January Patreon Review

PatreonSupporterBadge (2)In the interests of enticement, I’ve decided to start keeping a monthly log about what goes up on my Patreon each month! So here’s what I shared, at the various pledge levels, in January:

  • Behind the Page: Adventures in Copy Editing
  • Sneak Peek: From Unseen Fire Dramatis Personae
  • Hamilblogs #29-30: “That Would Be Enough” and “Guns and Ships”
  • Aven Cycle Aesthetic Post: Corvinus
  • Figures in History: Sharp-Tongued Fulvia, Pt 2
  • Advanced notice of the Goodreads giveaway starting
  • Sneak Peek: From Unseen Fire proof pages (title page and header material)
  • Behind the Page: Airtable charts on Aventan magic
  • Poll: What makes you pick up a book?
  • Vlog #5: A talent I wish I had
  • Poem #4: Lycanthropic Kyrielle

Pledge now and you get immediate access to as many as 130 posts! More and more of it is starting to focus on From Unseen Fire, and once the book is out and I can worry less about spoilers (or, y’know, sharing things that will make no sense until folk have read it), there will be all kinds of Aven Cycle bonus material. In February, I’m also intending to get through “History Has Its Eyes on You”, “The Battle of Yorktown”, and maybe “What Comes Next?” on the Hamilblog. I expect to hit “Non-Stop” in March, which will be… a special event. I’m thinking of videoing the process, or at least part of it, because analyzing that song is going to be utter nonsense, and I can’t wait.

I’m currently $172 from my next goal. If I make it there before From Unseen Fire releases in April, I will do a random drawing and giveaway a signed Advanced Reading Copy to one of my wonderful supporters!

patreon.com/cassrmorris

A World of Figures Series: Ellipsis, Paralipsis, and Ennoia

I’ve decided to start a new series of blog posts talking about my favorite thing: rhetoric!

Why do I love rhetoric? In short, because an awareness of rhetorical figures makes you a better speaker, a better writer, a better reader, and a better listener. It engages critical thinking skills that are supremely important in modern society. For a writer, it helps you to craft characters’ individual voices — different people are prone to different rhetorical tics and tactics. There are many fascinating things about language, but for me, rhetoric is the be-all and the end-all of them. Rhetoric is about structuring your words to achieve a desired effect — and what could be more important for a writer?

I was initially going to start this series with one of my favorite rhetorical figures, like chiasmus or anthimeria. I’m putting those on the backburner, though, to address something that’s become politically significant: figures of omission.

Take this example from Othello:

IAGO:
Ha? I like not that.

OTHELLO:
What dost thou say?

IAGO:
Nothing, my lord, or if – I know not what.

OTHELLO:
Was not that Cassio that parted from my wife?

IAGO:
Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it,
That he would steal away so guilty-like,
Seeing you coming.

Iago’s doing a couple of really rhetorically clever things here. First off, ellipsis — simple omission of words or phrases. Generally, ellipsis ought to be easily understood in context. Our brains are really good at filling those in. Another example from Shakespeare is in Love’s Labour’s Lost: “You this way; we that way.” I bet your brain had no trouble supplying the missing verb. If someone spoke those words to you, you probably wouldn’t even consciously realize that it was missing. Iago puts a twist on this form of omission, though, by creating gaps that can’t be filled in so quickly and easily. By saying “I like not that”, Iago makes the listener wonder what the antecedent of “that” is. By leaving out his explanation in the next line, he makes the listener try to come up with one.

We’ve also got something called paralipsis, the act of calling attention to something by pretending you’re not going to call attention to it. “I cannot think it, that he would steal away so guilty-like” is a denial that that’s what Cassio was doing — but it’s meant to plant exactly that idea in Othello’s brain.

And then there’s the ennoia, which Silva Rhetoricae (one of my favorite rhetorical references) defines as:”a kind of purposeful holding back of information that nevertheless hints at what is meant; a kind of circuitous speaking.” I see this in “Nothing, my lord, or if — I know not what.” That “or if –” is a sentence with no end. Iago intends no ending to it. But he does intend that Othello’s brain try to come up with an ending, and the rest of what he says clarifies what he intends that ending to be.

Now take this example from a couple of days ago:

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

If you don’t know where that’s from, I envy you the rock you’ve been living under.

Donald Trump is employing ennoia in the same way that Iago did. He left a deliberate gap. His delivery showed that he trailed off intentionally, and then, like Iago, shrugs off the omission. He leaves it to the listener to find the end of that sentence, and both delivery and context indicated what he intended his listeners to fill in the missing information with. “Maybe there is, I don’t know” is a near-perfect analog for “Or if — I know not what.” And just as Iago meant it to be the dog-whistle of infidelity for Othello’s ears, Trump meant it to be the dog-whistle of violence to an audience that he knew would be receptive to such.

Ennoia is not a rhetorical device that one deploys accidentally. It has a purpose. Its entire function is to hint, to wink, to nudge, to draw the listener along to the conclusion that, for whatever reason, the speaker does not want to say outright.

Trump is also fond, as many politicians are, of paralipsis. It’s a convenient way to make an ad hominenm attack but wiggle out of getting criticized for doing so. This blog post chronicles some great examples across history, from Cicero straight up to the present day, and both The Washington Post and Huffington Post have commented on Trump’s use of the device.

Here’s the other thing about these devices of omission, particularly when used in a political context: they’re cowardly. They are the resort of someone who wants to mislead and misguide. They allow a speaker to claim, “I never said that.” “What I meant was…” “If people interpreted it that way…” They’re a way of avoiding agency and responsibility. They may be effective, but they are not devices that inspire confidence in a leader.

Words matter. So does the structure that those words come in — that’s what rhetoric is. Not just your choice of words, but the way you choose to present them. So does your delivery — that trailing off for ennoia points an audience towards how the speaker wants their brains to fill in the missing information.

Words having meaning. And so, it turns out, does the absence of words.

Set My Heart Aflame: A moment of love for language

So, I’ve recently become high-school-levels of obsessed with the musical Hamilton. At this point I’d pretty much sell a kidney to get to see it, and with the ticket prices and availability being what they are, it may well take that in order to do so. Fortunately, many of my friends share in this fixation, so my constant reblogging isn’t as obnoxious as it might otherwise be.

Take yesterday, for example, when a friend decided to rhapsodize on the lovely repetition in the song “Satisfied”, and I just couldn’t resist from jumping in with a full rhetorical analysis:

HamiltonRhetoric

There are a lot of reasons I’ve fallen so passionately in love with this musical, but this right here is a big one. The language is just goddamn gorgeous.

It makes you realise how flexible our ability to express ourselves is, how many ways a writer can reveal character and intent. The words themselves are just the half of it — rhythm, structure, patterns and the breaking of them — that makes the rest.

The Writer in the Woods

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Writer’s block is just code for laziness. I am an adult, and so when I am lazy and procrastinating, I am at least capable of admitting that that’s what I’m doing. I will also admit that, as a teenager, I went through those melodramatic phases where I blamed everything on “my muse” — or on my characters, as though they were capable of stymieing my progress with their obstinate independence. Also crap. Excusable then, in my youth, as I was learning and growing. Those were also quite popular fads among internet writers at the time (and may be still, in some circles), and I was utterly susceptible to the influence of my peers. But those avoidance techniques are thoroughly unacceptable for any grown human who wants to be a writer. (And therein, I think, lies the real problem — more people are interested in claiming to be writers than in actually doing the work of being writers).

It’s actually rhetorical, and it’s something you see characters in Shakespeare doing a lot. Devices like prosopopoeia and meiosis and synecdoche allow you to assign agency to an inanimate object, to an abstract concept, or to some part of your whole being, thereby excusing you from responsibility. It’s crap when Romeo blames “Love” for making him kill people, it’s crap when Proteus blames his tongue for slandering his girlfriend, and it’s crap when a writer blames a mythical block or muse for a lack of productivity.

What I do believe in, though, is a writer getting lost in the forest.

Into the Woods by Pure_Poison89 on DA

Into the Woods by Pure_Poison89 on DA

It’s possible to be incredibly productive, to be working every day, and yet to not actually get anything done from an end-result point of view. Despite hours of trekking and searching, thinking you’re on to something, you might have no luck at all in finding the right path. Dead ends will plague you, not just in the dramatic way of cliff faces and sudden ravines, but the simpler and altogether more probable way of realising the path loses definition and gets reclaimed by wilderness, leaving you just as much in the middle of nowhere as you were before. You can end up going around in circles, landing on the same point and again and again, despite how little it’s doing for your narrative. You might find lots of things — but none of them get you where you need to go. That shrubbery sure is interesting, but it’s not advancing your plot. There are a lot of trees, but you can’t see the forest for all of their branches smacking you in the face. Maybe you wander across a fairy ring. Do you step inside and find inspiration? Or does it muddle your brains and lure you into a pointless tangent? Maybe you trip up and end up in a swamp, inundated by ideas, but ideas that are rotting, stagnant, thick and heavy and sucking you down into their murky depths.

Yes, it’s easy to see this as another metaphor spiraling out of control; yes, it’s another way for a writer to romanticize her everyday tasks; and yes, writers do seem to experience a nigh-uncontrollable urge to construct narratives out of anything in life.

But the difference here is agency. You’re the one doing the wandering, and it’s up to you to find your way out of the woods. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it can take quite a while even to realise that you’re lost — especially because it can feel so good while you’re experiencing that placebo effect of false productivity.

Hopefully, eventually, you break the cycle and can step out into the clearing again, where you can organise your plot into neat, cogent patterns and solve whatever problems you’ve created for yourself. The only one who can get you and your story out of there is you. And isn’t that better, than blaming it on some block that suddenly falls out of the way, or than giving the credit to an ephemeral muse who deigns to revisit you? Isn’t it better, aren’t you stronger if it’s your own doing, your own triumph?

Now — is the moodling worth it? Are those tangents and sidetracks and wandery mountain paths worth it? The romantic view says yes, of course, it’s all about the process. The pragmatic side of me says — no. Not always. Sometimes spending time in those metaphorical woods is every bit as wasteful and self-indulgent as playing Civ V while streaming 18 straight episodes of Chuck. (Just as a, y’know, hypothetical for instance). If you’re still in the early stages with no pressure on you, then getting lost isn’t so bad and might lead to worthwhile discoveries, but if you’re staring down deadlines with other people counting on you, it’s time to drag yourself out.

Personally, at the moment, I find myself in a bit of a thicket. I’ve tried several approaches and made a series of attempts to get out, and yet I keep finding myself in some of the same snarls. So it’s time to try a different technique — retrace my steps, perhaps, get back to the last point where I thought I was on-track, and find my way out from there. Look at the outline. Look at the character arcs. Look at what the story needs and what a reader will want. Look for the gaps and the weaknesses.

I know the path exists. It’s up to me to find it.

Figures in History: Hortensia the Orator

Coolest new thing I learned today: So in 42 BCE, the Second Triumvirate found itself in need of a lot of cash. They did the usual thing, proscribing their enemies. Proscribing, for those who don’t know, meant murdering them and confiscating their estates as forfeit to the state — or, for the ones they felt more tenderly towards, driving them into exile and then stealing their stuff. But they then also did something entirely unprecedented: they levied an exorbitant tax on all women who controlled their own estates in suo iure, demanding a full year’s income from them.

And this pissed off a lot of ladies.

One of them, Hortensia, was the daughter of a famous orator, and she decided to put her heritage and her education to good use. First she appealed to Mark Antony’s wife Fulvia for help — but Fulvia, who had been exempted from the tax, basically laughed in her face. So, with a tribe of other aggrieved women (possibly including Caesar’s widow Calpurnia), Hortensia stormed the rostra in the Roman Forum — thus occupying a decidedly male space — and proceeded to give a pretty bad-ass speech.

Appian renders her speech thusly (translation found here):

‘As was appropriate for women like ourselves when addressing a petition to you, we rushed to your womenfolk. But we did not get the treatment we were entitled to from Fulvia, and have been driven by her into the forum. You have already stolen from us our fathers and sons and husbands and brothers by your proscriptions, on the grounds that they had wronged you. But if you also steal from us our property, you will set us into a state unworthy of our family and manners and our female gender. If you claim that you have in any way been wronged by us, as you were by our husbands, proscribe us as you did them. But if we women have not voted any of you public enemies, if we did not demolish your houses or destroy your army or lead another army against you; if we have not kept you from public office or honour, why should we share the penalties if we have no part in the wrongdoing?

Why should we pay taxes when we have no part in pubic office or honours or commands or government in general, an evil you have fought over with such disastrous results? Because, you say, this is a time of war? And when have there not been wars? and when have women paid taxes? By nature of their sex women are absolved from paying taxes among all mankind. Our mothers on one occasion long ago were superior to their sex and paid taxes, when your whole government was threatened and the city itself, when the Carthaginians were pressuring you. They gave willingly, not from their land or their fields or their dowry or their households, without which life would be unlivable for free women, but only from their own jewellery, and not with a fixed price set on it, nor under threat of informers and accusers or by force, but they gave as much as they themselves chose. Why are you now so anxious about the government or the country? But if there should a war against the Celts or Parthians, we will not be less eager for our country’s welfare than our mothers. But we will never pay taxes for civil wars, and we will not cooperate with you against each another. We did not pay taxes to Caesar or to Pompey, nor did Marius ask us for contributions, nor Cinna nor Sulla, even though he was a tyrant over this country. And you say that you are reestablishing the Republic!’

If that was anything like her actual speech, then yeah, her rhetoric kicked ass, especially by first-century-BCE Roman standards. Romans loved them some tricolon and erotema. And here’s what Valerius Maximus has to say about her:

Hortensia vero Q. Hortensi filia, cum ordo matronarum gravi tributo a triumviris esset oneratus nec quisquam virorum patrocinium eis accommodare auderet, causam feminarum apud triumviros et constanter et feliciter egit: repraesentata enim patris facundia, impetravit ut maior pars imperatae pecuniae his remitteretur. revixit tum muliebri stirpe Q. Hortensius verbisque filiae aspiravit.

Hortensia, the only daughter of Quintus Hortensius, together with a league of matrons, felt the burden of the heavy tribute demanded by the triumvirs, but when she could dare no men to lend protection to them, she pled the case of the women against the triumvirs steadily and successfully: for exhibiting the eloquence of her father, she obtained that the greater part of the money should be remitted; thus were the words of Quintus Hortensius revived in his feminine offspring, breathing in his daughter.

(And, dude, I did that translation myself because there is no translation of Valerius Maximus’s Facta et dicta memorabilia, which is a damn shame if it’s full of gems like this. And I did it with only a little help from a dictionary — so if it’s a little wiggly, blame my out-of-practice skills; it’s been a long time since I had to remember what to do with all those ablatives).

So basically Hortensia was a badass who stood up to three guys who were blatantly murdering a few hundred people at the time and told them to stuff it. No taxation without representation, she said — and while we should not construe this as a demand for female enfranchisement, she did bring up the very good point that the citizenship of Roman women was not subject to either the same burdens or the same privileges as male citizenship. When the triumvirs tried to send in people to remove her and the other women from the forum, they flat-out refused to go. And the triumvirs blinked. They drastically reduced the number of women who were subject to the tax, and then utterly failed to enforce it.

Yeah. Definitely filing her away for future use.

Word Choice and Authorial Patterns

I was super-intrigued by the Slate article that’s getting passed around the internet, comparing the most-often used sentences and descriptive words in The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter. Textual analysis is a big part of my day job — as my blog entries for the company will show — so I thoroughly enjoyed the comparative exploration of three authors.

Most people that I’ve seen have been more interested in the “most common sentences” chart, and that one does reveal a lot — I think, more than anything, by way of illustrating the differences in first person present, first person past, and third person past styles. It doesn’t surprise me that all three demonstrate fairly simple sentences. You can tell an amazing story without needing to convolute every sentence, and the ones likely to repeat will undoubtedly be the simple ones. A more complex sentence would lose power in repetition. Rowling and Collins still exhibit far more variety in their simple sentences than Meyer does, however (read into that what you will), which makes the difference between Rowlings and Collins more interesting to me. Collins’s simple sentences are explanatory — the first person narrator has to introduce the reader to a lot of given details. Rowling, on the other hand, describes action, often emotionally inflected, to tell the reader what’s going on.

131121_CBOX_SC-chart1

On the whole, though, I thought that the most distinctive adjectives list was more interesting — at least more telling, for what it says about each author and each story. Setting aside “drunk” (a descriptor for Haymitch used both in the narrative and in a lot of dialogue, from what I remember), the other adjectives in The Hunger Games are very action-oriented in a way that demonstrates Katniss’s blinkered focus on the task at hand. It represents her character well — she is not a big picture person. She is task-oriented. Meyer’s adjectives, on the other hand, illustrate pretty clearly what I find to be the disturbing emotional tenor of those books. And then JK’s are, like her sentence structure, more varied. Some are emotional, some sensory, some descriptive of “what’s going on” in the same way as her common sentences.

As y’all have already seen, I love creating word clouds, so my head naturally gravitates to this sort of analysis. I would love to have a program that would analyze my common sentences, not just individual words — or an automatic rhetoric scanner! That would, I’m sure, point out that I’m overly fond of zeugma and that I really might consider backing up off the tricolon. I wonder what adjectives I’m most prone to, what words I use that aren’t as common to other writers, where my grammatical constructions give me away. (See what I meant about the zeugma and tricolon? It’s a compulsion, really). As the Slate article points out, all writers have “tells” — personal tendencies that might also identify something particular about the story they’re telling. I’d be curious what an external analysis of my own patterns might reveal.