I posted last week about reading through A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and also wrote about what Anthony Burgess had to say about writing and publishing. Today I want to tell you why I’m reading his book even though I’ve read it numerous times. I have taught it at least twice in my teaching career.
I am currently in the final stages of revising The Terminarch Plot, book 1 in a series entitled The Five Rims. The first book should be hitting digital and print stores in a couple of weeks, but I am mad at work crafting the next novel in the series and that requires some understanding of strange diction.
If you have never read A Clockwork Orange, the narrator is a street thug who uses invented slang in every sentence, and if a reader is not careful they can get lost in the strange lingo very quickly. However, the beauty of the slang used is that it is consistent and the syntax makes sense on a level that is similar to listening to a non-native speaker of English use words in their own language to finish sentences.
In a way, the reader begins to learn these nonsense words through context clues and then becomes quite adept at understanding it by the end of the novel.
In my second book our hero lands on an alien planet where the inhabitants understand and speak a form of English (I’m calling it Terran because “English” is actually a mishmash of English, Russian and Chinese but looks like English to the reader). The aliens speak Terran in a strange order since their native language is adjective based instead of noun based like Terran.
I am reading A Clockwork Orange to study how Burgess crafts the speech patterns of his characters. I want the Guajiin of my novel to sound like that, but of their own design. In so doing I will hopefully create a rich experience for the reader, but I also have to keep in mind that I cannot confuse the reader either. Writers who do this kind of thing should provide just enough strangeness in the diction to make it interesting but not too much so as to confuse and befuddle the reader.
The point here is that there are thousands of great books out there to study. If you are truly a writer, then good writers are good readers. I read not just for pleasure but for technique, for syntax and for methods. I watch carefully how a writer crafts a piece and then if I like what they do I try to produce my own version of it.
The mark of a skilled writer is one who studies the great works of others and tries to incorporate some of their genius into their own prose. So far I have been able to glean several ideas from reading Burgess’s work. I am sure I will find many more nuggets in there as I go.
Until then I’ll be reading, writing and trying to make myself a better writer. My readers will probably thank me…or at least buy a few books because of it.