Friday, 4 March 2011

Only in Silence the Word

"For a word to be spoken," Ged answered slowly, "there must be silence. Before, and after."

- A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K Le Guin.

As a wordsmith, I think a lot about words: their meanings, their shapes, their combinations and transformations and ambiguities. And I think, too, of all the many things that can be done with nothing more than these small marks and sounds. Or not so small: one single name can have lively instances in billions of minds at once, all across the Terrestrial globe. But the hardest thing of all to read rightly, when it comes to words, is the silence into which they are spoken.

If silence were only the negative space against which the words were defined, it would still be different for every saying. But it is not so. There are ominous silences and relaxed ones, companionable silences and desolate ones, even clear silences and noisy ones. And each one bears on the mood and the meaning of the words spoken into it.

There are the silences we control as audiences: the lives and the stances and the moods we bring to the tale, before we are ready to hear it. There are the silences middlemen control, or may wish to: the production qualities of a book, the restriction of a movie to a sumptuous picture palace, the jailbreaking of a digital work for anybody to experience however they can. There are the silences we control as speakers: the lulls in the action, the things pointedly not said, the details left to the audience's gut or imagination. And behind them all, the endless and incalculable silence of which no clear thing can be said, except that it is as various and lively as the vacuum state of space itself.

Half the power of a word is in the silence it is spoken to. Half the craft of words is creating as much of the right silence as possible, at every moment, to speak the next one into. Yes, you can call it context and a crying positive thing, but in the end, what it sounds like is the silence the word is falling into. Its tacitness is the most important single thing about it.

And so sometimes - I very much doubt that it is often enough - instead of fretting over what the next words I need to write must be, I will only read through a good part of my writing without planning, without searching; only sounding the silence I have come to, until I hear it so clearly that my new words nearly speak themselves into it.

I don't know how many other writers do something like this, or think of it this way if they do. What I do know is that it's a good way for me to stop getting hung up on things that don't really matter, or aren't really true.

That is about as well as I can now explain it, before all the words run out.

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