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The magic of words

If you follow me on Twitter (@laurenabramo), you might already have seen my delight at the appearance of one Stephen Fry at Barnes & Noble in Tribeca on Tuesday.  I’ve spoken of my love for him (and QI) on the blog before, so I don’t need to bore you with the details of why he’s in many ways my model of everything a human being should strive to be.  Instead of reading from his new memoir (published here in the US by Overlook), he spoke about his love for words.  Apparently, young Stephen was introduced to the magical possibilities of language when he came across the work of Oscar Wilde, who opened his eyes to the fact that words can do so much more than convey meaning and direction.  It’s what endeared him to the written word as an art form—and not coincidentally is much of what I love about Fry himself.

Hearing Fry wax rhapsodic about Wilde made me think about the first time I really got excited by how much power words could have.  I’d always loved reading, but I think much of my early love for books was love for story or characters.  It wasn’t even a book that first tipped me off to what language could do: it was A Few Good Men.  If you aren’t a huge fan and can only recall the climactic court room scene that might seem an odd choice.  But A Few Good Men comes from the pen of Aaron Sorkin, whose greatest strength as a writer has always been the absolutely glorious sentences he constructs.  It’s not even Jack Nicholson telling Tom Cruise he can’t handle the truth that was the clincher for me—throughout the film there are lines and moments that to my young mind were revelatory.  I started keeping a notebook of quotes and transcribed a pretty decent chunk of the film, adding those from other sources along the way.  The way Sorkin expressed even the most trivial things with a cleverness I’d never encountered before was really amazing for me.  I’ve been in love with words ever since.

Of course, it wasn’t long after that I discovered that the best resource for such word mastery was often in books.  Over the years I’ve taken to noting exquisite turns of phrase, not usually in a centralized location or even one I’ll return to, but with a folded corner.  I may never need it again, but I’m not the sort of reader who can let those moments pass unmarked.  In clients’ manuscripts, I usually go for a simple “!!!” in the margin.  No good phrase should go unnoticed as far as I’m concerned.

Surely Fry and I aren’t alone in this moment of explosive realization—I’d imagine many readers and especially writers would feel the same way.  Any distinct sources of epiphany for any of you?

P.S. I may have linked to this before, but it’s worth a listen/watch.  Pretty mesmerizing.

P.P.S. While I’m linking to tangentially relevant things involving British people, I was reintroduced to the delight of this clip from That Mitchell and Webb Look by Twitter earlier this week—I’d love to credit the person, but can’t remember!—and it’s worth watching.  This is pretty much exactly what all my meetings with clients are like.  What book would not be improved by adding a shark, I ask?  And you should definitely kill your main character in the first chapter.  Or don’t.

P.P.P.S. This blog post somehow inadvertently became a very clear view into what TV would look like if I were in charge of it.

5 Responses to The magic of words

  1. emily says:

    Somewhere along the way, it dawned on me that words form a ladder of meaning;
    and for the truly gifted writer…
    that ladder takes the reader beyond the mere dictionary definition of individual words into…
    the ‘domain of the mind’
    with its vast matrix of creative potential…
    and lands on something new — which is startling to the reader —
    or — even more startling —
    it leads the reader’s attention up the ladder, beyond the familiar —
    into a mental arena where the reader’s own creative potential reaches out, creating substance from the gossamer realms beyond mere words.

  2. Love This Post says:

    Adore Stephen Fry and QI! Can you imagine an American version of that show? Why does that seem so impossible?

  3. M.E. Anders says:

    I’m jealous about Stephen Fry’s recent appearance. Being in the presence of an expert wordsmith is a taste of literary heaven.

  4. Farmer Kidd says:

    Where would I be without the fantastic escapism and parallel universes contained within the written word? Great post and links.

  5. MBT Shoes says:

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