Today I want to talk about words. I’ve been working with the prolific Shaun Allan on one of his new works as an editor, and I am daily blown away by the amazing grasp he has on the English Language and all it’s nuances. Shaun is the author of Sin, an incredible journey into both insanity and the English language. Shaun’s work is a testament to his love-affair with words, and it is a privilege to be allowed to read his work (frequently the day after he writes it!).
I read James Joyce in college. Joyce’s method of writing was stream of consciousness, and is filled with literary allusions and free dream associations. This style he pushed to the limit in Finnegan’s Wake, which went far afield of all conventions of plot and character construction. It changes English into a strange and arcane language, which is based mainly on complex, multi-level puns. I found Finnegan’s Wake to be both difficult and wonderful, and would never have picked it up had I not been reading it in a class on modern literature. It’s not a book you can really understand, given the book’s fluid and changeable approach to plot and characters.
Most critics and professors agree that a definitive, critically agreed-upon plot synopsis will most likely never be written. Nevertheless, I found myself laughing at what he’d written with every page I turned. Joyce’s work struck a chord in me; he loved the English language and he loved words as do I. James Joyce spent 17 years writing and completing Finnegans Wake – I must admit, I’m glad Shaun Allan writes much faster.
In a style that is much more straight forward than James Joyce, Shaun Allan’s work is very much stream-of-consciousness. There is enough allusion and allegory in his prose for any true literary fan. Sin is told from the first person point of view of a man who’s committed himself to a mental institution, believing that he is the cause of death and disaster. He found a two-pence coin and whenever he flips and catches it, destruction and death happens. He is unable to lose the coin, nor can he stop himself from flipping it. throughout the entire book, Allan makes liberal use of puns, twists on words and allegories to tell the tale. This elevates Shaun Allan’s work to more than mere fantasy; it is avant-garde, modern literature and one day he will be considered one of the great ones.
Words and wordsmithing are what writing is all about. The problem we lesser mortals frequently run into is the inability to find variety in our words. We find ourselves writing paragraphs that repeat thoughts we’ve just expressed; and we might have 6 instances of the word ‘had’ or ‘that’ in one sentence. We forget to use the synonyms our grade-school teachers so carefully taught us.
My own solution is to make a word list, with synonyms and keep it by my keyboard so I can reference it when I’m writing. When a friend or editor says you’ve used the word ‘pain’ three times in three sentences, go to the thesaurus and look up all the synonyms for pain and add them to your list. Most of us repeat ourselves when we are in the groove and the idea is first emerging and forming itself into the story; it’s the way our minds work.
I suspect Shaun Allan’s mind has a built-in thesaurus.
I’m just saying.