I’m pretty sure anyone who writes, or creates, can sympathize with this!
As an aside: greatest comic strip ever. No, really…Calvin & Hobbes had it ALL: art, writing, humor, and the right touch of feeling and honesty. Even more than the next two on my list — Bloom County and The Far Side — Bill Watterson was a freaking genius.
Today’s strips? That’s harder…Dilbert comes to mind…but that’s about the only one that really stands out at the moment. Some of the web-comics are interesting, but nothing out there comes anywhere near those “top three”.
[Note – apparently Berkeley Breathed is drawing Bloom County again, via Facebook and GoComics … I haven’t yet had a chance to check it out, but that might very well be enough to get me to create a Facebook account…we’ll see.]
At any rate, due to lack of anything resembling coherent thought at the moment, I decided to call out some things that, well, just plain work for me. Not necessarily things that are groundshakingly amazing, but things I admire…and learn from.
Simple, powerful prose is a wonderful thing, especially when it has a sense of humor. From Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere:
“Richard found himself imagining the earl sixty, eighty, five hundred years ago: a mighty warrior, a cunning strategist, a great lover of women, a fine friend, a terrifying foe. There was still the wreckage of that man in there somewhere. That was what made him so terrible, and so sad.”
Dammit, but I love that passage. As a character description? It is incredibly evocative, and paints a picture in a mere fifty words that well and truly nails the character.
Writers, they say, write. Well, writers also read. And in reading, they study and they learn…and, hopefully, they improve.
To stay on theme, here’s another passage*…one that nails its setting (London) in an equally effective way (actually, this quote is pulled from the single longest run-on sentence I can think of — don’t try that at home…not, at least, until you are as successful and well-known as Gaiman himself):
“It was a city in which the very old and the awkwardly new jostled each other, not uncomfortably, but without respect; a city of shops and offices and restaurants and homes, of parks and churches, of ignored monuments and remarkably unpalatial palaces…”
*Can you guess what I’m re-reading right now?
Books are not the only thing from which to learn…not by a long shot. I’ve talked enough about my love of music, even quoted from a few songs. Well, there are some lyrics out there that are, quite simply, powerful. As with good prose, good lyrics evoke and inspire…they make you think and question, and bring to mind thoughts and feelings far in excess of their few words:
“With everything discovered just waiting to be known,
What’s left for God to teach from his throne?
And who will forgive us when he’s gone?”
—The Gaslight Anthem, National Anthem
“With nothing left but a chord to stretch
And a word to get on by
Sometimes you reach for the bottle before the sky”
—Chuck Ragan, Nothing Left to Prove
There are dozens of additional examples I could give…an entire iTunes library, in fact, from which I could pull quotes and lines. That’s not the point of this. No, the simple point is this: words have meaning, and power. Poetry and music just as much as prose. Give yourself the time, and the reason, to study and to learn how others have harnessed that meaning, and that power.
Read the good and the bad, the new and the old…read to enjoy, but also to understand, and to learn. There’s an old saying about “standing on the shoulders of giants.” Well, that applies to writing as much as to science: read what has been done, read what has worked, and take it onboard*. Pull it all in, mix it around, and feed your own style…
*An interesting writing exercise I’ve heard about a few times (but have never done): instead of reading a story you truly admire, transcribe it. The thought is that, by writing, you will internalize the structure and words in a way you would not through simply reading… Hand-cramps and time aside, that is an interesting thought. If anyone out there has actually done the exercise, let me know how it worked!