If I had of known how much I didn’t know about the mechanics and art of writing fiction before I started my first, but not last novel, I might never have opened up my lap -top or dusted off my dictionary, an old dog-eared one from my primary school days, or spent money from my fixed income on a brand new thesaurus for the occasion. Like all amateurs, or most of them anyway, I plunged into the writing game headfirst, plunged right into the deep end of the pool, without taking a deep breath, without holding my nose, without pausing for a second thought.
What I didn’t know about writing would drown the state of Texas, overflow into the Gulf of Mexico, flood Louisiana, submerge New Mexico, spill over its border and fill up most of Arizona and what I did know would fit comfortably into a walnut shell, with plenty of room left over for Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime and most of, if not all of Newfoundland.
The short list of my writing knowledge and skills at that time are too small a thing to waste words on, but I will give an honourable mention, or a dishonourable one, as the case maybe, to the long list of things I didn’t know how to use and for the most part things I’d never heard about.
Ah where to begin, where to begin? I suppose punctuation because of its importance to create pauses, indicate stops in thought, isolate dialogue, shorten phrases and indicate possession of something, like changing, “That is a sandwich belonging to Mary,” to “That’s Mary’s sandwich,” all quite useful things on their own, but when used together wisely, form the basis of coherent thought, is a good a place as any to start.
When I took the first toddling steps of my journey I didn’t know how to punctuate properly with a period, I didn’t know that it’s used to end a sentence and when it came to the colon or semicolon, I thought they were things a physician probed periodically under the most personal, most embarrassing circumstances, while the comma, the apostrophe, quotation marks and even the exclamation mark were things living under rocks in some great unknown uncharted country and best left alone by the unwary.
Besides these fascinating and I might add useful and necessary things, there are and I dread dragging them into this essay, but I must, there are the rules and tools of good grammar. Unfortunately for me, my Grammar died when I was quite young and never had the time to lay out her guidelines and even if she had tried to instil the rules in me, I never would have taken the time, or had the inclination to learn them.
That’s why for the longest time I believed that a main clause, being able to stand on its own two feet as a complete sentence was Santa and that a subordinate clause had to be his wife. I never knew what a metaphor was for, or what a modifier modified, if anything, and I thought a pronoun was a noun that went to the gym every day, worked hard, won a gold medal at the Olympics and went on to a happy married life, with a wife and two point two children, turned pro and ended up in a bestselling novel and a simple noun was a thing that never had the gumption or getup to work hard and stayed an amateur all its natural born days, lived in a park, smoked pot, drank aftershave lotion and cussed every time his popular rich brother drove by in a red Rolls Royce and until I found out different I believed that a preposition was an improper proposition made by a pretty prostitute eager to earn a few more pennies before going home to her pimp.
Not only didn’t I know what adjectives adverbs, antonyms, homonyms, similes, synonyms and verbs did, or were, but I couldn’t spell or pronounce them properly and since I didn’t know how to spell them, I couldn’t even look them up in the dusty dog-eared dictionary from my primary school days.
Now that I have ploughed my way through two novels, ploughed two thirds through another one and completed several short stories, I am beginning to understand what a sentence is. It is, and please forgive me for gloating or showing off, it is a clause with a subject and a predicate. Here are two basic samples. “The dog barked loud. The kitten and the puppy got ready for school.”
Not exactly earth shaking and not likely to ever win a Pulitzer prize, but and I don’t use but lightly either, if a few little things are added like a simile, a modifier or two or three, then our simple little sentence can take on a new life, a life that
is more interesting, a life of its own. I would love to show you how it’s done and
since in some respects you are a captive audience, I intend to do so. I will use my second example and add some of the things I’ve learned through arduous and diligent work, but things I’m still not yet well versed in.
Tom, an aloof Siamese kitten, with a black circle around one blue eye and a white circle around the other one, always looking like an arrogant rock star, was nick-named Mouser by Mr. Roland Ferguson, who owned the rickety old brown barn with a red roof where Tom was born on a blustery December evening, with a bitter north wind blowing, shaking, rattling the dilapidated building, threatening to tear the shingles off the roof, howling around the eaves, slamming the door back and forth, screaming through the cracks, sending shivers through the group of people gathered around Minnie, Tom’s mother, a group waiting expectantly for her to produce her first litter, which she did in due time and mewing proudly presented them for inspection, and a beautiful black boy beagle, named Bob when he crawled nose first into the world on a sunny June day, two-thirty in the afternoon, down by the gold fish pond, a pond surrounded by blooming lilac trees, trees filled with buzzing bees and birds in full song, birds that stopped mid-song, bees that stopped buzzing and lilac trees that stopped swaying and rustling their leaves when the miraculous moment took place, had their faces washed, had their hair combed and brushed until it gleamed, before they trotted down the dusty road on their first day of school.
Whew, please excuse me while a pause for a long and well deserved breather…………Well now that I feel somewhat refreshed, I can honestly say that I’m quite relieved to be finished with this example.
I admit that I am not as converse with the intricate thrusts and parries of riveting, stimulating dialogue or the delicate beautiful pirouette of scintillating prose as I want to be and perhaps I never will achieve my goal, but it certainly isn’t going to stop me from trying.
I may never scale the Olympian heights and walk amidst such literary giants as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway or F. Scot Fitzgerald and I may never be able to scare a lady the way Steven King can, or mystify a reader with a mystery like Agatha Christie does, but just because I might never soar like an eagle high above the earth, drifting on a poetic or prosaic updraft from some sun warmed plain, doesn’t mean that I’m going to sit safe in some nest and never dare to leap off the cliff and try my wings.