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Word of Uncommon Shape : How Writers Create Vividness in Language and Story

By Barber, P., T.

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Book Id: WPLBN0004451115
Format Type: PDF (eBook)
File Size: 2.68 MB.
Reproduction Date: 11/24/2016

Title: Word of Uncommon Shape : How Writers Create Vividness in Language and Story  
Author: Barber, P., T.
Language: English
Subject: Fiction, Drama and Literature, Writing Techniques
Collections: Authors Community, Literature
Publication Date:
Publisher: Cassandrine Publications
Member Page: Paul Barber


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Barber, P. T. (2016). Word of Uncommon Shape : How Writers Create Vividness in Language and Story. Retrieved from

This book provides a new, practical guide for those who want to understand how effective writing is achieved. You know a passage sounds dull, you know a story didn’t end right—but do you know how to fix these? Building on observations of how human brains are built for absorbing information, the author reveals the internal engines driving the composition of interesting fiction and non-fiction: successful (and unsuccessful) structuring of plots, characters, and symbolism; apt and vivid use of language and imagery; and even the sources of disastrously unintended humor. By making the cognitive basis clear and constantly exploring the alternative possibilities, this book shows how great writers have made their writing so great and what would-be writers should keep firmly in mind to emulate them. Since the principles are the same for both fact and fiction, and for old literature and new, the examples are drawn from the literature of a wide array of periods, genres, and cultures, from Aeschylus to Zorro, both to demonstrate universality and to address readers with a variety of backgrounds and interests. This book will be of use to writers of novels and short stories of any genre; teachers and students in writing classes; scientific writers who want to keep their readers awake; teachers and students of ancient and modern world literature (including English); screen writers, playwrights, and people creating any sort of theater (including choreography and cinematography); designers of advertisements; linguists; and cognitive scientists.

To understand rhetoric, then, we have to understand cognition; the one is designed to accommodate the other, after all. If writers designed their work to hold the attention of a chimpanzee, it might abound in grunts; if an ant, it might be expressed chemically. But always sender and receiver are matched. So when we design our messages for a human reader, with human cognition, we have to take into account the peculiarities of the receiving set. This would be easier to understand if the nature of cognition were not itself as slippery as that eel from a couple of paragraphs back. The matter can be stated simply with an imaginary example: let’s suppose that we could not take in the meaning of a word unless it was uttered twice. So an actor playing Hamlet would have to stutter: “To to be be or or not not to to be be.” In other words, the limitation of our cognition would be reflected flawlessly in rhetoric, unless, of course, the writer came out of the academy without knowing this rule. But many of the rules of cognition are much more subtle than this. For example, there’s a rule that any perception, no matter how vivid, becomes dull with exposure, much the way silver tarnishes. This is why the clever sayings of one generation are dated by the next.

Table of Contents
1. Cognitive Collision 1 The key literary principles of Contrast and Coherence. 2. A Megalosaurus in WC1 10 Creating vividness in the face of sensory satiation: the necessity of change—and change of change. How Dickens made 500 words on “it was foggy and muddy” lively. 3. Is He Still the Lone Ranger If He Has a Faithful Companion? 21 Basic sources of Contrast, including characters, motifs, styles, mood, tempo. 4. E pluribus unum, ex uno plures 40 “Dramatic unity” and its varying interpretations; “true to life” and “making sense” as historically changing figments of our brain’s constant demand for Coherence. 5. Le Mot injuste 61 How writers make language itself (which, to be intelligible, must be known—dull) vividly new. Specificity and the explosion of information; the “visual” factor. 6. Strange Bedfellows 78 Imagery: creating new environs for old words. Analogies and visualizing. Clichés and taboos. The literal and the imaginary. Non-abstractness. Mining dialects. 7. Strange Visitor from another Planet 92 Characters and characterization. Matching the reader’s fantasy of self. Setting up lively foils. 8. The Familiarity Quotient 103 Genre fiction: expressing and elaborating the reader’s fantasies. Advice from editors of genre fiction. Cliché and taboo again. 9. The Sourdough Starter 111 Plot: What it is in actual practice, as opposed to the incomplete definitions so often quoted. Construction of viable plots. Twain. 10. How Plots Thicken 120 How writers renew the story by “solve and reshape” and by “revelation.” Problems (of time, location, characters, fantasy, etc.) inherent in each method. 11. Frankenstein Meets—Hardly Anybody 135 The main character: difficulties and advantages inherent in isolating or socializing one’s protagonist. 12. Replacing Divots 145 Vacuum generated by isolating one’s characters so they can’t talk; use of empathetic natural phenomena (like weather) instead of dialogue to obtain newness/vividness that is still coherent. 13. Rosebuds 154 Genesis of second levels, including dreams, prophetic events, and especially symbols: making the abstract concrete. 14. Bugs of Uncommon Shape 168 Literary humor—intentional and unintentional—from the viewpoint of Contrast and Coherence. 15. Muggles, Hobbits, and Meaningful Ghosts 187 Interesting sources of Contrast and Coherence in Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings; Dostoevsky’s stunning innovations in plotting. Endings. Bibliography 206


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