Language Comma Aggressive Use Thereof

Last night, we went to see Studio Theatre’s production of The Mother with the Hat.  Except that’s not really the play’s title.  I try to keep this a family blog, though, so we’ll leave it at that.

I’d seen the play before — in New York, with Chris Rock playing one of the leads.  I came away from that production feeling distinctly conflicted — Rock did a fine job moving about the stage, interpreting his character, but his familiarity as a comic performer kept making me view his character as a comic character.  Which he was.  But only partially so.  Also, the New York production did some very clever things with its set — one transition included a couch rotating into place from beneath the stage, forming the anchor for an entirely different apartment.

Last night’s production was completely different.  The actor playing the Chris Rock role was a deeply charismatic white guy who seemed so utterly comfortable with himself and his spiritual past that he carried along the characters and the audience — even those of us who knew the ins and outs of the plot.  (Last night’s Ralph played one serious scene in the nude that was totally, completely in character, but would have come off as a comic scrambling if Rock had done it.)  The different casting made various plot points resonate in a new (and, in my mind, better way.)

This time, I wasn’t as bothered by the language in the play.  The title is there for a reason — yes, to shock the shockable.  And to let everyone know that we’re in for a night of adult entertainment (not quite like that, but you know what I mean.)  And to clear the slate for a lot worse language to come.

Yeah, there’s worse to be said.  Almost every line in the play contains the F word; I stopped hearing it after a while.  But an early line about a nun’s private parts may be the single most shocking line I’ve heart on a stage — and it’s glossed over, without hesitation, with no reaction by the actor who delivers the line or the one who receives it.

Language becomes a tool of aggression.  Not really among the characters — they are inured to the words they use because they know (or at least use) no others.

But the playwright (and the actors, as the playwright’s voice) is/are leveling an attack against the audience.  “See?” they say.  “There are lots of people in the world out there, and they are angrier than you.  A lot angrier.  And in many ways, a lot more impotent.  But they have a number of tools to express their anger, including language.  And if that bothers you, well then, [screw] you, mother.”

It’s an extraordinarily aggressive maneuver.  And an extraordinarily aggressive play.  (Even though I’ve seen more violence on stage — more people die in the average Shakespeare history or tragedy, for example.)

Ultimately, the play was successful — I’m still talking about it hours later.  I’m still questioning the motivation of characters, the way they do and do not solve the problems presented to them.

I’ve been thinking about language a lot lately.  I’m writing a contemporary YA novel, and I *know* how high school students talk.  I also know that a lot of libraries won’t buy books with certain words in them.  Therefore, my challenge as an author is to create dialog that sounds real, but that doesn’t violate the Magic Word Taboo.

That’s more of a challenge than you might think.

So?  What about it?  What books have you read that effectively use aggressive language?  Any notable failures?

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Super Secret Projects and Scarcity

Yesterday, I barely dipped my toe into the online world.  See, I was about 150 pages away from finishing my edits on my Super Secret Project, CROSSROADS.  (No, I can’t tell you about it.  That’s why it’s a Super Secret.  I *can* say that it’s a full novel, written on spec, for a teen audience.  It’s in a genre new to me, but one that I’ve read widely.  I really, really, really like the characters and the plot, and I’m typing this post with my fingers crossed, in hopes that my agent will love it as much I do!)

So, as I was saying — no blogging.  No Facebook.  No Twitter.  (What?  You didn’t know I’m on Twitter?  Yeah, I’m just starting out there as @MorganKeyes.)  And all of that absence felt … strange.  Good, actually.  Focused.  Like I didn’t have a million shouty voices in my head.

Today will be a rather scattered day, catching up on emails, clearing the debris that accumulates when a project is oh-so-close to completion.  And then?  On Monday?  I begin to write a new Jane Madison novel!

Mindy, trying to keep from starting the new project today!

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The. End.

Those were the words that I typed last Friday, just as my official workday was scheduled to come to a close.

The.  End.

It’s always a pleasure to reach the end of a draft, to have that feeling that all of the story threads have been woven together, that the characters have completed their arcs, that the plot ends have been tucked in, nice and tight.

Sometimes, it’s more of a pleasure than others.

The draft I finished was for a novel in a new-to-me genre.  The story grows out of discussions that I first had with my agent almost exactly five years ago.  I started the novel three previous times, abandoning each effort because it was seriously flawed in tone, or in character, or in overall concept development.

I’ve always been a writer who creates a pretty solid outline, then fleshes out that outline in pretty deterministic fashion.  I don’t make major changes mid-stream.  Once I start writing, I keep on till dawn (or till The End.)

But not with this novel.  This novel, I wrote a kickass outline.  Then, I started writing, and about a quarter of the way through, I realized I needed to make major changes.  I made those changes, revised the first few chapters, and moved forward again.  Then, about three quarters of the way through, I realized the story had so diverged from its starting point that I needed to revise *again*.

Third time was, ultimately, the charm.  Despite summer schedules, unexpected family demands, and a host of other crises, I finished my draft last Friday.

I took the weekend off, completely, to recuperate.  I spent yesterday catching up with various online obligations.

And now, I’m back to the normal day-in, day-out challenges of this writing life.  But I can still feel that glow from The.  End.

(In case any of you are curious – the novel is now in the hands of a few beta readers.  After I get their comments, it will go off to my agent, who will pitch it, and (fingers crossed!) sell it.  And then you can read it.  :-) )

Mindy, finding a new rhythm

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Too Derivative (Not!)

So, I’m writing this novel.

And in this novel, my main character is reading Hamlet.  Shakespeare’s play is giving me a great chance for Main Character to think about duty and honor and revenge.  After a particular incident, she thinks, “We have a policy against [that] but it’s…”

I wanted to say “observed more in the breach than…” but I couldn’t remember the rest of the proverb.  So I typed the words into Google.  The correct quote is:  “It’s more honored in the breach than the observance.”

And the quote is from Hamlet, not a timeworn proverb.

Kismet, I tell you.  Pure Kismet.  (Yeah, that’s another play.)

I’m reminded of the time I saw a production of Hamlet, with about 25 high school kids in the audience.  At intermission, they were talking about the play and one complained to the other, “It’s just filled with so many cliches!  Couldn’t Shakespare write an original line?  I mean, ‘to be or not to be’ – sheesh!”

So, yeah.  Hamlet‘s too derivative.  Not.

Mindy, quoting the bard to her heart’s content

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Looking for a Love Poem

For my current WIP, I’m looking for a love poem.  Here are the requirements:

  1. Must be in the public domain.
  2. Must be somewhat obscure — nothing that is regularly anthologized in high school or college freshman lit classes — but see 3 below.
  3. Must be by generally recognizable author (e.g., Keats, Shelly, Byron, etc.)
  4. May be long, but a single stanza or two must be quotable, to get the feeling of the wild, romantic love expressed in the work.

Yeah.  I made it through my departmental comps by using medieval devotional poetry as my examples for “poetry”.

So?  Anyone have any suggestions?

Mindy, knowing someone online will come up with the perfect poem!

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Found It!

After two days of poking and prodding and trying to come up with the perfect first sentence for PLEASANT VALLEY, I have it:  It’s not my fault.

Yeah.  It’s only four words.  But when Ashley said them to me, I suddenly understood exactly how to start this thing.

Pardon me.  I’m off to write…

Mindy, already out the door

 

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