Amplified Voices

Another guest post by K. Alan. My fellow fence-jumpers may not see me here for awhile, but feel free to stop by my blog for samples of my writing and tips that have helped me write, including my current series about YA fiction, The “Right Age” for Young Readers.

 

Give a man a megaphone, and he thinks he’s in charge.

loudspeakers

The end of fun at the beach…

It’s always been that way, really. To a man—much more so than to a woman—an amplified voice is a sign of importance, and of authority.  I live this as I cycle past the shorelines near where I live; a few years ago, amplification systems were installed in the lifeguard towers, and the concept of a quiet day at the beach changed forever. The surf that once hushed the cries of gulls was replaced: replaced by demands that we swim closer to shore, warnings about sun exposure, and general advice that it might be simplest to avoid fun altogether.

So, men with megaphones now rule our local beaches, but this is nothing new. History is rife with men who have shouted to be obeyed.

puritan

Would you attend a play against his advice?

Portraits of Elizabethan England make the whole place seem like it was a shouting match.  Shakespeare and his contemporaries would shout from stages for the penniless to enter their theatres, while The Puritans would shout, from platforms outside, for the upper-crust to avoid those theatres or risk damnation. Both sides had a following, and I wouldn’t be surprised if victory depended on whose voice was louder one day or the next. Without megaphones, though, they were pitting their natural gifts—mostly tonsils and lungs—against one another. Our pantalooned patrons may have been limited by their voices, but that only made them shout more loudly for an audience.

tokyorose

Rose’s amplified voice demoralized the allies.

Time rattled forward, then, through an endless string of armed conflicts, until Japanese combatants during World War II had their TERA Rifles and Type 10 Grenades supplemented by long-range radio broadcasting: the ultimate megaphone of the day. Allied servicemen spent hours of their day listening to Tokyo Rose, whose voice was louder than theirs, so could depress them with all the demoralizing news of the war effort. While it is true that Tokyo Rose was a woman—probably several women—it doesn’t take much knowledge of history to know that men put her behind that microphone and handed her those scripts. Essentially, they were men with megaphones, trying to take charge of the world.

It’s difficult, indeed, to block out a megaphone entirely. We think we are ignoring them, but still we purchase clothes more expensive than we need, and cower from the broadcast threats of cowardly terrorists. Occasionally, good people might even elect a megalomaniac with a megaphone to political office. Resisting their noise and their allure is often impossible.

Where, then, are the messages of substance… the messages from quiet voices like Gandhi’s, and from amplified voices like Martin Luther King’s? This is where our zeal to be heard becomes sobering, because those messages are still out there: we just can’t hear them over the rush and chaos of all the boy-bands and cologne commercials. Each invitation to choose our own entertainment are lost in a thousand others; each urging to save our own souls are drowned in depravity. When one man teaches tolerance and another man hatred, we listen to the one whose voice scares us the most.

Now that everyone has a megaphone, it seems that we have flashed back to the Elizabethan culture, when those with the strongest tonsils would be heard.

It’s always been this way, really. Give a man a blog, and he thinks he’s in charge.

– More Words from K. Alan

Show, Don’t Tell (unless you’re in Kindergarten).

Another guest-post by K. Alan… sort of. The thing about sudsy water is that it keeps clothes from growing diseases, but causes timber floors to grow them. With apology, I only have time for a reblog.

This is one of the posts from my series exploring some of the most common (and sometimes baffling) advice that writers hear. The other posts in the series are about Writing What You Know, Starting in the Middle of the Action, and Knowing your Target Audience.

Let me know your thoughts!

Words from K. Alan

Continuing my series, ‘How to Follow Writing Advice that Makes No Sense,’ please comment with your ideas of when it is better for writers to ‘show’ and when to ‘tell.’

showntell Children were never expected to interpret the trauma in a budgie’s past.

Do you remember your favorite part of kindergarten? While I am tempted to name ‘Nap Time,’ memory forces me to acknowledge that naps only became precious to me later in life. No, my favorite part of kindergarten—and probably yours—had to be ‘Show and Tell.’ These were the moments that I could bring in my tricycle, greeting cards or guinea pigs, and allow my classmates to gawk enviously at them while I supplied detailed narrative about their mechanical, emotional or bodily functions. In kindergarten, detail and clarity were rewarded, and Mrs. Arbuthnott would confirm with her warmest smile as she fought to keep from nodding off during the fourteenth minute…

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The Present is Tense: 2 mistakes to avoid when writing in present tense.

Another guest-post by K. Alan Leitch. Please visit my blog for tips that have helped me to write, and for samples of my fiction.

All this present tense in recent fiction really is making me tense. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve been reading since before it was popular—I’ve been accused of that during discussions—but I genuinely feel that more and more authors are writing using present tense for the wrong reasons. Present tense can seem more erudite, more literate and more immediate, but it carries with it a number of pitfalls that erode favorite novels like The Hunger Games without us even noticing. They pull off the improbable feat of a heroine narrating in detail while being chased by poisonous wasps and fireballs, and they give their narrators the super-power of predicting the future.

Mistake Number One: Narrating in first-person & present tense

hg

Is there a Mockingjay helping Katniss make notes?

Tortured Katniss Everdeen, sought-after by receding hunks for her very belligerence, pulls off double-duty by dodging assassins in a hostile forest, all while taking the time to carefully describe every sight, smell, and anguished emotion that occurs to her. When you think about it, this is quite a feat: for an archer whose only targets were rats, prior to her fight-to-the-death in a dystopian arena, her aim remains surprisingly true while she is nattering away every detail of the life and death around her. Of course, as a reader, I could choose to suspend my disbelief and just assume I am reading her thoughts, but the muscle in my brain that suspends disbelief is already too busy believing that twelve districts will be pitted against one another for the entertainment of Utopian overlords. In other words, I want to focus on the highly imaginative elements of this fictional world, not cringe over every faux pas that its narrator commits. And Katniss commits many, such as…

 

katniss_everdeen

It’s hard work memorizing narrative detail while fireballs descend.

Mistake Number Two: Predicting the future

Most good novels make use of techniques that help readers link the plot together. Sometimes, we are helped along through foreshadowing, while at others the narrator directly lets slip some tidbits from the characters’ future. Harper Lee’s masterpiece, To Kill A Mockingbird, brings to mind a mature, adult Jean-Louise Finch sitting at her desk, penning (perhaps using an inkwell) her adventures as innocent little Scout. Every so often, though, she tells us what she knows now, not just what she knew then. Of course, Mockingbird was written in the days when past tense was virtually an author’s only choice; The Hunger Games, to follow a trend, chooses to use present tense, but still lets these tidbits slip. It is as if Katniss has the additional power of predicting her own future; she knows in advance what behaviors the Gamemakers will reward, and how her initial ill-will toward her fellow sook, Peeta, will morph into the bond between them. Collins is not even particularly subtle about this,writing narrative with the word ‘will,’ willy-nilly, throughout the entire trilogy. Katniss knows, a little too often, what ‘will’ happen to her.

rabbit-runOf course, present tense is an effective tool, when used very carefully. One of the first novelists to make regular use of it was the great John Updike; his Rabbit series, by purposefully eliminating all sense of foreshadowing, truly gives readers a sense that they are living a starkly real life alongside the protagonist. Furthermore, occasional use of present tense can stand out, from a novel largely written in past tense, as being either highly emotive to the narrator, or part of a tapestry of a life ‘then’ being narrated ‘now.’

The problem, though, is when authors use it just to make their novels ‘sound better.’ I was pleased to see that I am not along in this opinion, with Philip Pullman expressing the view that, “If every sound you emit is a scream, a scream has no expressive value.”

Perhaps that is why so many present-tense novels make me want to scream; I just need to be heard over them.

More Words from K. Alan