Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

Lessons from Jack Remick

Recently my writing mentor and friend, Jack Remick
and I went back and forth (disagreed) about my use of a word in a passage in my (under construction) novel.
And yes, on occasion I have the chutzpah to disagree
with Jack. Unfortunately this time it wasn’t chutzpah
leading my line of thinking, it was ignorance. I hate
ignorance. And sometimes I get a bad case of it. Oh well. Jack, the ever-wise owl smiled at me (no doubt thinking, ‘you poor little fool let me help you.’) and proved his point.

Along with his comments he included the definitions to the complex, fancy, oh hell, just plain ‘big’ words that he knew I’d be looking up after we talked. I think my eyes gloss over or cross or something because when he says something I don’t understand, he pauses, thankfully, and then enlightens me. I feel like a 5-year-old asking “what’s that?” all the time.

I should explain: Jack’s education is from a different planet than mine. Several of our writer’s group have commented to me that they don’t always understand what he’s saying because of his expansive vocabulary (reflects well on us, doesn’t it) anyway, they say they don’t want to look stupid or make him mad, or stop his flow. I don’t care about all that, I want to know, learn, absorb a fraction of what he knows. It will make me a better writer. So I ask. I ask for us all. He wants to teach. And anyone who thinks that asking would make him mad, doesn’t know jack!

So, the, well ,let’s just call it ‘disagreement’ (because it makes me feel better) was over my use of Shepherd and Flock in the same sentence.  I don’t typically share my fiction writing here, but this lesson learned deserved the ink. As do all lessons learned from Jack.

Below is part of his edit/response: (You’ll see right away where my eyes might be glossing over.)

Mindy – Now it reads like fiction. It’s good. You have some rhythm in it and you have a couple of rhetorical devices–anaphora (where/where)(those/those); alliteration–(failed/flock); repetition (again/again/again). So it reads poetic but keeps its energy. The body parts (tears/blood/skin) anchor the passage in the body making it concrete. So far so good.

The only issue I have is, of course, with the shepherd, but not for the reason you think.
Shepherd works in tandem with flock.
The shepherd tends his flock.
Flock is implied in Shepherd because, just as each polarity in a set implies its opposite–light implies dark, free implies caged–so nouns imply their indexes. What that means is that Shepherd indexes flock which indexes shepherd:
…there, in those dark caves, those cools waters where I, a lost shepherd failed my helpless flock–I was changed….
Instead:
…there, in those dark caves, those cools waters where I failed my helpless flock–I was changed….

In rhetoric this is called synecdoche (sin-ek-doky) or metonymy. Where the part implies the whole, the whole implies the part.

You probably aren’t aware of it when you talk about, say, football. Washington has the ball on the 5 yard line. Cal is fearsome on defense… Right there in modern American English you get a rhetorical device…”Washington” is the whole that implies the “football team of 11 players…”
So, in your sentence, you can use the metonymy, flock, to imply shepherd. Language is marvelous. This kind of awareness will make you a better writer. As you know, Bob and I have as our goal to “make good writing better.”
Here are the definitions:
syn-ec-do-che (si-nekd-ke)n. A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole (as hand for sailor), the whole for a part (as the law for police officer), the specific for the general (as cutthroat for assassin), the general for the specific (as thief for pickpocket), or the material for the thing from which it is made (as steel for sword).[Middle English, alteration (influenced by Latin synecdoche), of Middle English synodoches, from Medieval Latin synodoche, alteration of Latin synecdoche, from Greek sunekdokhe, from sunekdekhesthai, to take on a share of : sun-, syn- + ekdekhesthai, to understand : ek-, out of; see eghs. + dekhesthai, to take. See dek-.]–syn’ec-doch’ic (sinek-dokik). or syn’ec-doch’i-cal (-i-kl). adj.

Me-ton-y-my (m-ton-me)n.pl. me-ton-y-mies. A figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated, as in the use of Washington for the United States government or of the sword for military power.[Late Latin metonymia, from Greek metonumia : meta-, meta- + onuma, name. See no-men-.]–met’o-nym’ic (met-nimik). or met’o-nym’i-cal adj. –met’o-nym’i-cal-ly adv.

So. You’ve marched half-way around the track Mindy and I’m very proud of you for listening and taking it all to heart. Your work will get better and stronger the more you “see” what the language does for you.

Three words you can ponder: Icon, Index, Symbol. These are very important for understanding how nouns work. We can go deeper into this later.               Meanwhile, let me congratulate you for this magnificent rewrite.
Jack



Maybe you knew all this, or thought you did, but I didn’t, so I wanted to share. I still can’t say I understand all the words, but I’m grasping concepts I never knew existed. Everything I learn (from Jack and others) makes me a better writer and keeps me from feeling like my novel is a sinking ship. How blessed am I to have such a teacher!
Ask questions of people who know more than you do. Remember, there’s no stupid question except for the one that isn’t aksed.

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One comment on “Lessons from Jack Remick

  1. Hot Cookie
    June 18, 2011

    Lots of meat here. Thanks for sharing, Mindy. Even though we might have seen and even used these strategies in our writing before, I had not known the names of these concepts. Once labelled, I can see them as a class of writing techniques to add to the toolbox. When will Jack start a writing blog?-Karen B.

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