Literature is universal in many respects. It withstands the test of time, even when all other evidence of life has crumbled into the ground, weak with decay.
Our language may change substantially as the human race continues to evolve, but words remain one of the most important utilities in the repertoire of man.
We write to one another, and that is not to say with ink on paper as was the traditional method, but in pixels on a screen. Emails have been a revolutionary force in transforming our communication. Those are words. I’m using words to explain to you how important words are. Surely that in itself is a powerful example as without the lexis I’m manipulating into (admittedly) verbose parlance of my own linguistic nature.
So we’ve established, then, that words are a vital part of our daily lives. They’re unique to every individual, however, with each mind grasping language from a different perspective and weaving together their own strand of expression in tongues unbeknownst to what could be counted as hundreds of others.
We’re taught how to structure a sentence from a young age. Although those are only the very basics of writing (and I urge you to accept that as truth, from somebody who studied both English Language and English Literature at A-Level) and as a result words are almost written as a form of keyless music for those of a written persuasion.
Giving us freedom to express ourselves using words in any way we wish can be dangerous. It’s the sort of art that has the potential to be eloquent in the most pulchritudinous of manners, or offensive beyond comprehension.
Perhaps in some circumstances it’s even illegible or incomprehensible. For a majority, though, that’s the way it should be, as the somewhat limited knowledge we’re given as children seems to suit us quite well. We all write differently, as a result of many different factors, two of the most influential being our personalities, and the situation we’re placed in.
If you give somebody who’s inexplicably drawn to words, be they in the form of books, elegantly lyrical music or poetry, a medium with which to write, they will likely excel in their command of the language. This is true of anyone who has a passions for any particular advancement of the human race. People with an interest in sport are probably going to take to running with greater ease than they would, say, compose a symphony. That isn’t to say they couldn’t. Indeed there are many multi-talented examples around us and I in no way mean to say that they are a master of none of their skills.
I just mean that if you pay more attention to one art than the other and hone your skills in one particular field, that will be the one in which you truly exceed all expectations. This is partially related to both personality and situation. I’d like to, first, elaborate on what I mean by ‘personality’, as I feel that is the most closely related of the two.
Your interests, character and genetic structure all make up who you are. We all have a unique personality different to that of anybody else, and though we can be divided into ‘types’ or being of a certain way, we are all different. So it should go without saying that we all have a different idea of what the perfect phrasing for a sentence would be, or what the most appropriate description of the comedic sight you saw on your way home from work the other day.
It is in this way that we can find the storytellers, the poets and the journalists. The words you choose are heavily determined by the places you go and where you spend most of your time. If your life revolves around intellect and vocabularies studded with words reverted back to their Latin equivalencies, then you’ll most likely write in a similar way.
Enjoy reading books by a certain author? You most likely write in a style mirroring theirs. I personally adore the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Terry Pratchett (my greatest thanks go out to my boyfriend for introducing me to Discworld! I am truly in love with it) and though I don’t hold any claim to their work, nor their vocabularies,
For a while I began to write with them in mind. If you watch a lot of sports you’ll likely be drawn towards dynamic words and mimic the sort of language you’ll hear from the commentator. There will always be differences as language is really a personal art form. The interests you have that make you who you are affect your writing.
Character, then, has a similar effect. Humourless people tend to be more non-fictional in their works, or follow very strict guidelines regarding how they structure their work and of course they don’t have nearly so many jokes hidden amongst the pages of their compositions. The very opposite would be somebody bubbling with jokes and light-heartedness. Rife with comedy, their work is likely to be, or riddled with parentheses and asides (sound familiar?).
There are people who bask in emotional depth and as a result create works of such intense beauty that a thousand of the world’s finest roses could never radiate so much as half their improbably iridescent allurement.
This is true of all personality traits, in its way. Somebody who writes is inevitably presenting a piece of themselves to their audience, in the same way that a musician is singing a little piece of himself – the emotional, graceful artist who has no other way of expressing himself.
Artwork is a perfect example, as something so simple as the thickness of a brushstroke, or the softness with which they touch a pencil to paper, can tell so much about a person. Through writing, an author can give their thoughts and feelings, and any emotion they wish can be displayed boldly behind walls of fiction. Somebody angry has a method by which to vent, and likewise somebody who’s withered and drained has a way to present their depression and express themselves. Any trait and any emotion can be displayed through literature just as it can be through other mediums.
I’d enjoy very much to explain in great detail the way our genes affect our writing and change the way we compose, but this is perhaps the simplest of influences indeed. It’s quite understandable: The above things are affected by genetics, and so that links directly to your use of language. Nothing complicated and nothing fancy about this one, genetics are genetics and they make us what we are.
Situation is similar, although it has an altogether more remarkable impact on our writing. Take, for example, a student in a classroom. They’re sitting in an English exam and have an essay question to answer. I will guarantee you their vocabulary increases in leaps and bounds (or, if they struggle with nerves, may well shrink to a miniscule miscellany of elementary phrases), but let us assume this particular student is confident. They’ve been placed in a formal situation and so their brain adjusts their language accordingly.
Similarly, a teenager writing a message to a friend on Facebook is hardly going to write the words ‘malapropos’, ‘chimera’ or ‘sententious’. I mean, did you really think I write like this when I’m messaging my boyfriend? That’s a far cry from the pressure of an examination and, really, who evaluates every word in what boils down to a casual instant message?
There are other situations, of course, but what is most prominent in my above descriptions is that there is only one main decision to be made: casual or formal? If these are the only complications to face a modern writer, whatever their means of literary communication (and I mean whether their work is published online, in books, in newspapers and so forth), then it’s perfectly understandable why we all write differently.
However, although it is true that no two people will ever form a tale of the same plot, there are people who try. In my old English classes there were students who tried with absolute determination to parody our teacher’s writing. The result of this was, of course, a shambles by comparison, but his was the example we all considered to be the goal, and although it was purely an unattainable reality, or probably more accurately, his way of presenting an intelligent answer to the question provided for the exam, that went no distance in preventing my classmates in their attempts at mimicking his structures.
This doesn’t apply to everyone, but my word, is it true of a majority. At no point did I endeavour to sound like my teacher. In all honesty my work was very much my own in that some of it made no sense whatsoever to anybody but myself. I took his criticism, of course, and learned from my mistakes, but everything I wrote was from my own mind. They were my thoughts and opinions, formed by my own diacritic interpretation of the text. When supplied with examples and ready-made answers, we assume those are the superlative and that we should strive to be nothing but.
I venture that as being the reason for my English classes’ failed attempts at pretence.
I’ve learned from personal experience that the most impressive way to write is directly from your own imagination. It’s the spontaneity of thought that creates greatness and by exercising the freedom of artistic thinking you can unveil a truly respectable painting of individuality, rather than an industrial production-line piece that only serves to add to an already bulging portfolio of could-be photocopies.
I can’t quite fathom what it is about writing, but people seem to have a fear of personality. Anybody who’s read any of my work before now will know that I cherish every quirky little aside. I’ve joked about fishnet tights and corsets, rave tents and my parents, but everything I choose to include makes it mine.
It’s personal and if I’m writing something I don’t want it to be anybody else’s but mine (I know it’s edited, of course, but those jokes made it through didn’t they?). [Ed – just made the cut...].
The fact that my personality isn’t edited out of my work goes a long way to show that it’s what we need in our writing. We all write differently, so why try to be like everybody else? I’d sooner read a book filled with oddball descriptions and inventive, humorous comments made by the occasional authorial voice. It makes for a much more entertaining read than a black and white regurgitation of clichés.
If it serves in any way to encourage confidence in your own voice, I’ve always written like this (my GCSE English exams were quite possibly some of the most sarcastic pieces of writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of constructing) and English was my best subject at school.
Indeed, my teacher was and continues to be impressed by my work. Only you write in your voice and with your vocabulary, using your sentence structures and descriptions, so why shouldn’t you?
Story by guest Mail writer Ruby Hryniszak
Follow Ruby on Twitter, @13eautifulLife.