Friday, October 29, 2010

Conventional, Archetypal Literary Figures: The Hero

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach

Heroes are close, country cousins to villains. They are not perfect.

Consider Tony Stark, the fabulously wealthy, clever fellow who becomes Iron Man. He was self-absorbed, pursuing his own interests and pleasures until he becomes aware that his company kills people and he himself becomes a target of bad guys. Such a life-changing moment, we would hope, would elevate one’s purposes, and for Tony Stark, it does. Nevertheless, to survive and win, he needs a special nuclear ticker, a suit of impervious armor, and good fortune.

Most superheroes need a gimmick--just as Tony Stark does. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a special sense that allows her to detect vampires. She also possesses super strength and heals quickly. Superman isn’t even from earth, and Spidey needs venom to soar above buildings. Only poor Kick-Ass tries to go it alone; his bruises and fractures remind us that mere mortals may not win against mighty foes.

Consider Beowulf, the epic hero of the Anglo-Saxons. He loves to test his strength in swimming contests, against monsters, and in pursuit of gold. He even travels to Denmark in order to assist Hrothgar and enhance his standing in the world as a loyal man of courage, but Beowulf is not perfect. He can be deceitful, and he brags about his achievements.

In addition, in two of his most fierce battles, Beowulf, like most superheroes, cannot win without help. When he fights Grendel’s mother, he needs a sword bigger and stronger than his own. Fortune favors him when such a sword just happens to be within his reach, and as the biggest, strongest man anywhere in the world, he just happens to be able to lift it and use it to off her head. Much later in life, Beowulf faces an enraged dragon alone, and he cannot win. He’s old; his armor and shield are nothing against fire. Beowulf loses that last round, but his courage to stand before the creature becomes part of his legend.

Some mere mortals, upon whom Fortune refuses to smile, fight in spite of the odds against them. They lose, of course, but the fight itself defines them. Oedipus may be a man cursed by the gods. He is hot-headed, arrogant, impulsive, and tyrannical, but consider what Oedipus’ aims are: he wants to protect the people he believes to be his parents, he wants to save Thebes, and he wants to uncover the truth at all costs. Now those are aims we can cheer, and as a result, Oedipus rises to the level of hero, tragically cut down by his own hand and his own rotten destiny.

Hamlet is another guy who can’t catch a break. His uncle slaughters his own brother, Hamlet's father, to become King himself (by the way, Claudius is Scar; ghostly King Hamlet is Mufasa). Claudius steals Nala--I mean, Gertrude, and steals Prince Hamlet’s (Simba’s) right to the throne. The nasty uncle, now king, has allies galore and a standing army (or hyenas). What’s a prince to do? Rely upon a wart-hog and meerkat? Hardly.

But Hamlet is the hero even though he and everyone else dies in the end. Hamlet seeks the truth. He worries about his mother. He restrains his vengeful hand while considering how Denmark itself has been and will be affected. He ponders the true purposes for which man was placed on this earth. In other words, he strives for excellence in his pursuit of justice. He’s just not very nice about it all.

So that is why I assert that the heroic literary archetype is a close cousin to the villain. Both are imperfect humans, but the hero tries to rise above his own humanity and forego purely self-interested, opportunistic, petty motives in favor of divine purposes that include selflessness and courage and sacrifice. Like Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the hero risks life itself for a greater good.

Sure, heroes rescue damsels in distress, slay dragons, run into burning buildings, and solve crimes. They are often stronger and faster than the rest of us, but even the strongest and the fastest occasionally need a suit of iron, a monster sword, an AK-47, or a Taser.

Heroes rarely win without help. Sometimes they don’t win at all; sometimes they just run out of luck. Most of the time, they are no more perfect than a villain; they are just capable of empathy and able to restrain their petty impulses.

Reading Challenge:

Read any one or all of Cormac McCarthy’s Border trilogy: All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain. Or read McCarthy’s award-winning novels, No Country for Old Men and The Road. In any one of these books, identify the hero and the villain(s), taking note of their traits.

Writing Challenge:

Write a story featuring a hero who is not perfect, but one whom readers can support.

Grammar, Usage and Mechanics (GUM): Contractions

When I speak to family and friends, I use contractions often. I say I didn’t remember to pick up the milk instead of I did not remember to pick up milk. When I write e-mail messages to friends and family, I use contractions unless I need to be emphatic. For example, I did not start that rumor has more force than I didn’t do it.

In this blog post, I used contractions now and then because this post is written less formally than some others have been. This post has a conversational tone about it so contractions are appropriate.

In formal writing, though, contractions should be edited in favor of full words. Letters, contracts, messages to co-workers on company letterhead or computers, resumés, cover letters for resumés, and almost every assignment given in public school or college require that you proofread for and eliminate contractions, including all of those short-cut, shorthand text messages such as LOL.

[On April 11, 2010, the GUM lesson was also about contractions.]

Road 1ST Edition

Friday, October 22, 2010

Conventional, Archetypal Characters: The Villain

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach

In a series of six blogs that began on September 10, 2010, I offered insight into overall meanings, also known as literary themes. These are truths that develop through the course of a literary work by pitting character against conflict, then resolving that conflict. In the resolution is a theme.

You can list these themes and apply them to literary works, both classic and modern. You can modify and tweak them to fit a particular work, and you can add to your list as you become more and more proficient as a reader and literary analyst.

Another path is open to you, and that is the path I intend to walk for the next several blogs. This path is the one known as literary archetypes.

An archetype is an icon. It is a paradigm or prime example of characters and conflicts universal in literature. By knowing these archetypes, you will identify them easily and quickly to solve problems presented in literature just as algebraic formulas help mathematicians solves problems. This week, we will begin with my personal favorite archetypal character, the villain.

If television’s current slate of new shows is any indicator, villains are in vogue, and the villain du jour is the zombie, a mindless creature driven by some instinct to kill and consume whether by viral, bacterial, or genetic mutation. Zombies lack all finesse and restraint. Their purpose is clear, and their triumph downright disgusting. With a zombie, you know what must be done: flee or prepare to be culled from the herd.

At the heart of the zombie is every villain so don’t dismiss the grunts and groans, the outstretched arms, the clunky gait. Their instinct is the instinct of villains: predisposed to overpower and destroy. They lack boundaries, ignore social norms, and violate personal space. They are the animal, the Id, the beast within, and the heart of darkness. They are the side of humanity that laws and social contracts inhibit--except villains ignore laws and contracts. They boldly go where few men even want to go.

Villains do not understand that no means no. For example, Snidely Whiplash wants Li’l Nell for her beauty, innocence, and property. When she refuses to surrender to the mustachioed monster, he tries to destroy her by tying her to the railroad tracks just before the afternoon steam engine rumbles into town. Of course, Dudley Doright saves Li’l Nell, thereby foiling Snidely’s ambition to cull her from the herd permanently.

Villains are also dangerous because they are predators, hungry for power, hungry to fulfill their carnal desires. Damon, but not Stefan Salvatore (CW’s The Vampire Diaries); Edward, but not James or Victoria (Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight); Scar, but not Mufasa (The Lion King); Martin Vanger, but not Henrik (Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo); Voldemort, not Harry (J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series); and Anakin, not Luke, Skywalker (Star Wars chronicles), are all contemporary examples of classic predatory villains.

Damon drinks human blood because he likes the taste of it, and it delivers physical prowess unto him. Edward, like Stephan, eschews human blood because he does not wish to forsake every human trait, foremost among them, the capacity to restrain animal urges and empathize with the suffering of others.

Scar is jealous of his brother. Like John Milton’s Eve (Paradise Lost), Scar resents the glory and acclaim that go to another. For Scar, it is Mufasa; for Eve, it is God and Adam. Scar plots against his brother so that he not only ascends to the throne, but also avenges the petty slights and indignities he believes he has been forced to suffer. Eve conspires to prevent Adam from having another mate and all the brains doled out at Creation.

Martin Vanger pursues bloodlust. From it, he derives sexual gratification, an affirmation of ethnic superiority, and confirmation of his own gifts. Voldemort, like Martin Vanger, wishes to dominate, but his circumstances differ. Martin was born into a privileged, empowered family; Voldemort was not. He, therefore, uses his extraordinary gifts to gain acceptance, then gather minions by exploring and ultimately succumbing to the Force's dark side.

What all these villains have in common with each other and other villains in film and literature is

• an inability to empathize
• a desire that seems insatiable and knows no limits
• an unhealthy case of envy

Reading Challenge:

Read Wuthering Heights. Apply the criteria for villains to both Heathcliff and Catherine, Sr. Who is the villain?

Writing Challenge:

Write an analysis of the villain, defending your choice of Heathcliff or Catherine, with specific references to the text.

Grammar, Usage and Mechanics (GUM):

English users seem to have lost the distinction between then and than. My own students seemed to have merged the two, usually writing than as if it were an all-purpose word.

Then rhymes with when, and both words refer to time. For example:

After spreading the peanut butter on a slice of bread, you may then cover the peanut butter with slices of banana. (In other words, banana slices follow the peanut butter in a chronological sequence.)

I saw him across the room with her, and then I knew that he was in love with another woman. (In this case, then refers to a moment in time.)

Remember: Then rhymes with when, and both words refer to time so if your statement has to do with a moment in time, choose then.

Than, on the other hand, signifies a comparison. For example:

Brand X is better than Brand Y.

The weather in Laredo, TX is much warmer than Detroit, MI in December.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Final Destination: Mortality (One of the Biggest Overall Meanings)

In an 18-line excerpt from Epistle II, An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope, the poet defines man, exercising both discipline and genius by doing so in pairs of rhymed lines of iambic pentameter (known as heroic couplets). Pope echoes the existential why in these 18 lines while providing several literary themes with which readers can work. Here are those powerful 18 lines.

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between, in doubt to act or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little or too much;
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall:
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl'd;
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

To interpret poetry effectively, you must first know what the words say--literally. Therefore, your first step must be to paraphrase the lines. Below, you will find a paraphrased version that will facilitate an analysis of overall meanings found in these lines.

Man[kind], your business is yourself. Do not presume to know God [lines 1-2].

Man[kind], you exist between, in the middle. You are both intelligent and brutish [lines 3-4]. You know too much to doubt everything and anything, and you are too weak to accept both suffering and joy equally [lines 5-6]. You “hang” between, never sure if you should do something or nothing, never sure if you are godlike or an animal, never sure if you should trust your mind or your gut [lines 7-9].

You come into this world with one certainty: death. You have intelligence, but you make many mistakes in logic and reasoning. Even if you think a long time or almost not at all, you may reach a conclusion and be absolutely wrong [lines 10-12].

Man[kind], you are a mess, caught in the confusion of the rational mind and the gut emotion [line 13]. You are prone to self-loathing followed by rationalizations that restore all sense of self-worth [line 14].

You were created to rise near the angels, only to fall back to earth. You may think you have sovereignty over all things, but it is only an illusion because you are vulnerable to fire, wind, water, dirt, viruses, bacteria, sworn enemies, good friends, and traps of your own making [line 15-16].

You alone determine what the truth is, but over time, you have had to admit you were quite wrong [line 17].

So, man[kind], your fate is to rise to the level of angel, fall back to earth as a beast, and endlessly wonder why [line 18].

Reading Challenge:

First, read the literal paraphrase again. Second, read the 18-line excerpt again, slowly. Third, read the paraphrase once more. Repeat these three steps as often as needed until you understand Pope as you read his 18 lines.

This process may seem laborious, requiring too much of your valuable time, but the process is essential to appreciate and comprehend poetry. I promise you that the process becomes easier and understanding comes more quickly as you practice, practice, practice.

Visit the national poetry project to find hundreds of poems to read and savor at the link “Browse Poems.” You can also type “online poetry anthologies” into search engines to discover more poetry, and when you find a poet you enjoy, type his or her name into a search engine to find his or her poetry online.

Before the brief detour into a reading challenge, I promised to use Pope’s 18 lines to uncover myriad literary themes, and so I will. Here are a few:

Human knowledge has limits.

Pope asserts that man cannot know God (line 1). Later in the excerpt, he points out that the cognitive and affective domains are at war (lines 7-9, 13), thus compromising our abilities to know absolutely. In addition, reason alone falls short for time often proves the lie in our truth (line 17). For example, once, the inherent inferiority of certain groups was accepted truth and manifested in judicial precedent, legislation, and social mores. Once that so-called truth was debunked and reconsidered, courts, law, and society shifted to a new truth, one more consistent with philosophy and science.

Human beings are duplicitous, capable of deceiving themselves and others.

Pope suggests that we deceive ourselves (lines 14, 17), but we know from experience that we often deceive others in our attempts to deceive ourselves. Self-knowledge is slippery (lines 7-9, 13, 14, 15). We humans are often blind to our own personal flaws, but ever so alert to the flaws in others.

Humans are imperfect, often prone to selfish, even cruel, acts.

Animal instincts to eat, drink, survive, and defend territory have driven human beings to prey upon others, including humans, in acts of theft, war, and slaughter (lines 3-4, 15-16, 18). We are also torn between our better selves--the selfless, sacrificial, merciful, and brave self--and the lower self, selfish, craven, judgmental, and cowardly (lines 7-9).

Humans are weak.

As stated above, we can be selfish, craven, judgmental, and cowardly (lines 7-9); furthermore, we lack stoicism (line 5-6). We celebrate success and whine about losses instead of accepting both states as equally possible and often unrelated to merit. For example, does the lottery winner deserve to become suddenly rich? Has he done anything more than play the odds? Should a rich kid be proud just because an ancestor accumulated wealth? Should a poor kid be ashamed because he happened to be born into a family without resources? Becoming a lottery winner, being born with the proverbial silver spoon, and being born among the lowly are proof that chance operates. We should neither cheer a run of heads nor bemoan the coin showing tails anymore than we should take comfort in a temporary success or find sorrow in a setback. Each is probable. All are likely. We should simply be. Be what? Stoic, accepting each and all evenly, without extreme emotion.

Man is mortal.

However much we would like to believe that we will escape the limits of time, we will not (lines 10-12), and this fact is the catalyst for an infinite number of questions, including where do we come from (but alas, human knowledge has limits), why we must grow old (but alas, human knowledge has limits), and where we go when we die (but alas, human knowledge has limits). We must rise above our own weaknesses and accept the inexorable truth: man is mortal, and the ways in which he can die (lines 15-16) are legion.

Authors weave these overall meanings into numerous works, but Shakespeare is an excellent playwright to read to see them at work in works. Hamlet makes use of every one of them.

Grammar, Usage and Mechanics (GUM):

Once, in post-graduate study in the 1980s, a male professor, having recently earned his Ph.D. and in his first post as a full college professor, required that I re-write a 39-page essay in order to shift all nouns to plural form so that I could avoid the appearance of sexism by using the gender-vague “they” rather than the gender-known “he.” I was annoyed--mighty annoyed--because

1) I am a woman, and women are generally the offended in matters of sexism, not the offender.
2) The essay was typed the old-fashioned way--on a typewriter, not a computer so re-writing a 39-page essay meant re-typing 39 pages, word after word, hour after hour, a formidable task for a woman with a full-time job, full-time marriage, full-time duties as a mother, and part-time graduate study.
3) “He,” “him,” “man,” and “mankind” are universal, traditional words that may represent he or she, man or woman, mankind or womankind.

So what’s a girl or guy to do these days in order to be clear and avoid offending readers?

First, many writers opt for s/he, he or she, him and her. These choices are legitimate but they add clutter to what should be a clean, clear message. In addition, these choices complicate verb choices. Does “s/he” demand a singular or a plural verb? “He or she” is a no-brainer: the use of the word “or” requires that a singular verb follow because it is one (he) or the other (she), not both. “Him and her,” however, challenges us because the use of “and” suggests that a plural verb is the better choice--unless the entire phrase is the subject of the sentence as it is in this sentence. Yikes!

Worse, should “he or she” as the subject of the sentence be followed with “they” or “their?” Technically, no, but you will hear and read lots of plural pronouns used incorrectly today. For example:

• Everyone needs her (or his) book is correct.
• Everyone needs their book is incorrect. Unless you are answering questions for the ACT, most people will accept and choose “their” in this context.

Second, writers may opt for the very formal “one.” Instead of gender-specific pronouns such as “he” and “she,” the writer uses a gender-neutral pronoun, “one.” The problem is that “one” seems awkward in many, many contexts because it is infrequently used and when used, often seen in the context of commands such as One always bows or curtsies when introduced to the queen.

Third, writers can do as my professor commanded me to do: change singular nouns to plural forms, thereby making plural and gender-neutral pronouns logical and correct. For example:

• The student must bring his (or her or one’s) book to class if he (or she or one) wishes to succeed.
• Students must bring their books to class if they wish to succeed.

Fourth, writers can try to be fair and balanced by using “he” and “him” in one paragraph, “she” and “her” in the next. This is an obvious effort to avoid gender bias, and readers quickly adjust to the pattern.

Fifth and finally, we can employ the traditional, old-fashioned, classical “he” as a gender-neutral pronoun representing “he,” “she,” “man,” “mankind,” and “one.” It’s clean, and most readers are quite comfortable with it, finding no offense in the use of those words, especially if the work pre-dates 1960.

What is the most common, recommended choice for contemporary writers? The third choice listed above: whenever possible, rewrite choosing plural nouns that will agree with gender-neutral, plural pronouns.

Another choice, not necessarily recommended yet, is to use “they” and “their” even if the noun is singular. Remember, language is dynamic. It shifts and morphs based upon its users. Today’s users like “they” and “their” rather than the awkward, wordy, “he and she” or “him and her” so join all the other English users--except when speaking or writing for formal occasions when you might be judged and when trying to pass the ACT. I never said language options are always simple.

Writing Challenge:

Write down each of the five theme statements generated from Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man” excerpt. Match each theme statement to works you have read, seen or heard.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Love's Yin: Broken Hearts

Last week, the theme analysis focused upon love's powers to restore, heal, empower, and enrich our lives, but just as often, love is a conquering tyrant, willing us, forcing us to love that which cannot flourish, leaving us broken and often bitter.

For example, in “My Immortal,” Evanescence sang

You used to captivate me
By your resonating light
Now I'm bound by the life you left behind
Your face it haunts
My once pleasant dreams
Your voice it chased away
All the sanity in me

These wounds won't seem to heal
This pain is just too real
There's just too much that time cannot erase

This is the Yin of love whereas Love as a conquering hero is the Yang. Both have inspired poets, lyricists, and novelists. Consider the examples below.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet tells the tale of a love that kills. Misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and misalliances murder the lovers.

Lydia, Jane’s younger sister, in Pride and Prejudice chases the handsome, duplicitous Mr. Wickham. Although she wins him, he does not love her. Her love for him brings her financial hardship and requires her to live with the knowledge that he is unfaithful to her.

Stephanie Meyer drives Bella and Edward apart. Both nearly die until they yield to the love that demands sacrifice and courage from each.

Films too deal with broken hearts. The Break-Up shows how ugly two people can become when empathy and sacrifice flee. (500) Days of Summer proves that love’s tyranny may shatter our dreams and crush our present. Some people, including literary figures such as Shakespeare’s Ophelia, Dickens’ Miss Havisham, and Faulkner’s Miss Emily, never recover.

In John Donne’s “The Broken Heart” and “The Bait,” the speakers reveal that they will never be whole again after love has ravaged their hearts and spirits.

Fantine’s song, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables, expresses the agony of love lost:

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame

Fantine never recovers or overcomes her devastating loss. Love is a tyrant that crushes her.

Grammar, Usage and Mechanics (GUM):

Someone, someone's got me wrong
You thought that your love was strong
Now you're feelin' like such a fool
Poor you, you're thinkin' maybe if you said goodbye
You'll understand the reason why
The love you had felt so cool um hm

Oh but it's all right
Once you get past the pain
You'll learn to find your love again
So keep your heart open
'Cause love will find a way

Having had and overcome a broken heart, I can believe Pablo Cruise when he says that everything will be all right once we get past the pain. I wonder, however, if Mr. Cruise is correct in writing “all right” as two words. Should he have used “alright?”

No, Mr. Cruise was correct to choose two words: all right. In fact, your English teacher probably taught you that “alright” is always wrong. If only the contest between “all right” and “alright” were that simple!

“Alright” first appeared in 1887, according to an online entry from Merriam Webster’s work. The same entry notes that professional writers often use “alright” to mean “okay” or “satisfactory.”

For example:

PI (Private Investigator): We’ll meet at Harry’s under the green awning--alright?
CI (Confidential Informant): Green awning--got it!

“All right,” on the other hand, may have the same uses and meanings, but the two- word version suggests that a person is whole and/or secure (I am all right. Don’t worry.) and that a product is well done (The balance sheet proves that the accounts are all right.).

Language users ultimately determine what is correct so “alright” will probably become more and more acceptable. Until that time, if you sit for the ACT or SAT exams, choose “all right” so you won’t be all wrong.

Reading Challenge:

Read or re-read the works mentioned in this post.

Writing Challenge:

Write about love’s night, its Yin. Use specific, concrete details to show that breaking up is hard to do.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Great Big Idea: Love will find a way.

Last week, I quoted some lines from a Pablo Cruise tune, “Love Will Find a Way,” and I challenged you to uncover overall meanings in Grimm’s story about Rapunzel. One of the meanings was surely that love will find a way.

The Prince, heartbroken and blind, wanders in the wilderness for years, remaining apart from mankind until Fate intervenes to place him once more in Rapunzel’s arms. There he regains his eyesight, his beloved, his family, and his homeland where he and Rapunzel live happily for years to come. Their love conquered all obstacles in their path.

Love portrayed as a conquering tyrant and Love as the conquering hero are two of the most commonplace themes in literature. Some of the writers who have successfully employed these themes appear below.

Consider the overall meanings in Shakespeare’s comedies wherein misunderstanding or mistaken identities jeopardize the happiness of two imperfect but likeable characters who profess their undying love for each other in the final scene.

Consider the work of Jane Austen wherein necessity and social mores shape the alliances between most characters except in those most worthy and most capable of selflessness; these independent individuals who refuse to settle overcome and claim the greater happiness.

Consider the commercial success of Stephanie Meyer who brought together two of the most unlikely lovers: an independent girl and a vampire.

Consider the plots of every romantic comedy (rom-com, a.k.a. chick flick) brought to the screen, including recent entries such as The Ugly Truth, The Bounty Hunter, and The Proposal as well as classics such as 50 First Dates, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and The Notebook.

Consider also song lyrics from romantic love ballads, including Dolly Parton’s farewell tribute to her mentor, "I Will Always Love You:" "I hope life treats you kind / And I hope you have all you've dreamed of." Here love conquers petty selfishness, transforming the lover into someone who wishes only the best as she departs.

Edwin McCain seems to sing of love’s healing powers in “I’ll Be” when he insists: "And I dropped out, I burned up, I fought my way back from the dead, / I tuned in, I turned on, remembered the thing that you said." Love conquered the speaker’s losses and returned him to life itself.

Poets have sung the same messages in their lyrics. Shakespeare’s sonnets evaluate the many degrees and hues of love. In 116, Shakespeare’s speaker declares that love is an "ever-fixed mark / That looks on tempests and is never shaken." In other words, true love conquers all obstacles in its path. In 29, the speaker recovers his sense of worth and well-being in spite of being "in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes" because he remembers that someone loves him.

In “September 1, 1939,” W. H. Auden’s speaker, reeling from the news that Hitler has invaded Czechoslavakia, asserts that "we must love one another or die." Similarly, Biblical scripture admonishes us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Both assertions require a great deal from us, and both promise that Love is a conquering hero, one who can make us blind and deaf to our brother’s defects.

Finally, Robert Frost’s speaker, in “Birches,” claims that "Earth's the right place for love: / I don't know where it's likely to go better." He’s right, of course. Love is our greatest gift, one that must be accepted with reverence and given freely.

Grammar, Usage and Mechanics (GUM)

When writing about literature, standard practice requires that you write about it in the present tense. Literature always lives in the present moment. If you review the post above, you will see examples of this.

1. Shakespeare’s speaker declares (from paragraph 10)
2. W. H. Auden’s speaker, reeling from the news that Hitler has invaded Czechoslavakia, asserts (from paragraph 11)

In addition, when writing about literature, standard practice requires that you distinguish between the poet or author and the work. For example, few, if any, writers have taken a life, but many write about murder. In such thrillers, the author is not the same person as the killer, but we often presume that an author’s life mirrors the life unfolding in the novel. Such a presumption is a mistake. Thus, when writing about fiction and poetry, name the characters or refer to the speaker rather than the author. Both examples above refer to the author’s speaker, not the author alone.

Reading Challenge

Read a Shakespearean comedy such as Twelfth Night or As You Like It. In addition, read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, a book that influenced Stephanie Meyer, by the way.

Pick any one of the romantic comedy films mentioned and “read” them for the overall meaning explored in this blog post.

Finally, listen to the songs and read the poems mentioned in this post.

Writing Challenge:

Invent a tale using science fiction, fantasy, or any other sub-genre that you enjoy. Use specific, concrete detail to reveal the overall meaning: Love will find a way.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.