On Poetry and Culture Shock

Grice´s Maxims 1 (How to Write)

A very quick review: I have said before that all artists that stop to write a guide to creativity say “Art should be what I do”. And then I made my own manifesto, in negative form: things that any poet/writer should not do. This is my first try at positive, constructive theory, and it’s not “Art should be what I do” because I’m talking about dialogue, which isn’t a strong point with me. What I’m going to say is indebted to Juan Pablo Mora, professor at the University of Seville, and Robert Millar, professor at the University of Aberdeen, who made the very dry subject of Linguistics relevant to me.

When they teach you grammar in school, they teach you how to analyse isolated sentences. Grice and others realised that sentences are in connection with each other, and developed the analysis of those relations. That part of Linguistics is called Pragmatics. On the sentence level, when you write dialogue you may consider “Do people speak like this?” But then, you have to think of how they relate to each other. Example: Oliver Twist says “Please, sir, I want some more”. And because he is not supposed to ask for more, the action of the novel starts. Don Quijote is funny because he talks to ordinary people as if he was a character in one of his favourite novels. Here is where Grice comes in: he devised four rules that we all follow when we talk, unless we break them with a purpose. These maxims mean that your characters don’t need to talk straight and help you advance plot, but talk differently to help you show their personality. I’ll make one entry for each maxim so that you don’t fall asleep.

ONE: Be truthful. In human speech, lies can happen because the listener assumes the speaker is truthful, but this rule isn't only about lies. This rule means “Say what you mean”. Irony, exaggeration, and understatement break this rule. When a character ignores this rule in a coherent way, you can make them seem dry, detached but still with a sense of humour. “This guy knows more than he says he does”. Even if it’s just mild irony, your character is powerful because s/he knows the truth, but doesn’t say it.

0 comentarios