Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Secret Handshake: Do You Really Need an MFA to Get Published?

If you answered "no" then click here.
Quotidian. Why use quotidian when mundane works just as well?  Don't try citing some subtle shade of connotation, because there isn't one; they mean the same damn thing, except ninety-five percent of the English-speaking world could tell you what mundane means.  Barring mundane, why not give everyday, commonplace, or ordinary a day in court?  Too quotidian?

Using quotidian, you're not trying to tell us what the office is like, or describe Chester's workaday habits, or what materials an artist used for his pieces - unless you're Lionel Shriver, you're being deliberately obscure to add mystery to your piece, to make the reader work a little harder and invest more of herself.

I see the word all the time.

"Look out! The Quotidians are behind you!"
That, and words like it.  Elegiac ("expressing sorrow") is one.  Anodyne ("uncontentious or inoffensive") is another.  To me, it's all grandiloquent ("Pompous or extravagant in language, style, or manner, esp. in a way that is intended to impress").

I think my vocabulary is better than the average bear's.  If you're not David Foster Wallace, it ain't right to have me running for the dictionary (well, for Google).  It's also no comment on my lack of education (I hope) because it's the same words over and over.

I remember a poster in my sixth grade English class, back in the days when it was called Language.  Flying in the face of the Mighty Elmore Leonard (see Rule #3), this poster declared, "Said is Dead; Use These Instead."  An alphabetical list of words which wouldn't make it past an AP writing class followed- Argued, Berated, Chided, Declared, etc.  Seeing elegiac in four different books I've read in the last two months makes me imagine a spreadsheet handed out at creative writing programs across the country; Simplicity is Dead; Use These Instead.

Leonard says, "if it sounds like writing, re-write it."  John D. MacDonald says, "Author intrusion is, 'Gee, Mama, look how nice I'm writing!'"  John Dufresne says, "thou shalt not be obscure."

Look, I'm all for high fallutin language if it serves the voice of a piece.  I like learning new words, particularly from a Shriver or a Wallace who knows how to use them.  But most of the time these words just seem underlined.  If you tell me your book is a "bildungsroman" rather than "a coming-of-age novel," you're proffering the secret MFA handshake.

McWriterface, listen closely: shake off all those fancy words you discovered pursuing your degree.  They are weighty words and you need to build up your muscles before you can lift them properly.  I see intransigent ("unyielding") and suddenly you're not trying to tell me a story, you're waving your MFA in my face.  You can't expect editors to stop these words because they all have their MFAs, too.  So it's up to you, Authorton.

Only you can prevent grandiloquence, Authorton... only you.

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