Wordy Wednesday: Regionalisms, A Cautionary Tale

Guys. I’m at the Eagle and Child right now. I AM WRITING AT THE EAGLE AND CHILD RIGHT NOW. (So yes, it’s a blog post rather than some brilliant work of fiction, but still. I AM FLIPPING. OUT.)

I’ll put up a post dedicated to our trip to Wales soon, but for now this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

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I’ve been at Oxford for about a month now and the setup for my class so far has involved writing one paper a week, based on the readings and lectures.

My first two papers went pretty well. Of our two professors, the same one read both papers, and she mainly left comments like “good argument” or “this needs more fleshing out.”

Then we reached our third paper.

This third paper was on the topic of the various representations of evil in Narnia and Middle Earth, focusing on the way Lewis and Tolkien treat evil in relation to their protagonists.

It was a fun paper to write and after the way my previous two papers had gone, I figured I’d get decent comments on it. Some constructive criticism, some compliments. Nothing too bad.

Nope.

Because of a mix up with rearranging classes due to being in Wales for four days, I ended up in a tutorial with the professor who hadn’t read one of my papers yet. The tutorial consisted of the prof, two other students, and me (my class is too big to warrant the usual one-on-one tutorial system Oxford runs on).

We spent the majority of the hour discussing the themes of our papers and it seemed to be going pretty well.

But then it came time for the professor to give us our individualized critiques. And she chose to give me mine last so that the other two wouldn’t have to sit through it.

And when she did slip into the seat beside me to go over the critique, she had absolutely COATED my paper in hurried scribbles of ink.

My stomach turned. My palms itched with moisture.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s not that your paper’s terrible. It’s just that it could be a lot better.”

At which point she took it upon herself to tear my paper to shreds for primarily stylistic reasons—the worst being my use of regionalisms.

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who uses a ton of regionalisms in my formal writing. In conversations and fiction and blog posts? Sure. Totally. In formal papers written for classes and applications and stuff? NE. VER.

This, however, ignores the fact that generally the people reading my formal writing live somewhere in the USA. And this professor obviously does not.

So while the word “sects” is perfectly legitimate to use in description of different common types of Christianity in the United States, it’s apparently super offensive in the United Kingdom. Only to be used to describe the “radical extremists.” And I had this word right in the middle of my opening sentence, to describe the way Lewis was protestant while Tolkien practiced Catholicism.

This was just one of several regionalisms the prof pointed out throughout my paper as offensive, or simply WRONG, errors.

If I had realized these words were regional to the United States, I wouldn’t have used them in a paper for a class at Oxford. But I didn’t realize. Which is the point I’m getting to.

No matter where you live—whether it be Michigan or England or freaking Narnia—you will have words and phrases in your vocabulary that are specific to your region. This is okay when writing about and for your region, but when you expand either your setting or audience to somewhere beyond this, it’s important to be aware of these regionalisms. Losing or offending your audience (as I repeatedly did in my paper) is NOT a fun time.

So if you’re a New Yorker writing about someone who’s grown up in England, be aware that “pants” refer to American underwear and “trousers” refer to American pants. If you’re from Houston, writing about Detroit, be aware that we call carbonated beverages “pop,” not soda or Coke.

Regionalisms are so important in writing. They can either make or break your setting and character development. They show either an awareness of your audience or a complacent ignorance.

Don’t be that writer who uses “sects” to describe what the British strictly call “denominations.” Or you will find yourself having a very awkward conversation with your professor to explain that no, you do not think C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were religious extremists—and yes, believe it or not, you do know how to speak English. Yours just happens to be a different version of it.

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Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for that Wales post if you want to see a multitude of crappy iPhone photos that in no way encapsulate how truly gorgeous Wales is.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: The Guiding Figure

It is currently 12:05 AM my time and my programme just got back from spending the day in Stratford-upon-Avon. (Well, most the day. We didn’t leave until like 2:00 PM, so first a group of us went to the Grand Cafe for cream tea, which was obviously touristy and delicious.)

In Stratford-upon-Avon, we got really nasty fake butterbeer at a shady off-brand Harry Potter/Doctor Who-themed store by Shakespeare’s Birthplace, then toured Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, sorta visited Shakespeare’s Grave (we reached it after the church had closed for the day, but we still walked around the grounds a bit), grabbed dinner across from the Thames, then finally saw the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona (which was excellent).

All this to say: I’m sorry I’m posting technically on Thursday yet againnn, but Wednesdays are crazy here. I love them. But they’re crazy.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

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In class Tuesday, we were discussing the different elements of the medieval journey narrative when we stumbled across the role of what our professor called the “Guiding Figure.” Because we’re studying the Inklings, the immediate examples we talked about were Gandalf and Aslan. Basically: the Guiding Figure is there to keep the protagonist on course throughout his or her journey, both outwardly (the physical journey) and inwardly (the character development). So, for example, Aslan guides the Pevensies across Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe while teaching them Important Life Lessons along the way.

The goal was to discuss the Guiding Figure’s role in only the medieval journey narrative, but of course the trope appears in more types of stories than just that–especially coming-of-age ones (so basically All Young Adult Fiction Ever).

The interesting thing about the Guiding Figure in YA is that s/he’s general not some wizened old wizard who is special purely for being a wizard or, you know, God in lion form. Instead, the Guiding Figure almost always manifests itself in an honest-to-goodness teacher.

This works well in YA, because most YA protagonists are in some sort of situation an older character has already survived and returned to for the pure sake of helping out the new generation, whether it be high school or the Hunger Games. The job of the teacher is to impart wisdom on his/her pupils. Got some life lessons to share amongst all those geometry problems and history texts and hand-to-hand combat strategies? Boom. Guiding Figure.

The Guiding Figure role can be a fun one to fill, because you get kind of an Auto Beloved character out of it. Who doesn’t love Dumbledore’s rambling speeches or Haymitch’s drunken insults-laced-with-advice. Everyone remembers Gandalf and Aslan.

But it’s also a sad role, which was something we discussed in class I’d never thought through before. Because, eventually, the Guiding Figure has to go away.

The journey (whether it be YA or the medieval sort) is not his/hers. It’s the protagonist’s. And in order for the protagonist to fulfill the unwritten contract that is Your Protagonist Must Develop Over the Course of the Story*, the Guiding Figure has to stop being an active influence.

Eventually, they have to stop telling stories. Stop giving advice. Stop leading the way. Then, it’s up to the protagonist to prove that s/he truly learned the lessons taught.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan dies on the Stone Table and it is up to Lucy and Susan to understand his lessons of love, sacrifice, and hope in order to bring him back. In practically all the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore must be otherwise occupied at the point of the climax in order to allow Harry the freedom to exercise the lessons he’s learned and prove his worthiness in learning them in order to defeat whichever annoying, magical being he’s up against this time.

And in the greater arc of the Harry Potter series itself, Dumbledore must die–not because Voldemort’s assigned Draco to or he’s gone and gotten himself cursed anyway, but because Harry must learn to face the world completely torn loose from his Guiding Figure in order to gain the distance to finally make the decisions concerning his own values necessary to defeat Voldemort.

Like in real life, when you eventually have to leave the safe environment that is high school and your childhood home and the friends you’ve known since you were born (you know, if we’re living the same life) in order to grow and figure out who you truly are–away from those assumptions and expectations and safety nets,–eventually Harry must also leave Dumbledore behind. Katniss must leave Haymitch. Lucy must leave Aslan and Frodo must leave Gandalf.

And like when the system shoves you out of high school into the big scary world that is either Holy Crap I’m in College or Even Holier Crap I’m in the Workforce, it’s almost always involuntary within the context of the story. Just something that happens. It’s painful and the protag is not happy to be testing his/her wings. But those are growing pains. The protag will learn to fly.

So where does that leave the Guiding Figure?

Generally: either dead or in a position much more frustrating (and boring) than the protagonist’s.

The Guiding Figure is there every step of the way along the journey, then has to step back and watch everything unfold from a distance when it comes time for the climax. S/he has to watch his/her pupil get hurt, contemplate giving up, experience all manners of traumas. S/he has to simply stand there and hope that the lessons sunk in, s/he’s prepared the protag enough, and things will turn out in favor of their side of whatever conflict the story’s about.

So it’s a sad role.

But it’s a bittersweet sort of sad.

As part of a novel I worked on back around sophomore year of high school, I wrote a letter from the founder (Petra) of the Super Secret Spy School (Petra’s Driving School) my protag (Nora) attended, explaining the concept of being the founder of something.

Being a founder is really similar to being a teacher. They’re both types of Guiding Figures. In the letter, Petra explains that “the founder’s legacy lives on not in being the best, but in providing those who follow with the ability … to be better.”

When the protagonist does succeed in saving the world, it is with the knowledge that it wouldn’t have been possible without the Guiding Figure’s help. And the Guiding Figure knows that all the love and hard work s/he poured into the protagonist has paid off (you know, as long as the Guiding Figure has actually managed to cling to his/her life until this point, because for SOME REASON authors have a tendency of liking the clean cut that comes with murdering their Guiding Figures I’M LOOKING AT YOU JK ROWLING).

A teacher doesn’t take up that position with the hope of earning fame and glory. S/he does it with the hope of inspiring others to earn those things.

And generally, like in the case of Harry Potter, a Guiding Figure’s already had his/her own share of adventures by the time the protagonist comes around. Now it’s just a matter of passing those lessons along and guiding the next generation the next step up the path.

After all, as Dumbledore says in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” And as the Guiding Figure of Harry, Dumbledore is able to guide the Boy Who Lived to the sort of conclusion that leaves Harry able to be a Guiding Figure for the next generation. Who will guide the next. And the next.

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Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

PS. Sorry if this is super long and rambly. I’m exhausted. I’ve now been writing this on and off for four hours now. I’m not even sure if I’m still writing in English. I am terrified of reading this in the morning.

*Sorry I’m giving so many things Important Capitalized Titles in this post. (In my defense, it is now going on three in the morning and I’m actively using half my brain to resist the urge to make tea, since the only kind I have in my room has caffeine. So basically this is the Extent of My Writing Abilities at the moment.)

OH PPS. I FORGOT TO MENTION THAT I AM SEEING JK ROWLING ON FRIDAY DIDN’T I OMG SOMEBODY HOLD ME. (<–Also, grammar. That is another thing I have forgotten.)

England Trip Recap (Part 2)

If you missed the first post about my recent trip to the UK, detailing the first two and a half days there, you can read it HERE.

Otherwise, let’s continue with these travel-shenanigans.

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Day 3 (continued)

As mentioned in the last post, Day 3 was our last true day in London, and we spent it touring the Globe Theatre (and seeing The Taming of the Shrew as groundlings), making fun of the art at the Tate Modern next door, and dodging rain storms at the Tower of London.

The view from the “Royal Box” of the Globe Theatre.

Walking the Millennium Bridge, also known as the “Wobbly Bridge,” also known as the bridge they blow up at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince.

See that school right there? The City of London School for Boys? That’s the school both Daniel Radcliffe and Skandar Keynes attended before becoming Harry Potter and Edmund Pevensie, respectively.

This is one of my favorite pieces at the Tate Modern. It’s called “Untitled Painting.” It is literally just a mirror glued to a canvas hung on the wall.

This is my other favorite piece. It’s canvas painted white, cut out in a random octagonal shape, glued to the wall. Artist be trolling.

We walked London Bridge on our way to the Tower of London. Luckily, it did not fall down.

This is the Traitors’ Gate at the Tower of London. They used to stuff their baddies back behind these bars and then wait for the Thames to reach high-tide, at which point everyone drowned. (Cruel and unusual punishment, anyone?)

LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THIS BOOK. This was the ordinance book for the guards working in the Tower. Can you imagine how many rules they had to follow? IT’S EVEN WORSE THAN MAMA UMBRIDGE.

At the end of the day, we ended up back at the Globe for Taming of the Shrew. We stood in the very first row of the groundlings, which for most people involved leaning their elbows on the stage while watching. Only I’m actually too short to do that, so instead I was literally at eye level with the stage. Like a crocodile spying on its prey. (In other news: HOW BEAUTIFUL. IS THE “SKY.” ON THIS STAGE?)

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Day 4

Day 4 saw our group leaving London to explore other parts of England. We made stops in Oxford (now one of my favorite places on Earth–I’m hoping to study there next summer), the Cotswolds, and then continued on to Statford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s grave and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of As You Like It.

Not sure if you can tell, because of my iPhone’s kind of crappy picture quality and all, but that sign reads “Alice’s Shop.” Oxford University is basically Heaven for literary types. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Caroll, was a professor at Oxford and this adorable shop is located in town.

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You might recognize this as a Harry Potter shooting location. Harry Potter was a biiig part of our trip.

… Speaking of Harry Potter, this dining hall inspired the Great Hall. (Sorry the photo’s so blurry. We weren’t allowed to stop walking as they hurried us through with the bazillion and one other tourists, and as I already mentioned in Part 1: I’m so bad at walking without taking pictures at the same time that you’re lucky it’s even this clear.)

After touring campus, we stopped in at the Eagle and Child, which is the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, among other writers, used to meet weekly. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. If I could meet any historical figure, it would be C.S. Lewis. (And if I ever got to, I would probably then melt into a weeping mess in front of him, because I love his writing and philosophy on life and everything SO MUCH.) So yeah. It was sort of a big deal for me to go to the Eagle and Child.

Here’s me trying not to look like I was totally about to break down sobbing with joy beside the map of Narnia they’d hung on their supply closet door. (Oh, those punny pub owners!)

Driving through the Cotswolds in our tour bus. The Cotswolds are this area of England composed of gorgeous, gimmicky little tourist towns.

While stopped in Bourton-on-the-Water for a tourist break (we literally went there to “buy souvenirs and enjoy the tourist atmosphere”), I got some cream tea. My friend: You have not lived until you have had cream tea.

I give you: the grave of William Shakespeare. It was crazy seeing his grave, because while I’ve never been a huge Shakespeare fan, I have grown up reading, and performing, and analyzing his work. Shakespeare’s been a big part of my life for years now. But the thing is–he’s always seemed like this really distant figure. Kind of Biblical, in a way. So to see Shakespeare’s grave IN PERSON made him, and all that he did for the literary and theatre worlds, suddenly seem so much more real and present and important to me as an individual. It sounds cheesy, but it truly was a life-changing experience for me. This whole trip was.

Buried with Shakespeare were his wife, daughter, and her two husbands (one died young).

The RSC’s production of As You Like It, right before it started!

*****

Day 5

Day 5 was more Shakespeare, as we toured Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Shakespeare’s Birthplace, and then we visited Warwick Castle and walked around downtown Statford-upon-Avon during our free time.

The Brits really need to stop complaining about us changing the name of the first Harry Potter book. At least we didn’t mess with the branding GOLD that is “Frosted Flakes.”

This is Mary Baker, descendent of Anne Hathaway and my personal hero. She exploited her connection to Shakespeare to make a profit, by giving the first tours of Anne Hathaway’s childhood cottage and selling items that (secretly) didn’t actually have anything to do with either Shakespeare OR Anne for big bucks. (If I ever happen to have a famous relative, I’m planning on being just like her. Warning to all my relatives.)

Waiting in line to get in to see the Disneyfied version of Shakespeare’s birthplace!

These windows are absolutely COATED in signatures. They’re supposedly from the room Shakespeare was born in, but now they’re cased in glass because so many tourists throughout the centuries had carved their names into them that it was getting ridiculous.

Warwick Castle! This now quite-Disneyfied castle was once a star location of the War of the Roses. Now, it’s owned by Madame Tussaud and is populated by lots of creepy historical wax figures.

For all those random times your castle is under siege, it’s a good idea to keep a catapult lying around.

Table cannon. In case the parchment attacks.

Sword show in the castle courtyard! They debunked the myths of medieval swordplay, including the fact that real sword fights (unlike the media’s interpretation of them) usually lasted less than ten seconds before one man would manage to kill off his opponent.

It wasn’t until after I’d tried on the gift shop battle gear (twice) that I noticed there was a princess option as well. Apparently I haven’t been reading enough girly contemporary books this summer.

When we went to begin the tour of the castle towers, a woman at the entrance told us the towers were closed for the next half hour.

“What do you mean?” we asked. “Why are they closed?”

“There’s a bird show going on,” she explained. “We wouldn’t want any of the birds of prey to mistake you for food.”

A few minutes later, this lovely monster landed on the highest tower, checked in with the handler hanging out there, and then flew off again. We thanked the woman for not letting it eat our faces.

Back in Stratford-upon-Avon for the evening, we wandered the town. The River Avon (in this location, known as either the Warwickshire Avon or Shakespeare’s Avon) is beautiful!

Fact: this pub has been around for longer than the United States has.

Day 6

I’m only going to partway cover Day 6 in this post, since most of it was spent freaking out during the Leavesden Studios tour (if you don’t know what the “Leavesden Studios tour” entails, look it up), but I will leave you with a few pictures from our stop at Oxford’s rival, the University of Cambridge.

Outside King’s College.

Inside King’s College Chapel.

I love how many languages they translated “please keep off the grass” into. Like: they REALLY don’t want people walking on the grass.

Cambridge has this really cool tradition of having students take their visitors out on the river for a tour. It’s called “punting,” and the punts (boats) are basically gondolas–the difference is that punts are propelled by poles rather than oars. (PS. There are cows in the background of this picture. To the right. To the left, just across the river, is a smart-looking cafe. How cool is that? You can eat dairy products right next to the cows who produced them!)

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Make sure to stay tuned for the last England Trip Recap post, coming soon, which’ll be jam-packed with pictures from the Leavesden Studios tour! Whoohoo!

~Julia