Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Jargon of the novel

Here's an interesting article, looking at the way novelists use certain phrases or configurations that aren't common in spoken language. A new variation on the cliche, I suppose. They're using computers to track the use of phrases such as "bolt upright" or the proximity of various nouns - hair, teeth, lips etc - to "brush" and so on.

No surprises, I guess: it's the first thing you have to train yourself out of when you start writing, the mimicking (consciously or unconsciously) of other writers, the careless grabbing at stock phrases, descriptions etc.

Using the "search programs and files" function on my PC I've just searched for "bolt upright", and I'm appalled that it appeared in no fewer than five stories, although all of them were early attempts, mostly before my time in Alex Keegan's Boot Camp, where such mistakes are picked up quickly. Interestingly, though, it also picked up a mention in the screenplay for No Country For Old Men, which I have a copy of on my hard drive, plus Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil and James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

Then I checked "lips brushing". It's difficult to be precise because there were a few stories with different drafts, but I counted NINETEEN different stories. I'm appalled at that, I have to be honest.

So, have a go. See how you do.

No comments: