Monday, October 01, 2007

Hold the May-I


Moonlight Vigil,
Bert G. Phillips ( 1868-1936)
oil.

Portions of a poem, lines of a song, a pithy quote may capture, with exquisite precision, some point one wishes to explore or affirm in a novel.

Such quotes wrap the work in the familiar cloak of history, of current culture, or of literary tradition and influence, and lend a certain veracity to the story.

However, if one wishes to inject the work of another writer into a narrative one requires permission.

And the pursuit of permissions is often expensive, frustrating, tedious, and time-consuming.

A fact that leaves me wondering why all writers don't just write their own poems, songs, and such -- and avoid the obvious problems all together.

Some writers do.

Robert Jordan (God rest) for one.

In Lord of Chaos (Book Six: The Wheel of Time) Jak o' the Shadows:

"We drink all night and dance all day,
and on the girls we'll spend our pay,
and when we're done, then we'll away,
to dance with Jak o' the Shadows."

-- performs as a perfect equivalent to the traditional soldiers' marching songs - and sustains world building detail as well.

Perhaps SF/F, having no real-time "authority" to lean upon, lends itself to this additional creativity.

But writers who provide their own get extra marks from me.

Groaner Q & A:
No association - for fear of offending someone.

Q: What's the difference between roast beef and pea soup?
A: Anyone can roast beef.

40 comments:

SzélsőFa said...

Tolkien even created a language, or rather, several different languages and a system of rules to them as well, to support his story.

Re: joke. I can do neither. I wish I could do #2, though... that would make life much cheaper.
You surely did know, but I'm just mentioning it, that someone's own urine can be used as a cure for some of one's diseases...?

Bernita said...

Tolkien certainly is an example of world building perfectionisn, Szelsofa.
Most writers and readers are content with less than an entire language.

Yes, that's one of the more squicky homeopathic remedies out there.

Angie said...

Does it count if the original poem in your story is a lame piece of doggerel? How about if it's meant to be a lame piece of doggerel, because you're showing the protag that it's just as well he gave up his high school poetry obsession and chose another line of work...? [wry smile]

But yes, I admire writers who can do that. Gordon Dickson wrote some really great poetry and song lyrics. "The Queen of Air and Darkness," which was later set to music and sung at science fiction conventions and medieval re-enactment bardic circles, always gets me shivering. I also liked how Frank Herbert made up all the quotes and excerpts which head up each chapter of Dune. Talk about an incredible piece of world building -- even without the bits of histories and encyclopedias and interviews and such, the Dune universe is awesome. With them it's amazing.

Angie

StarvingWriteNow said...

I think, were I to quote in my work and not be able to think of anything myself, I'd go the safe, un-suable route of Shakspeare or someone who's been dead so long they can't come back and sue. At least, I hope so.

I love your groaner jokes, Bernita. They get me laughing every morning!

Vesper said...

Have you read "The Anubis Gates" by Tim Powers? He writes a lot of beautiful poetry in there, attributed to a fictional poet who's an important part of the story. Very impressive.

writtenwyrdd said...

My thing is, I HATE to read bad poetry within a novel. And it is generally always bad. Please, authors, leave the poetry writing to people who slave over a single poem as much as you do over your story!

Having written poetry and subbed it (you're shocked, I know) I understand just how much real work goes into it.

And I also understand that it generally doesn't work in fiction, IMO mostly because the reader needs their head in a different space to truly appreciate poetry. Plus it's generally just unfit for publication, again IMO. Poetry, if read properly, needs to be treated more like a Zen garden than a bit of scenery you toss off to give readers a bit of local flavor.

And of all the poetry and songs, I hate Tolkien's the most. Drek.

writtenwyrdd said...

I find I must ammend my earlier post to say that doggerl such as you quote, Bernita, can usually work. Because it's doggerel, which if written in a properly metered and amusing way, generally takes no mental switching of gears for a reader. Jak o' the shadows was actually pretty cool.

Bernita said...

It certainly does, Angie.
Why bother with other people's doggeral?
Mercedes Lackey also produced some fine and fitting ballads.
And yes, Dune is another example par excellence.

A friend sent them to me, Starving. I found them irresistable, they are so baaad!

No, haven't, Vesper, but he sounds like another perfect example.

I have to disagree, Written. Don't think it's "bad," as long as it fits the context of the story and characters - nor do I think poetry requires a different side of the head to be appreciated.
For me , quotes from well-known works are more likely to lurch me out of the story than the writer's own efforts.
And I think more writers are perfectly capable of creating suitable poetry for a narrative - if they just get over the idea that the disciplines are mutually exclusive.

Jak does echo traditional soldiers' ditties.

Robyn said...

Hee, Angie, that was my thought too. Most of the time I can't even stand rhyming spells by witch characters; I've read some terrible verse inserted into an otherwise good story.

The exception, for me, was a Jayne Ann Krentz book where the hero was the leading authority on a Western poet no one else cared about because he was horrible. The verse was excruciating, but it totally fit the story.

writtenwyrdd said...

Well, we all have our opinions and biases, Bernita! I loathe Lackey's songs and poetry, Tolkien's make me shudder and just about any other attempt at classical epic poetry makes me gag. I gloss right over that shit.

Quotes at the beginnings of chapters, however, are a different matter. Even if it is bad poetry I do not think it attracts as much attention. I have actually used narrative quotes from fictional theology and anthro texts in one sf project.

Sam said...

I used quotes from Walt Whitman for the chapter headings in one book - they fit the story so perfectly.
I love how Tolkien had songs and poems in his stories. They made the tapestry of his world so much richer.
I admit to using some of my poetry in my latest book 'Ranger's Woman' (at Total e Bound books - little self promo here, lol) but I admit hesitating a Long time before putting the poems in. It is easier to write fiction than songs or poetry, it seems!

bunnygirl said...

Hey, that's the church at Taos Pueblo, with some of the native dwellings in the background! Cool! I was just there last spring buying pottery! :-)

I didn't see anyone who looked like the person in this painting though. Just badly-dressed tourists who wouldn't move out of the way so I could get good photos.

Bernita said...

The thing that annoys me about those, Robyn, is the Disney idea that spells have to be

Modesitt is another SF author who has used poetry. Lame poetry which reflect the sincere impulse of his hero - and points for the hero for not borrowing another man's words to express his awkward heart.
Sometimes poetry doesn't have to be good - subjective as taste may be.

Mileage obviously varies, Written.
"I have actually used narrative quotes from fictional theology and anthro texts in one sf project."
-my point.
Makes the whole story much more interesting, in my opinion.

"I admit to using some of my poetry in my latest book" - I highly approve, Sam.
Thing is the effort chasing down permissions may take as as much time as crafting a suitable poem/song/quote.

Church Lady said...

I agree with wrttn that it's really really hard to write good poetry, and if it's not perfect, it's distracting.
But good poetry is lovely. I read Alice in Wonderland several months ago, and the funny poems added another layer to the story.
I haven't read Tolkien yet. Now I'm curious! :-)

Thanks for the groaner jokes, Bernita!! I look forward to them now, so please don't stop!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm not a poet, but the language bit is interesting. I developed a partial language for HINTERLAND, so that interspersed words would have some consistency.

Also, I hate to admit it, I skip over such poetry and lyrics and quotes and go right for the main text. I'm a jelly-on-the-first-bite kinda girl.

Bernita said...

Robyn, that should conclude "in rhyme."
~need a new keyboard~

Yes, it is, Bunny.Painting makes me think of A Thousand and One Nights."

Have 2-3 more groaners to inflict on you, Chris.
Thing is, I think the songs or whatever have to suit- and that's more important than objective "perfection.

I sometimes inclined to also, SS ( though I come back to them later) - depends on my mood and eagerness to get into the story.
Btw, another one who made judicious use of a song - within the text - is Elizabeth Moon - Oath of Gold or some such ( would have to look it up)) - which functioned both as world building and as foreshadowing.

Charles Gramlich said...

I created my own epigraphs for Cold in the Light, from a book I made up called "In the Ruins of Memory." It seemed a lot easier than getting permission for the song lyrics.

writtenwyrdd said...

Ah, but Bernita, I didn't say I loated fake narratives, just the poetry in situ. As angie mentions, Herbert used his fake texts so wonderfully well. I particularly love the I think it was the "Orange Catholic bible."

moonrat said...

i love robert jordan's little songs!! they stick with you 10 years after you read the books!!

eg

the lions sing and the hills take flight
the moon by day, the sun by night
blind woman, deaf man, jackdaw fool
let the lord of chaos rule!

(i swear to God i have not read LORD OF CHAOS since 1997)

Bernita said...

Exactly, Charles, exactly.

I know you did, Written.Just poetry - because it seldom , if ever, satisfies your standards. Mine must be lower.
I must say, though, that I prefer the poetry "quotes" - whether sourced or original - to be short ones.

Ello said...

Ok that joke is just too funny!

I wrote a haiku for my recent WIP. It was a devil of a time and I have no idea if it is good or not. But at least I tried!

Bernita said...

They do, Moonrat!
That particular one I don't remember but it rollicks.
I know some readers have become annoyed by Jordan's sprawl, but he does so many things so very, very well.

Bernita said...

They take me back to grade school, Ello.
Again, I highly approve.

raine said...

Have only tried a song once, in an unpubbed novel about ancient Rome written with a co-author. It was well-received by the few who read it, who seemed to think it added a dash of spice to the narrative.

And unless it's something really, really awful, I tend to admire an author who'll go that extra distance to add to their worldbuilding.

Bernita said...

"And unless it's something really, really awful, I tend to admire an author who'll go that extra distance to add to their worldbuilding."
That summs up my basic attitude as well, Raine.

Gabriele C. said...

My characters quote poety of people too long dead for copyright issues. :) But I write my own translations, to be on the safe side.

And there's Arminius, who surprised me with some really poetic prose in his dialogues.

Bernita said...

Many don't realize that translations themselves may be subject to copyright, Gabriele, so you're wise as well as talented.

Seeley deBorn said...

My CP did that for a piece we're working on together. We decided that a piece of ritualistic verbage was required. Half an hour later she emailed me 16 brilliant lines she'd pulled out of....thin air.

I generally avoid the requirement like the plague.

Bernita said...

Since we're often perfectly happy to concoct prophesies, journals, letters and documents of all kinds, it's funny how many of us may have a block when it comes to poetry or songs, Seeley.

Dave F. said...

I once coauthored a book chapter (a scientific review) with three other engineers and we had to get 50 approvals for graphs, figures, tables, quotes, etc... It took us two months to satisfy the other authors, researchers, journal editors, lawyers and then, some of the items we had to "recreate" from our data and with our draftsmen.
It was too hard. I'd rather write it myself.

Scott from Oregon said...

Who can forget Roald Dahl's Oompa Loompa's?

Bernita said...

And I have the feeling that two months was actually record time, Dave.

Children's authors never seem to suffer from creative block, Scott.

spyscribbler said...

Oh cool! I once had an idea that would involve me writing poetry. First problem, I'm not a good poet. Then the plot didn't quite work. Who knows, maybe I'll make it work and write it someday!

Definitely cool.

Oh. Though there is one author who does that. She's an amazing author at the top of her genre, but when she has to write a little poem or rhyme, I can't help but think, just pay someone to do it for you!

Rob said...

Neil Gaiman is an example of a novelist who can also write good poetry. I quite like his poems, anyway.

I think the trick to having poetry in novels is to keep it short. I remember reading a book once that had a 15 page page poem in the middle, and it really didn't work well.

The Anti-Wife said...

I agree about keeping poetry short if it isn't your true passion. I personally prefer limericks over haiku.

Great jokes!

Bernita said...

Think that's a good idea, Natasha. Buy a poem, if that's what you need and can't make it work yourself.

I agree, Rob. Keep it short to keep eyes from glazing over.

I don't really care what form is used, AW, as long it fits the chatacter.

Vesper said...

Bernita, there's a book "challenge" for you at my blog, if you feel like it. :-)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Vesper, but I must pass.
I did this meme not long ago.

Chumplet said...

That's a beautiful painting. Reminds me of Algeria.

We all squirm with impatience waiting to be published, and look how long it took Tolkien to create his world.

I use a line from Shakespeare in one of my WIPs, spoken during a child's funeral service:

"Today is the day that a great and inspiring spirit becomes a memory. Adam's passing makes the silver rivers drown their shores, as if the world were all dissolved to tears. May the river flow upward and turn the sorrow to joy as our friend trails his fingers in the waters."

I can't remember exactly which work it comes from - I'd have to check my phrase book.

Bernita said...

Is, isn't it, Sandra?
Conveys a stillness - and a story.
Richard II - and that's a natural and unobtrusive way to include a quote. Very fitting.