Creative Series II: The Foundation of Grammar
For those of you who are into Easter, Happy Easter!
Today, we are talking grammar.
Grammar is the foundation that writing is built on. If it were not for grammar, how we speak and what we write would be a chaotic soup of nonsense. In fact, we could be walking, talking and acting like the characters in “Idiocracy“. There are some in the world, who feel that our society as a whole has already chosen to follow this debilitating spiral.
The “stuff” that grammar is made of, is in every fabric of our lives.
You may be thinking that grammar consists of the ABC’s of school that you either liked or hated to learn about. Not true. Grammar is not just nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, subject, predicate, conjugation first person, second person, third person or any of the other fancy-shmancy words that may come to mind. Nope, grammar is all about learning how to keep the words within your sentence making sense. So, how do we do that? Well, we can write using the same kinds of pauses, stops and accelerations that we use when we speak.
The punctuation marks of grammar, give us a certain rythymn in our writing.
Grammar is a combination of commas, periods or punctuarion marks that we use to create a kind of rythymn when we are writing for our readers. Did you know that some songwriters develop their songs to a metronome? Think of punctuation as a kind of metronome that keeps time to associate our reader with ideas similar to ours when we write. Think of a comma as a pause or taking in a breath. If a comma is a pause or breath, the period is a longer silence. Maybe one or two seconds of silence in our writing. Punctuation marks work like metres to keep the tempo of our writing in sync (synchronously) with our presentation of ideas while we write.
Creative writers learn how to use grammar to present a kind of “visual” prose.
When a writer puts pen to paper with the intention of creating something that the reader can see in their mind, they are using a kind of “visual” form of writing. For example, if I describe a small stream of water, trickling down the face of a small hill that leads into a river and ends in a waterfall without saying anything else, what comes to your mind? What do you imagine?
What if I write the sentence differently?
It was a small trail of water, formed from the melting snows of far mountaintops. The water gained momentum as it trickled down the steep mountainsides of greens and browns. Stunted, twisted lichen-encrusted trees littered leaves and branches into the water. Flowing, ever-flowing, the trail of water joined with other trickles to form brooks and streams, moving faster and faster, collecting more and more leaves and branches, coalescing into a tumultuous river of brown.
Becoming an animal of seething fury, the river wound around boulders and past branches as it continued its descent. Trapped in the current of raging water, more and more flotsam became lost in savage whirlpools that collected in various dips close to the shoreline, swallowed into unfathomable chasms of black, only to become visible once again, in the grasp of the river’s current.
Following a twisted course of bends and turns, the water ended in a hurried rush to leap from its banks and shorelines into the air, cascading in a roar that spewed mist for miles, a waterfall that fell hundreds of feet into an abysmal, turqouise pool that sank into an endless oblivion of black. Skeletons of branches and leaves that survived, collected into half-visible islands lost travelers that meandered slowly and auspiciously into a wide, slow river that led into a lush, green valley.
What do you see, when you read the second example?
THAT is grammar. I am not just using words to describe what I am seeing in my mind, but literally straining to create an emotional experience. Look back at the first sentence. Look where I am placing my commas. Read the sentence to yourself, using the commas as pauses. If you need to, read the sentence out loud. I’m skipping a lot of detail. For example, green and brown…what? Grass? Leaves? Trees? But, do I need to describe that much in detail? I can skip over a few areas of description for your imagination, so that I am allowing you, the reader to envision your own picture of this mountainside I am describing.
Can you feel the tempo of the prose changing as you read?
Do you have an urge to read the paragraph faster? Why? What is causing you to read any faster than you are? How about looking at the second sentence, when I actually was not in tempo, but in a kind of syncopation. I’m throwing you off-beat, almost from the start of the sentence, only to keep this new tempo at a faster pace, using words that are virtually composed of single or double syllables, words that you would use yourself in an average conversation, ending in a kind of pause, when I use the word “tumultuous”.
Using descriptive words in a sentence can emphasize an emotional kind of feeling.
In the third sentence, notice how I open the my description by comparing water with an animal. Not just any kind of animal, mind you, but a furious animal…a raging animal. I am making use of a metaphor; the “raging animal”. The sentence that follows animates branches and leaves, as they are caught in the pull of the river. It is as if the descriptive paragraph gives you a kind of foreboding emotion as you are pulled along with the current of this river. Like a musical passage, my goal is to build my paragraph to a crescendo, only to end on a softer note, smoothing out the rollercoaster ride I trapped you on.
Our use of language is not heading uphill, it is going in the opposite direction.
When my wife and I are out of the house, she is constantly shushing me. In fact, there are times when she questions her decision to allow me in public. Why? The best example I can think of is when we go out to a restaurant and the server tells us, “Enjoy”. Enjoy…what??? What the Hell is this person telling me to enjoy? If it’s the food, then how about using a complete sentence? If I didn’t know any better, I would say that we are a society and culture that has learned to use incomplete sentences, expecting those who listen to us to “magically” or “internally” understand what we are saying. What is wrong with saying, “Enjoy your meal, or enjoy your food?”
Here is another example…a dictionary sample that has been “legitimized” by the Cambridge Dictionary. We’re going to have to up the tempo (=work faster) if we want to finish on time. “Up” the tempo??? If we were back in the 70’s or even the 60’s, we’d get a strange look from our audience. “You mean…increase or raise the tempo, right? It seems that the incontrovertible evidence that the English language is going to hell in a handbasket is true. Sadly, this example is indicative of our brilliant march – backward. We are slowly losing the ability to speak our own language. It is as if the quality of thinking in a way that allows the language to allow for a flowing current…like a “river”, is more like a bunch of small streams leading into a quagmire.
It is time for my to end this part of my series and for you to write something for yourself.
Next week: Punctuation