The Art of Language

“Language and knowledge are indissolubly connected; they are interdependent. Good work in language presupposes and depends on a real knowledge of things.” ~Anne Sullivan

The media in which we work here in the land of storytelling is language. Perhaps in an ideal world we could tell our tales in a proper setting, around a crackling fire, with a percussion accompanist and full Greek chorus. Realistically, we’re left with this, words and phrases left upon the page (or screen, of course).

As the concert pianist masters their finger coordination, we strive to perfect our use of grammar. As the sculptor hones his skill with hammer and chizel, we bring into crisp clarity the application of syntax and vocabulary. As a serious pugilist will rehearse footwork until it is fluid and natural, we must elevate our use of language above the mundane and coarse.

Even the most beautiful recital piece by Mozart or Beethoven played with clumsy hands, though done note for note, will utterly fail to wow the audience. Imagining the sculpture within the block of marble is all well and good, but crude strokes will spoil the image all the same. No boxer became truly great based solely on having a thick skull and heavy fists.

The challenge, my most beloved Ficlyteers, is to take your writing to the next level. Go beyond neat ideas and good intentions. Use deftness with words and preciseness in language to shift ever so subtly from the practice to the craft, and from the craft to the art. Writing, storytelling, can be so much more than merely conveying information, and I know you can all get there.

Happy Ficlying!

10 comments Posted 2010-05-12 Author: THX 0477


  • bluefish

    One of my favorite quotes about this sort of thing: “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” I made that up all by myself. Unfortunately, so did Mark Twain, and he did it first. Bastard.

  • August Rode

    I certainly agree with all of the points made here. This is especially important for anyone who intents to become a professional writer. Anyone who takes up a profession at which they expect to make money is ultimately responsible for developing a thorough understanding of the tools that that profession requires. We who are amateurs should still develop our skills because of the pleasure that a well-turned phrase can give to our readers, and the pleasure that that feeds back to us.

    For what it’s worth, I’d love to have a forum associated with this site precisely for discussing issues like this.

    Now for the bad news: in a beautifully written piece about ‘deftness with words’ and ‘preciseness in language’, one phrase falls completely flat. “As the sculpture hones his skill with hammer and chizel” should be “As the sculptor hones his skill with hammer and chisel.” ;-)

  • Mostly Harmless

    You know I haven’t been on Ficly in a while. And yet, logging on after a couple of weeks, reading a blog by THX makes me feel home again – beautifully written and, as always, a tad inspiring ;)

  • THX 0477

    Thanks for the editing help August. I knew I was going to goof something up in this post. It was just too funny a possibility for the gods of writing not to allow.

  • g²LaPianistaIrlandesa

    I particularly liked the pianist similie (for obvious reasons ^^), but this all definitely makes sense. Word choice can make the difference between a good idea and an awesome idea. Ideas are good yet fickle things: to have full effect they need to be well-worded.

    And what better place to practice differentiating between those linguistic lightning strikes and lightning bugs that bluefish mentioned than here?

  • cthulhuburger

    It seems that a lot of responses on Ficly are aimed at the intention of a piece, and the execution often gets short shrift. It’s very encouraging to see such a well-written and well-thought-out exhortation to put more effort into one’s writing.

  • blusparrow (LoA)

    wise words once again from a very wise guy =)

  • Jae

    I’ve never been incredible at grammar. Everything I do comes naturally, or is absorbed from reading. I ignored language class when I was younger, and I didn’t even know what a direct object was until I took German. But that moment awoke within me the way in which I could understand how to understand grammar. I’ve been playing with the idea of looking up specific elements of grammar and incorporating them into my Ficlys as an exercise to improve my stories.

    But it goes beyond knowledge of language and grammar. One of my biggest obstacles in writing is my lack of practical experience, or world knowledge. I can’t write about a doctor if I know nothing about doctors.

    As writers, if we truly care about making our stories the best they can be, and expanding our horizons, we must be willing to teach ourselves, do personal research. We must know how to learn, then apply the knowledge.

  • chris Chris chris

    I hate E.L.A., they hardly ever teach us the English language ( as you can probably tell from my grammar ). It seems like the E.L.A. teachers do not have a curiculum, or however u spell it. If only they had taught me to spell correctly :/

  • THX 0477

    I don’t even know what E.L.A. stands for, so I’ll have to take your word for it.