Welly, welly, welly, welly, welly, welly, well.

imgres.jpgRemember when you took Modern European History in school and the textbook barely made it up to WWI? I remember thinking it was pretty stupid since, at that time, WWII was still in all the papers or was recent enough to still shape modern history.

The same thing happened when I studied Modern Literature at the university (although I think we got a lot closer to WWII in Lit) but still, the whole world was reading Grace Metalious and we were studying J. Alfred Prufrock. I remember being told that it was too dangerous to study an author that was still alive: they might write another book and blow your whole thesis.

Interesting, it is also too dangerous for an author to use something from popular contemporary culture as a subject for fiction lest the story might turn into an embarrassing farce laughed at by many readers.

When we read Dante and learn through a footnote that a certain character in a passage is actually a very unflattering portraiture of some blow-hard, self-important businessman from Dante’s world, we are educated and the poem gains a new facet of understanding. However, when an unflattering portrait of an aging rock star is included in a contemporary novel, even if thinly disguised by some hardly-clever alteration to the character’s name, it’s merely embarrassing (unless the piece is intended as farce).

One obvious pitfall is the use of contemporary slang or worse, dialect.

imgres-1.jpgI have always been initially uncomfortable with dialect. Somehow I got through Huckleberry Finn (several times) but here Twain was safe because he was writing about an earlier time and the reader should have expected some dating of the language and the vocabulary. Then there was the Burgess novel, A Clockwork Orange; but here the author was safe because he envisioned an argot of the future (so who could argue?).

But in order to stay on fleek, the author of today probably should avoid being too contemporary and stay far away from slang and urban argot since there is a good chance of sounding ridiculous and having readers laugh at your writing before next Tuesday is even half over.

Take a hint from those history books and remember that WWII is the new safe-point and never forget, Kilroy was here with his Droogs.

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