Written by Suzanne Graham
I was originally going to write a short story today because earlier this week, I had an idea and was in the mood. Then I realized that I need to develop my creative writing skills more because in a lot of ways it was lacking. I do plan on publishing it by next weekend, however.
While working on my short story and listening to new music this week, one of the things I kept thinking about was language. I have always been interested in language. Learning as many languages as I can has always been on my bucket list, but I’m so slow at it and I’m honestly not the best at routines. My interest in music has also been due to its language component. The language itself is not what I am most interested in though but rather what it can do.
The best example of this is when we remember that we are all writers. Simply put, individuals who write are writers. The title does not belong solely to those that publish books. As part of the Gen Z generation, many of us write academic essays, there are those that journal, others that are captivated with creative writing mediums such as poetry, lyrics, and prose. Looking at this list, language has already been molded to provide us with different writing styles. This is why when someone is interested in editing text for a living, they must be careful when choosing a style guide since the rules are not consistent.
Looking deeper into what I mean about the function of language, I must provide examples directly from the creative arts. There is a rule that all creative writers must follow: show, don’t tell. For beginning writers, this rule is possibly the broadest and hardest to follow. I like to think it means to place your readers within the scene rather than laying it out like a blueprint.
Have you ever read a scene that eventually reality no longer exists and you’re playing the role of the main character? You began to embody this character physically and inherit all their internal struggles. You weep with them or you rage an entire revolution. Then reality drags you back out of the book and you realize that it was just words though it all felt quite real. Your heart still racing from the adrenaline.
It all really occurred through just words. I am still trying the crack the mystery of how something ordinary can enrapture us with a simple string of sentences. (Don’t get me wrong, those sentences are actually simple only on the surface.) I wish I could present an example to those who have not experienced such excitement while reading, but I believe that the passages work best when you have the build-up scenes surrounding them.
What I can provide an example of though is a simple question that the late Japanese author, Natsume Soseki, invented during one of his English classes. One day a student of his was attempting to translate the English phrase “I love you” into Japanese. Obviously, the most sensical translation would just be to translate it directly. However, during this period, Japanese people were not straight forward when expressing their emotions. Especially not when it came to confessing a feeling that bares their soul out for others to see plainly. Soseki, after having seen the direct translation, offered instead the phrase: 月が綺麗ですね？ Which translates to “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?” It’s still used today when confessing to their significant other.
It’s a simple question but packed with the deepest of meaning. People may wonder how commenting about the moon could translate to a love confession. Especially when you’re both actually looking up at the moon. This is due to symbolism. The moon is often given feminine characteristics, which is something love is typically attributed to as well. Therefore, if one symbolically talks about the moon, readers know to interpret it as a feminine type of spirit. Now, to make sure love confession is made obvious, I would hope that the person confessing is looking admiringly at the person they love.
It might also be important to notice that the statement is presented in the form of a question. It is a subtle way of asking if the feelings are reciprocated. I like to imagine how sweet the response would be back if the person did indeed have feelings for the other person.
Within vocal music, I love how the group BTS can manipulate messages in their lyric writing to add dimensions for their listeners to relate. One example is during their Love Yourself: Tear B-side track “Outro: Tear.” It is a rapper unit track where each rapper defines the word “tear” differently. As regular users of language, we typically go by the dictionary definition and don’t think much of it beyond that. But when taking classes in your language at the collegiate level - for example, my main language is English and I’m studying English literature - there is a push to expand your definition of terms. The standard dictionary definition is no longer implied. This is exactly what BTS has pushed to explore during “Outro: Tear.”
In each verse, the members take turns rapping. Namjoon takes the first verse using the time to expand on “Tear” as a noun, Yoongi then defines “tear” as a verb, and Hobi turns the word into “fear.” Just one word has provided different angles for people to contemplate. No longer is it something that is one dimension.
The possibility for one word to become multidimensional is what is most attractive about language. This is something that even translators are unable to directly translate. It becomes purely intuitive and if you were to try to share it with others, it demands a sense of creativity in your explanation as well. Perhaps even a visual map as the dimensions continue to unfold themselves.
This is why I have decided to continue developing my writing. I want to become a master of English and accomplish what other professional writers have been able to do. Similarly, I want to be able to recognize it on the page when others accomplish similar tactics and shiver from excitement. And I most of all want to share that beauty with others.