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About this book

In this innovative fusion of practice and criticism, Jeremy Scott shows how insights from stylistics can enrich the craft of creative writing. Focusing on crucial methodological issues that confront the practicing writer,
Creative Writing and Stylistics:
- introduces key topics from stylistics;
- provides in-depth analysis of a wide range of writing examples;
- includes practical exercises to help develop creative writing skills.
Clear and accessible, this invaluable guide will give both students and writers a greater critical awareness of the creative possibilities of language.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Style, Composition, Creative Practice

The idea for this book came from an observation: that some ‘traditional’ approaches to creative writing in the academy still seemed to hang on the two thousand-year old advice of Plato in The Republic:
The poet is an airy thing, winged and holy, and he is not able to make poetry until he becomes inspired and goes out of his mind.
(Leitch 2001: 35)
In other words, the writer all but abandons the critical faculty with which he or she has been inculcated elsewhere when studying texts and devotes all energy to self-expression. The assumption often (but not always) appears to be that beginning writers (or any writer at all) will write well if pushed in at the deep end and asked to produce full stories and poems, or to ‘just write’. While, self-evidently, this may well produce good results in some cases, I wondered whether there was not something to be drawn from more critical, theoretical approaches to the discipline – especially, as so often, when it is being practised in an academic context.
Jeremy Scott

1. Seeing through Language

It will useful to begin by stating the obvious. The literary text1 is, inescapably, built from two essential materials: language, and the world that language creates in the mind of the reader. Of course, to encompass the creative process from both ‘ends’, we should say that the creative writer creates a world which he or she attempts to express through language; the reader reads that language, and creates (or envisions) a world in response. It bears clarifying that these two worlds are extremely unlikely to be the same; that is part of the beauty and mystery of the process. And, of course, the worlds created will vary from reader to reader, even though the language from which they are built is identical. This is why reading is a performance; no two readings are ever the same.2 Reading is, inevitably, an act of rewriting. Communication is taking place (as stylistics terms it, a discourse world ensues3), involving the creative writer and the reader, who are (usually) unknown to one another, and not in direct face-to-face contact. The situation is portrayed (by Rimmon-Kenan 1986; see also Booth 1983) as follows:
Real author – implied author – narrator – (narratee) – implied reader – real reader
Jeremy Scott

2. Building Blocks I: A Grammar of Creative Writing

The purpose of this chapter is to introduce you to the building blocks of the English sentence – the basic units from which your novel, short story or poem will eventually be built. We will also look at how literary style can be sub-divided into different categories or types, and pose an important and intriguing question which we touched on in the previous chapter: to what extent is it possible for the mediation of the content of text (its meaning or sense; its message, if you prefer) to be augmented or in some way enhanced through the ‘form’ of that text? For ‘form’ here, read ‘linguistic structure’ – both at the micro-level of the clause or sentence, and at the macro-level of the text, or discourse, as a whole (and of course, beyond that – to the level of genre).
Jeremy Scott

3. Building Blocks II: Narrative and Structure (Story Narratology)

To study narrative is to study everything. That may seem like a bold statement (and this book is full of them), but narrative is a huge subject. It lies at the core of (almost?) all literary texts, be they fiction or poetry. It surrounds us in our daily lives, and is not just confined to literature. Narratives lie right at the heart of media discourse, for example, and so shape the way that we understand the world beyond our immediate experience. Media texts present versions of the world through the ‘packaging’ of events and characters into stories. These narratives may then be extended and developed, as in film dramas or documentary programmes which often purport to tell if not the whole ‘story’ then at least its most interesting or scandalous aspects. Narratives can also be continuous or serial, and, indeed, very long and complex indeed, such as the best TV dramas (think of the great HBO TV series such as The Sopranos, The Wire or A Game of Thrones) or even soap operas. They may also be mininarratives, or narrative ‘snapshots’, limited or single-narrative events which leave the viewer to complete the narrative, a technique which is used in many magazine or television advertisements. News stories in particular are shaped and mediated by the wider ‘meta-narratives’ into which they are situated (think ‘national decline’, ‘economic catastrophe’, ‘social breakdown’, ‘environmental collapse’); thus it is, in many ways, the medium which shapes the message.
Jeremy Scott

4. Through the Looking Glass: Who Sees? Who Tells? (Discourse Narratology)

In this chapter we will be focussing on one of the most essential methodological choices that any creative writer makes in the act of sitting down to begin a new project: who tells, and who sees? This may or may not be the same thing, as we will see when we start to discuss the differences between them in section 4.2. It is important to point out straight away that, while this topic sounds like something connected mainly to narrative fiction (focussing as it does on the notion of ‘telling’ a story and ‘perceiving’ the events within that story world), there will also be much here of relevance to the writer of poetry. Both poetry and fiction, then, will (almost always?) entail a teller and a seer, who, once again, need not be one and the same. Think back to the Cinderella exercise in Chapter 3. If you took up the challenge, then presumably you ‘told’ the story in your own voice. You said something like:
Once upon a time, there was a young girl called Cinderella who lived with her stepmother and her three ugly sisters.
Jeremy Scott

5. Writing Voices: Presenting Speech and Thought

In Chapter 4, we drew a distinction between the entity ‘who tells’ and the entity ‘who sees’, labelling the former as the narrator and the latter as the focaliser (they may or may not be one and the same). We also discussed the separation between the agencies of author and narrator, and the ways in which the space between them and the tension which arises within that space can be exploited for creative effect. This chapter will build on those observations by focussing on the next link in the chain of communication between creative writer and reader: the relationship between narrative voice(s) and character voice(s). The narrator, ‘the one who tells’, will, more often than not, be called upon to represent these voices, and can do so with varying degrees of mediation; that is, with more of the character’s ‘real’ voice (as it is heard in the text-world), or less of it, and, correspondingly, more of the narrator’s voice. To reiterate: the creative writer can exploit the space and tension between character voices and narrative voices to great creative effect. So, a further question arises which we should consider: who speaks, rather than tells?1
Jeremy Scott

6. Creating a World: Text-world Theory and Cognitive Poetics

This chapter will introduce you to the rich and burgeoning field of cognitive poetics, a relatively new sub-field of stylistics which builds on the principles of cognitive psychology and linguistics to draw conclusions about the processes involved in the interpretation of literary texts, or, more broadly, in reading. It has been argued that in its focus on how readers process the language of literature, cognitive poetics is in some sense a return to the pre-Romantic roots of literary criticism that can be found in classical rhetoric (i.e. in its focus on texts, readers and the art of communication rather than on sociocultural histories of authors, genres and periods). However, it is at the same time a very modern approach to understanding literary mechanics due to its connection with the latest advances in cognitive linguistics.1 Here are just a few of the many topics which cognitive poetics explores:
  • Deixis
  • Schema theory
  • Script theory
  • Reader attention
  • Conceptual metaphor
  • Foregrounding
  • Genre
  • Text-worlds
  • Possible Worlds.
Jeremy Scott

7. Creative Writing: Figurative Language

In semantics, figurative language is usually defined quite specifically as the extension or augmentation of meaning for a word through the processes of metaphor (i.e. the meaning is transferred from one thing to another). Indeed, cognitive linguistics (and, further, deconstructionists such as De Man and Foucault) would argue that there is no genuine distinction between figurative language and literal or non-figurative language; figurative language is universal, both in terms of usage and in terms, even, of its providence. The mind is not at all literal in its methods meaning making, and figurative processes are fundamental to the ways in which we conceptualise experience. We will focus on metaphor as figurative language in the next chapter. The subject of this chapter is figurative meaning more generally. To refer to Katie Wales:
[The term] figurative language sometimes embraces in literary criticism all kinds of devices or features which are semantically or grammatically marked or unusual in some way.
(2011: 152)
Jeremy Scott

8. Meaning and Play: Metaphor

Metaphor is a specific form of figurative language, which we covered in the previous chapter. It is a universal aspect of human communication and, as you should now have realised and predicted, is not confined by any means to literary language. We use metaphor every day. It is often said that metaphor is used to describe something that we don’t fully understand in the language of something that we do understand. Think of the proliferation of metaphors used to describe loneliness, mystery, love or violence. In this chapter, we will home in on the function of metaphor and explore ways of improving our use of metaphor in our writing. First, we will explore the topic from the perspective of cognitive stylistics in an attempt to define metaphor rigorously and explain how it works. Then, we will look at the universality of metaphor as a fundamental aspect of human communication, and also, briefly, at the ways in which cultural context also plays an important role. After that, some of the pitfalls of writing metaphor as well as guidelines for directing and improving the ‘internal logic’ of your metaphors will be explored, before we put these ideas into our creative practice at the end of the chapter.
Jeremy Scott

9. Creating Soundscapes: Rhythm and Meter, Sound and Sense

I.A. Richards makes the following assertion in his Practical Criticism (1929: 15):
The effects of technical presuppositions have to be noted. When something has once been done in a certain fashion we tend to expect similar things to be done in the future in the same fashion, and are disappointed or do not recognise them if they are done differently. Conversely, a technique which has shown its ineptitude for one purpose tends to become discredited for all. Both are cases of mistaking means for ends. Whenever we attempt to judge poetry from outside by technical details we are putting means before ends, and – such is our ignorance of cause and effect in poetry – we shall be lucky if we do not make even worse blunders. We have to avoid judging pianists by their hair.
Jeremy Scott
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