TRIPPINGLY

Updated: Jun 3


I CONSIDERED DRAFTING a post on alliteration, but rethought that strategy. Why draw attention to a device I choose most often to avoid? Or to take a few shots at the poor thing, as tired and weary as the device is. There is enough criticism and pontificating in the world to waste a good rant on one of my pet peeves (which is, itself, alliteration).

Use discretion (and restraint) when you alliterate. It has its uses. Some of them good ones. But it is often a sign of lazy writing, of being clever or attempting to be clever for clever's sake or because you feel you must. If you want your text to sound like a church billboard, and I am not sure why you would, but if you do, it will mean putting words made of plastic on a sterile white background, which already sounds unattractive. There are times when use of the device is masterful (most often by happy accident) depending on the form it takes and how it charms your text. And charm is the entire point, is it not, the very point of art? Once again, Act 3 of Shakespeare's HAMLET offers instruction on the creature charm.

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many players do, I had as lief [rather] the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently.

HAMLET 3.2.1-5

Charm is subtle. It is shy. By some rule of shyness, it is best exercised when not forced, overexpressed, or overexposed. It is like perfume that way. That too is Hamlet's point. Excess can awaken suspicion in a reader. Or kill the effect (aversion). The idea is to attract, to stir appetite, to create a kind of mild delirium, an altered state, one that sweeps the reader/listener/audience into your influence.

Charm is that sudden gasp a word or a phrase can arouse, the warm smile of favor that rises in you, that small remote charge of electricity. It delights you as the writer. It delights your reader and creates an eagerness to remain engaged. A random Google search defines charm as:

1. n. the power or quality of giving delight or arousing admiration.

2. n. a small ornament worn on a necklace or bracelet.

3. v. delight greatly

4. v. control or achieve by or as if by magic.

Charm is a power, or quality. It is a small ornament. It delights. It controls. Each one of these definitions apply, but #4 is my favorite. There are authors who exercise and negotiate charm with such ease, such invisibility and weightlessness, it feels like and sounds like and reads like magic. It is not an easy illusion to achieve. In the same way that "the writer" is or should be invisible in a text, so charm is most charming when it too, like the best magic, is invisible, when it hides something from you and creates pursuit of a kind.

By the way, it feels a bit creepy writing about charm, as if to squeeze something from it, to waste it, make it explain itself, or wear it down with examination. Explanation is a natural deterrent to charm. Charm is something your audience must discern for itself as it touches some pleasant nerve and does what charm does.

Twitter®, when at 140 characters, forced the writer to compress his or her thought into a small space, the intention most often being punch and clarity (achievement of which is another story). Either way, it is a great stage even at twice its previous word count, for all levels of punch. But thinking like a bumper sticker can be slippery. Platitudes do more to wind down a charm than to wind it up. It is too easy to sound forced. Many such attempts render a text that wants to be cute, that works hard at it, but fails. It strives to charm, but loses it in the striving. The result is usually bad poetry and a text that is top-heavy (uneven, overcrowded with impact words).

Shakespeare used the word trippingly to describe the movement of words, an effect he inherited from William Tyndale. Again, he is speaking to actors, but the writer does well to lean in and take notes. Charm is light-footed. It is weightless. Its very elusiveness is its power. Indeed, elusiveness is the soul of charm. Pay attention to the movement in a line. It is a kind of music you are listening for. Where actual music charms more directly and is disciplined by a beat, words have to work a little harder to find the step, the resonances, those particular frequencies that play upon the heart and the imagination.

There is still much to say about the creature. Enough; no more.

If music be the food of love play on. Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die. That strain again! it had a dying fall: O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound, That breathes upon a bank of violets, Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more: 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before...


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