Plagiarism, parody and parrotry

Alex Haley, Dark Laughter, Elizabethan sonnet, Faulkner, Harold Courlander, Hemingway, Nigel Watts, Roots, Sherwood Anderson, Teach Yourself Writing A Novel, The Torrents of Spring, the Waste Land, TS Eliot, Uncategorized
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” T.S. Eliot.
One of the things that is intriguing about what is taught in creative writing programs is how similar the advice is for would be novelists. For example, the structure of the novel can be broken down in to the following eight elements, as defined by Nigel Watts in his book Teach Yourself Writing A Novel:
1.     Stasis
2.     The Trigger
3.     The Quest
4.     The Surprise
5.     The Critical choice
6.     The Climax
7.     The Reversal
8.     The Resolution
I wonder how many people, using that structure, write novels that are, to all intents and purposes, identical to someone else’s.

George Orwell’s 6 Rules

A Christmas Carol, Animal Farm, Charles Dickens, Hemingway, Huffington Post, Nineteen Eighty-Four, similes, Uncategorized
Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950), aka George Orwell, was a British novelist, poet, essayist, journalist and critic. He is best known nowadays for his fiction, in particular the wryly polemical Animal Farm, published in 1945 and Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, which charts the fate of mankind in a dystopian near-future. But his essays are also highly acclaimed as are his works of non-fiction which covered everything from working-class life in the north of England to an account of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. He died at the age of 46 from complications arising from tuberculosis.
Orwell was a stickler for quality of writing and held himself to a high standard in his work. It is no surprise, then, that he had six rules that he used when tackling a piece of writing:
1.     Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
This piece of advice is valid for any piece of writing, whether fiction, non-fiction or poetry. Of course, you want to avoid using the usual suspects: for example, “he was dead as a doornail.” Dickens destroys this particular simile once and for all at the start of A Christmas Carol when he says: “I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail.  I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade.  But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for.  You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”
So the rule is: never use outworn similes and metaphors.
But you could equally go in the opposite direction and invent preposterous similes in an attempt to avoid the trap. A few years ago the Huffington Post published a list of the 15 worst similes and metaphors perpetrated by high school students in English class. Here are some examples:
“She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.”
“She was as unhappy as when someone puts your cake out in the rain, and all the sweet green icing flows down and then you lose the recipe, and on top of that you can’t sing worth a damn.”
“The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.”
And lastly: “The ballerina rose gracefully en pointeand extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.”
2.     Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Paradoxically this rule is entirely determined by serendipity and whether or not you are a bibliophile.
Orwell certainly used this rule in his own writing to achieve a level of conciseness that possibly only Hemingway could match.
3.     If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4.     Never use the passive where you can use the active.
It is interesting that Orwell here doesn’t just say “never use the passive.” There are some times when the passive is exactly what is needed, for example if you don’t want to reveal the identity of the person who is carrying out a particular action, or if you deliberately wanted to sound distant, official or vague.
There is a test you can do on your own writing to change the passive into active. It’s called the Paramedic Method and it was originally developed by Richard Lanham in a book called Revising Prose. If you are interested, a description of the method can be found here.
5.     Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6.     Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
This comes as something of a relief. Orwell was not so wedded to his own rules that he couldn’t break them if he thought it would help. Nevertheless, I find that is good to keep them at the back of the mind while writing, as a kind of inner guide to good writing.


Hemingway’s Daily Grind

1920s, adventurer, American fiction, creative writing, daily routine, discipline, drunkenness, gambling, Hemingway, Paris, suicide, Uncategorized, unfaithfulness


Every writer is different. Each has his or her own way of working, a method for getting words down on paper. Some are procrastinators, some are methodical, some write in between juggling a daytime job and caring for a family.
Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was one of the most celebrated American authors of the twentieth century, a novelist, short story writer, and journalist. His short sharp writing style had considerable influence on twentieth century fiction writing. But though he has had many imitators no one can quite pull it off the way Hem could. Most of his work was produced from the 1920s to the 1950s: seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction books. Many of his works are considered classics of American fiction and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.
When Hemingway lived in Paris in the 1920s with the first of his four wives, Hadley, and their young son, there was not enough room in their Spartan apartment for him to work. So he would often go and sit in one of the bistros or cafés nearby and write quietly in a corner.
“It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write. I was writing about up in Michigan and since it was a wild, cold, blowing day it was that sort of day in the story. I had already seen the end of fall come through boyhood, youth and young manhood, and in one place you could write about it better than in another. That was called transplanting yourself, I thought, and it could be as necessary with people as with   other sorts of growing things. But in the story the boys were drinking and this made me thirsty and I ordered a rum St James. This tasted wonderful on the cold day and I kept on writing, feeling very well and feeling the good Martinique rum warm me all through my body and my spirit.” (A Moveable Feast)
Often he would become completely absorbed in what he was writing so that he didn’t notice either the time, or anyone else around him and would come to much later as if he had been sleeping. Then he would order, say, a dozen oysters along with a half-carafe of the local dry white wine and dawdle over that until it was time to go home or go on to meet friends.
After a while Hem and his wife moved to larger premises and there he would get up a daybreak when it was freezing cold in the apartment and begin writing as he gradually warmed and the sun shone through the windows. If he was writing a short story or a novel, he would write until about midday and finish when he knew what was going to happen next in the action. In other words he would stop short just before a key moment. So the next day, when he sat down to write, he would read what he had written the day before, making any necessary changes, and then just continue where he left off. He always said that the agonizing thing about writing was waiting for the next day to come around.
In many ways the rest of his life was a bit of a mess. He was unfaithful to his wife, drank to excess, gambled away his money, was something of an adventurer, and eventually committed suicide a few days before his sixty-second birthday. But he was always disciplined when it came to writing. It was as if he knew that it was his one most important talent and that it had to be nurtured and protected.