Friday, September 10, 2010

Overall Meanings: More about Truth

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.

Anyone who has ever loved or cared about a friend knows that breakin’ up is hard to do (Neil Sedaka). Anyone who has ever lied knows that we weave a tangled web for ourselves when we deceive others (Sir Walter Scott). And anyone who has failed or fallen or flopped knows that life improves if you pick yourself up, / Dust yourself off, [and] / Start all over again [Fields and Kern]. Above all, after break-ups, missteps, deceptions, and failures, don’t stop believin’ [Schon, Cain, and Perry] in yourself and in a better tomorrow because the sun’ll come out [from Annie by Strouse and Charnin].

Lyrics, whether set to music or not, are the essences of truth. Rhythm alone is not the appeal; lyrics call to us because they reveal the human experience. They speak of the “fabulous realities” that Macrorie invites us to discover. Lyrics convey truths found in longer works of fiction, comedy, tragedy, film, poetry, and autobiographies. They are timeless and universal. They only require that we listen closely and draw conclusions from facts.

For example, the play Hamlet proves several truths about being human. Can you identify at least one, expressing it as economically as a song lyric? Here’s one to start your engine of analysis: Failing to uphold moral duty leads to ruin, a truth that applies to Gertrude, Claudius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Laertes.

What are some of the lessons of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo? Here’s one: Those to whom evil is done [from Auden’s “September 1, 1939”] fight back [Lisbeth], flee [Harriet], or compromise [Blomkvist]. List several other lessons--also known as themes or overall meanings--found in Larsson's novel.

Using the two examples above, write an extensive list of overall meanings--truths as told in literature--using works such as Hamlet, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, The Killer Angels, The Poisonwood Bible, or A Thousand Splendid Suns. Try to generate a list of at least twenty.

Now take your list and match each one to other works. For example, the truth, failing to uphold moral duty, matches many works of literature. Here is a partial list to illustrate.

1. All the President’s Men by Bernstein and Woodward [non-fiction portrait of many elected and appointed government officials who forgot about honesty, integrity, and The Constitution]
2. Macbeth by William Shakespeare [the title character ignores his duty to country, King, and kin in order to satisfy his own ambitions]
3. The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini [Baba deceives and thus sets in motion a painful chain of events; Amir fails to act or tell the truth and thereby compounds his own and Hassan’s suffering]

“Fabulous realities” are universal and timeless, existing in real events such as Watergate, classic Renaissance works, and modern multicultural ones. They are told and re-told, yet they are new and different in each telling.

Cultivate an awareness of overall meanings in order to become a better reader and writer.

Grammar, Usage and Mechanics (GUM): Semi-colons and sentences.

Writers have options, and those include punctuation marks. Consider the three samples below.

I plan to shop for a dress. I plan to shop until I drop.

I plan to shop for a dress, and I plan to shop until I drop.

I plan to shop for a dress; I plan to shop until I drop.

Each pair of sentences above is punctuated correctly, but writers should not think of punctuation as “one mark” fits all meanings and conditions. Choose punctuation for clarity and effect.

For example, each of the complete sentences logically belongs together because each is about shopping, but the punctuation choice tells a different story. The first and third pairs of sentences achieve a more emphatic effect through parallel structure and punctuation. The middle pair is less effective because the coordinating conjunction and comma make the pair seem equal. The second sentence lacks the same punch as the other two punctuation choices.

So think about the effect, about logical links between sentences, and occasionally substitute a semi-colon for the period or the comma plus coordinating conjunction option.

Reading Challenge:

Read anything you wish, but read to discern the "fabulous realities" or overall meanings--truths--that the work reveals. Write them down. In addition, as you listen to your favorite music, copy into your writing journal the phrases that express the human condition beautifully. Match the musical truths to other works you’ve read.

Writing Challenge:

Follow the directions of the Reading Challenge above, then reflect upon some of your own writing. What truths have you expressed? List them.