will it end?

Every night it’s that same damn firefight,

We lost Sam and Bill,

Tag’em and bag’em,

we were told,

we’d never seen em again.

But every night, it’s their faces that I see,

and I ask myself why wasn’t it me,

my name should be etched in that cold black wall of stone,

It’s been a long walk home,

I’m almost there.

.

But I hear that chopper so near,

Raining tracers down,

Can’t they see us here?

Marine down, corpsman up,

But silence is all I hear.

Why am I the only one left,

Screaming GOD get me outta here?

It’s been forty years,

I still see that day,

We were almost there.

.

The edge of the jungle,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

Tag’em n bag’em the list goes on,

To many to remember,

It was their last firefight.

I’m the only one left,

Lost and running looking for my way out.

It’s been a long walk home.

.

My family, don’t understand

When I say that this can’t be real

Just let me wake up one time and this not be,

But it’s that same damn firefight every night,

I wake up shaking like a leaf in the wind,

Tell’n my wife that it was just a chill,

Not that rage to kill,

But she sees it in my eyes,

That same damn firefight,

It’s been a long walk home, I’m almost there.

.

I was telling her good-bye,

When she realized I didn’t fear death anymore,

It was my life I was about to take,

She cried out for me to come out of that jungle, out into the daylight,

Think of the kids and what this would do,

She took me by the hand helping me make that first step,

Coming out of that jungle into the daylight,

It’s been a long walk home.

.

Forty years and I’m almost there,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

but this time it’s a younger brother yelling out,

trying to find his way out into the daylight,

Out of that smoky fog of that same damn firefight,

It’s been forty years for me,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

It’s their pain that I feel,

Knowing that this damn firefight is not real,

I’m here to help lead my younger brothers out,

Not to walk forty years as I,

Lost in that same damn firefight of PTSD!


If you would like to know more about my forthcoming book ‘Life in the Warzone’ please visit my website and look on the ‘works in progress’ page. http://paulznewpostbox.wix.com/paul-white

Thank you, Paul.

Late train home

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I find the dull metallic hum, as the train pulls away from the harsh glow of neon lights on the station platform, somewhat comforting in its reassurance. As is entering the dark cavern of the subway tunnel whilst cocooned in the dim warmth of the vibrating carriage.

Once again the familiar tempo of steel wheels upon the rails, and the irregular rocking as the train rumbles along, calms the customary angst which always seemed too accompany me in hectic, overcrowded places.

Seated comfortably, time slows. Harmony descends upon me like a cloak of serene velvet. I sigh out loudly, a liberated wisp of disquiet flutters away, disappearing into the ether.

Unbuttoning my coat and flicking the hood from my head, I leaned back stretching my weary legs out in front of me. The carriage is empty. I am alone. Peace and calm descend.

At this time of night the subway takes on a different form, its very structure becomes prominent. Vibrations resound in every wall, wafts of cool air frequently gust throughout; inhale, exhale, the subway breathes deeply. Recurrent metallic taps echo from the depths of the black underpasses in harmony with those rustling organic whispers. It is as if the subway comes to life, wakens as an entity in itself.

I love the subway at this time of night, which is why I like to take the late train home. I can relax.

I like to stare through the glass, trying to make out what the indistinct passing shapes that flash by actually are. Long, thick wires twist together, hanging in sooty swags from the tunnel walls, like massive black anacondas awaiting unsuspecting prey. The occasional light, dulled by a layer of caked on grime, giant fireflies? And dark recesses, small arches sunken into the curvature of the walls. What lays within? Possibly a door, a secrete door to another world, a parallel universe?

Then there is the reflection, my reflection, eerily unfocused, staring back at me from the darkened window pane. But is that me? I think not. Looking I see the reflection has a smirk on his face, he is hiding his knowledge of me, or a secret. He has the answers I seek. The answers I have spent my whole life trying to find. He smiles before fading away as the train enters a brightly lit station.

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These are my fantasies, my late night daydreams as I travel home. This is where my reality and illusion merge, where imagination and invention combine.

This is the birthplace of whimsy and caprice.

This is why I like to take the late train home.

© Paul White 2014

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A Story’s Voice

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    I have just finished reading a novel.
   I shall not reveal which, or who the author was, because I shall be telling of a certain dislike within the pages of that book. I will say that this was the first book of hers that I have read and overall I quite enjoyed the story. But there was one thing that really annoyed me, and that ‘thing’ has taken the shine off a pretty good read.
    I shall reveal what that ‘one thing’ was a little later, because firstly I need to explain the premise of this Rambling.

As you will know I am a writer, and like most writers I like to read. I like to read good stories, be it a short story, a novella, or a full blown heavyweight novel.

What I find most enjoyable is a book that speaks to me, a story with a captivating voice. I am not talking about audio-books, I am speaking of the written word.

You may then ask, how can a book talk? So I shall, in my bumbling, haphazard way endeavour to explain.

When, for instance, you open a fresh new book, and cast your eyes over those first few lines, you start to create a ‘voice’ in your head, a voice that will tell you the story which is printed upon those pages.

Without becoming too technical, that silent voice you hear, the voice that is only audible from inside your own mind, is what we writers term as narration.

Simply put it is rather like listening to someone else reading out loud, like your mother may have read you bedtime stories as a child as you lay in bed drifting off to sleep. The only difference is that all this occurs solely within your own mind.

So when you read it is not the author you are listening to, but an intermediary, an ethereal entity! But this intermediary is not there by chance, it is the craft, the skill of the author who has created this unseen reader.

Please do not confuse narration with style. Most authors have a certain style of writing, of describing their tales. It is the style often reflects the character of the writer. Most writers will admit that much of themselves, and many of their personal experiences, are frequently woven into their works.

Regardless of a writer’s style, the narration can, and most often will alter with each new piece of work, unless it is part of a series when it is important, even critical, to keep the narrative voice continuous.

Some people who are new to writing may not understand the way a reader assimilates the words from a page, and often this is why some struggle to write in a manner that flows smoothly, whilst experienced writers will use a particular form of narration to compliment the piece they working on at that time.

For instance in my short stories, my Flash Fictions, I use a number of various narrative forms which I hope enhance the readers experience of each. Below are three examples, all written in my ‘style’ yet told with a different narrative ‘voice’.

1, Jumping a Boxcar

Sunset.

The last train.

I was waiting by the rails, backpack on the ground beside my feet.

That backpack was full. Everything I owned was crammed in there. Clothes, razor, soap, two towels, one face flannel, and three books.

That was it. That was the total of my life.

At least regarding material things.

You see, as I stood by the tracks waiting to jump a boxcar to wherever that train was going, I was carrying far more than the contents of that backpack.

 

She had told me that everything would be alright, that things have a way of working themselves out.

But that takes time, and I knew that I had taken enough of her time already.

Three years.

Well, two years, seven months, three days and twenty two hours to be precise. During which time I had broken almost every promise I had ever made to her; and that was unfair.

I promised I would look after her, get a good job, earn a decent income, buy her gifts, chocolates, and flowers. That we would have our own place, a nice car. I said I would make her happy, that we would be happy.

That I would never leave.

They were all lies……………………….

 X

2, Life in the Warzone – Yellow Petals

    Izdihar came running into the house shouting ‘Mummy, Mummy, look at what I have for you’.

    Fellah turned to look at her daughter, who had not stopped running, and deftly caught her in her arms, lifting Izdihar off the ground so their faces were level.

    ‘You have a beautiful smile for your Mother.

     ‘No Mummy, I have found you a flower’ said Izdihar, holding out a single closed bud on a green stem. ‘I found it by the wall. I brought it home for you, because I love you Mummy’ she said with pride in her voice.

    ‘Well then, I thank you my darling. I love you too. But this flower will soon wither and die if we do not find it some water’ said Fellah.

    Rummaging about in the kitchen Fellah found a shallow saucer. This would have to suffice thought Fellah. Water was too scarce to be wasting it on flowers, yet she was reluctant to upset her child, so a small amount on the saucer would keep Izdihar happy and allow Fellah to show her appreciation of her daughter’s kindly deed.

    Fellah placed the saucer onto the low shelf and dribbled a tiny amount of water into it. Sitting at the table with Izdihar, Fallah carefully cut the bud from the stalk and placed it into the water. Fellah did this with a ceremonious flourish that pleased Izdihar, who was grinning from ear to ear with pride, knowing that she had made her Mother happy………………………….

 X

3, Missy

Missy turned the steering wheel sharply, swinging the car violently to a sudden halt in the parking lot. Her lips were pressed together, jaw clenched, supressing the pent up emotion that he had, once again stirred within her. Tears began to dribble down Missy’s tender cheeks.

Why was he like this? He was a man who was so sure, so certain of himself, so controlling, that after all these years one would have thought that he did not need to be such a bully, that he would have no need to be so verbally aggressive and well, downright abusive.

After dropping him at his office Missy had started to drive aggressively, tyres squealing on the tarmac as she pulled away. It was just then that her phone bleeped.

Missy knew instantly who this was. She felt those small tremors jumping in her stomach with her excitement. A pack of wild butterflies suddenly fluttering into the air simultaneously. It was a text message from Anura……………………….

X

You will see from these examples that while my writing style remains personal to me, the form of narration varies to take into account the feeling, the ambiance and quality, I wish to give each particular story.

If I have done this well, (and I do hope I have!), you would of read each of the above in a slightly different tonal voice, and at a differing pace.

That then is my (long winded), but simple explanation of narrative.

I hoped you also recognised the narrative voice I am using now, in this Rambling?

Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to my opening gambit, the book I have just read.

In her book the author has a character who talks really loudly, to indicate this all his speech has been written in capital letters ‘LIKE THESE RIGHT HERE’, which I found distracting in the least, and most patronisingly annoying.

It is quite simple to use the narrative to convey that a character has a loud, booming voice. It is not only disquieting to have the CAPITALS break up a line of text, but I found it interrupted the narratives flow. It made me feel that I was reading rather than ‘living’ the story.

If you are writing please, please, use your skill as a wordsmith to express your characters qualities, personality and temperament, and do not try to draw an image with your text. If I had wanted pictures in my book I would have purchased a comic……Nuff said!

Thank you for reading. I hope you found the contents informative, even useful?

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Please take a look at my flash fiction & short stories at ‘A Little more Fiction’ where you can read many of my works, including the full stories from which the extracts above were taken. Just click on this link http://wp.me/5od8T

A bit on Literary Techniques

Generally my Ramblings are rather….well general!

I do not tend to write in a scholarly constructive fashion, because I do not consider myself a teacher or an authority of literary genius.

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    I prefer to allow indefinite abstract descriptions to suggest and evoke the readers own perceptions and introspection to convey the message of each Rambling.

There are however certain aspects of writing I find myself trying to explain, to those who ask, on a frequent basis.

It can be rather difficult to clarify the particular methods and the reasons I utilise certain styles and narrative form when writing for an assortment of diverse projects and various fictional works.

So, unlike many of my previous Ramblings this one addresses the topic with a little more directness.

I say a little more, because in my heart of hearts I believe that the soul of the writer, the artist that lays within, is the greatest asset of all. No one can learn to write unwillingly; the writer must have love and passion above teaching and education. The writer must want to write above all else.

As mentioned above this Rambling touches on the subjective matter of literary techniques, in particular, style and narration. So firstly I think I should try and define these two separate, but closely related subjects.

I will not, in this Rambling, do more than skim the surface of this issue as I do not want to become too bogged down in technicalities.

Ok then, Narrative. Sometimes this is referred to as ‘the writer’s voice’. I do not like this term as it can be very misleading.

Narrative is the voice that the reader ‘hears’ in their mind when reading. This is NOT the writers voice, (which is why I dislike that term), yet it is created by the writer. To explain it better, it is like an actor speaking the words of the scriptwriter in a film or play rather than the writer speaking his words directly.

The effect in a drama is that the actor(ress) uses their skills of timing and intonation to convey the words in a meaningful and powerful way. This is pretty much what happens in the readers own mind when they read your written word. The reader will ‘hear’ the various voices of the characters and the general narrative as if being spoken by a third party.

A good writer can have many of these voices, according to the type of story or article being written, or the writer can keep one consistent form of narration to establish his/her own unique and recognisable narrative voice.

Narrative techniques are employed to provide deeper meaning, it helps the reader to use imagination and to visualise events and situations.

The literary elements in narrative include settings, plots, theme, and characters and so on. The literary techniques used in the application are best understood as being metaphors, personifications, imagery, backstory, flash-forwards, similes, foreshadowing, perspective, and hyperbole; Basically  figurative language.

Got that?

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Now a little about Style.

Style has a broader sweep than narrative. Some writers have a comprehensive style, one which is ornate, long, and complex. These are packed with metaphors and imagery. Others have a more direct, straightforward style, they tend to be constructed of simple sentences and spares prose.

A good exercise to clarify this is to read two newspapers or high quality magazines. These usually have a determined style, a house style if you like. Yet throughout, each article and report will be written by a different author whose own narration is evident to that particular piece. This way the newspaper or magazine’s continuity stays together.

I will not, at this time delve any deeper into this subject, but leave you to consider the above. For those of you who are hardened and experienced hacks I apologise for this Rambling as it is less of a Ramble that is my usual want. (You will no doubt have noticed that the above narrations is far from my norm)!

However not all who read this are trained, tutored or as experienced as you may be.

I love writing, it is my hobby as well as my work and I am happy to share whatever knowledge I have; which is really very little.

I shall end this not very Rambling Ramble with an apology once again for being quite direct and not wandering off track and into the back alleys of randomness. I promise that the next Rambling will be back to my normal irrational narrative style.

Note….’Narrative style’….now does that confuse you?

Catch you next time, Paul.

OH…..one finale bit. If you have a published book please take a look at Sneak Peek. This is a new platform to introduce your work to potential readers.

If you are a reader, then go to Sneak Peek and, as the name suggests, you can take a Sneak Peek (read an excerpt) of all the books on the site before you decide which to buy.

Sneak peek is just this one click away http://wp.me/5sgTb

© Paul White 2014

http://paulznewpostbox.wix.com/paul-white-writer