I have been discovering over the past few years of writing and revision that the types of literature that most influence my writing sometimes cause difficulties. What I mean is that many of them are not in vogue at all. I sometimes have difficulty dissecting these situations to discover whether I have merely been lazy and written something sloppily, or if I have written under a literary influence that simply does not suit the western literary milieu. I don’t want to be silly and pompous and make that (often hilarious) mistake that many writers are tempted to make of simply saying “Ah! They just don’t understand me and my unique talents!” when in fact, it was not written so as to be well understood and did not display any talents.
So. A conundrum.
I will explain my conundrum by three examples.
First: Anne of Green Gables and (Robin McKinley’s) The Blue Sword. These were my ultimate teenage books. I soaked them in until they inevitably crept into my writing DNA. This cannot be undone, nor would I wish to undo it.
But here’s the “problem” if it is that. Both of those book have that particularly (EXTREMELY UNPOPULAR THESE DAYS) fluid style of 3rd person omniscient, where they can literally jump between POV thoughts within the very same paragraph. In most book reviews I read this is treated as a capital offense, as if the author did it on accident and should have known better. I don’t agree. I don’t understand how there is anything wrong with this style.
(side-note: I started out instinctively using this style many, many drafts ago, and I do agree with the advice of my friend/beta-reader that it wasn’t as good for my story, so I ditched it. But I still defend the option!!!)
Also, both of these books are slower and allow tremendous room for description and introspection. The world of Damar and the world of Avonlea are the richer and more real for it, but I often see this type of slowness and depth of description derided as dull and pointless.
It is a fine line, I suppose, between richness and tediousness, but often it seems there is patience for neither, and this saddens me. At any rate, personally, I love this style, and such books sustained me in my young years.
Second: Chiastic structure and parallelism.
These are literary features are extremely prevalent in the Hebrew Bible (also known as the Old Testament) and require a certain type of repetition. Chiastic structure is as follows: A B C C B A. (It can have as many letters as you like, but the pattern stays)
Thematically it would look like this: (A) A girl is found by her mother after a long search (B) The girl and mother travel a long distance (C) They fight and part ways to find new homes (C) They part ways with those new homes (B) They travel to a new land (C) the girl finds the mother
But this can also work on the prose level, as in a chiasmus: “Ask not what your country (A) can do for you (B), but what you (B) can do for your country (A).”
[I am reminded of a Community episode where Jeff mocks this chiasmus “The people don’t want me to say (A) what I’ll do (B), they want me to do (B) what I’ll say (A)!!”]
I find this (WHEN DONE WELL) falls beautifully on my ears, but perhaps some find it repetitive which brings us to:
Parallelism: Parallelism is repetition but with purpose and nuance.There area lot of different versions of this, but the objective is a sort of symmetry that usually gives a pleasant rhythm in addition to emphasizing the meaning and theme.
I did not realize this until I started looking sites up to give me more insight on these styles, but MLK Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech is an excellent example of parallelism. The same phrase repeated over and over, but each time growing and expanding and adding upon the theme (This one is known as Climactic Parallelism). This means you use a lot of the same words again and again, but none of them are wasted, as the beauty and fame of that speech will attest to.
A classic Hebrew Bible example of the emphatic form:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
Repeating the phrase “with all your” and saying both heart, soul, and might would usually be deemed repetitive, because those are all pretty similar, but each offers an added nuance because they are not exactly the same, and it implies the extreme and holistic nature of the love.
Another is “They word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” If you think about it, the second part is a literal rephrasing of the first. Lamp=light, feet=path. But the rhythm, poetry, and added nuance (because a lamp is a small man-made thing, and light is a natural thing outside of lamps, etc.) make it worthwhile.
Third: Arabic Literature
Despite Hebrew Literature and Arabic Literature having the same regional origin AND the languages both being Semitic and having extensive similarities, the literary styles are quite different. This has a lot to do with their respective histories. Arabic has been spoken uninterruptedly for so many centuries, whereas Hebrew was solely a literary/prayer languages for many centuries. It was spoken only in very specific contexts. It was mostly dead. Because of this, it did not expand. It’s vocabulary was not forgotten, but it was stagnant until about 150 some years ago when some activists started trying to revive the language. They had a very small, ancient vocabulary to work with, but hey! they were successful in bringing the language back which is a historically incomprehensible feat! Either way, the result is that modern Hebrew literature tends to be simultaneously poetic (from its Biblical roots) and extremely stark (from its modern roots). An odd and fascinating combination.
Arabic on the other hand not only continued to be spoken throughout this time, but it grew and grew and grew. It spread like wildfire throughout the Middle-East, mixing with Persian and Turkic languages, later garnering minor flourishes of English and French. Arabic is considered one of the hardest languages to learn NOT because it’s script is complex, and NOT because the language is confusing (it is not. Semitic languages are beautifully, intelligently structured, making them so, so much more logical than English). It is considered difficult because it’s vocabulary is so ridiculously expansive. Sometimes it feels as though there are a hundred words for absolutely EVERYTHING.
What this means for Arabic literature is that adjectives are everywhere. You know when you look up those “ten ways to improve your writing” and they say “drop all the extra adjective, keep them to a minimum.”
Well, welcome to a world where supposed “excess” of adjectives is a joy, and to be savored one letter, one dot at a time. Sentences go on for years. The forms of verbs and nouns are played with so that the same root-word is used several times to clever effect. Oh, it is so much fun. Poetry is prose and prose is poetry, and the more sauces and spices your add, the better it becomes.
This went on WAY longer than I meant it to, and it really doesn’t solve my problem at all. I just have to do the best I can with what I have, savor my influences, and wield them wisely.
(Oh look! I think that was almost parallelism)