Language has its limitations. We expose them on a daily basis and we don’t actually realise it. Yesterday I finished drafting a synopsis for my novel. I actually wrote a few different versions varying in length and style. I actually found it very difficult. First actually selecting 450 words to describe 80,000 was tough enough. Second and even harder was choosing exactly how to pigeon-hole my novel. It is a work of literary fiction. Well it’s certainly not commercial. But then how would I know. If by some miracle my novel was a hit then surely it becomes commercial. Is it a thriller? Well it contains some typically thriller like elements? Is it a comic novel? Well I never set out to deliberately write jokes but it does have some funny moments. Is it a satire? Well it says a lot about the world we live in without being obnoxiously satirical. So what is it then?
This question, which we value so greatly is meaningless. Our armoury of weapons we have to describe something consists of adjectives and adverbs which are incapable of telling the entire truth. Pick three words to describe yourself. I choose intelligent, funny and moody. Now ask yourself am I always those three things. Are those three things a constant about me? In my case no. I am sometimes all three. Never always. So then ask yourself for one word which describes your character. One word which is always fitting. I bet you can’t do it. And we do this all the time. In job interviews you often get questions like describe your greatest weakness or strength? Or a number of seemingly innocuous questions which convince your brain that you need to answer using adjectives which describe your character. ‘So tell me Mr Scott what can you bring to the position of chief burger flipper at MacDonald’s?’ ‘Well I am dedicated, driven, punctual and have a great team ethic.’ When your brain switches on you realise that what you said doesn’t actually have any sense to it whatsoever and for some reason the person interviewing you is grinning like a rather contented cat.
We don’t only do it professionally. On a personal level we are always swapping descriptions about people. It’s as if a human being cannot make their own assumptions about stories which describe someones character. It’s as if we have to fill in the gaps for each other. ‘Scott did the craziest thing the other day, but then you know what he is like, a bit nutty you know.’ In that imaginary sentence there is barely a single piece of information offered to the listener to help them make their own mind up. It’s our way of ensuring or making sure that the listener is of the same opinion as us. When you are the listener in that situation automatically you find yourself nodding encouragement or mumbling an ‘ah-ha’ or ‘go on’ to the speaker in order to hurry them along. However the speaker assumes that your encouragement is actually a validation of the point they were making. It’s a bizarre habit, a ritual almost which we all participate it at some point. The weirdest of these situations is when you observe women talking about a new man. Whether it is after the first date and a friend asks ‘so what is he like?’ which is clearly a stupid question when she is only starting to get know him, or when the speaker looks for validation by adding the words ‘you know what men or like.’ when what she actually wants to say is ‘Help me please my friends. Is it normal for a man to wipe it on the curtains afterwards?’ .
In one exercise I used to write my synopsis it asked me to try to write a moral which is applicable to the story. I found this task remarkably difficult as I hope my novel is multi-faceted and I believe it contains more than one. In the end I tried to choose one which seemed applicable to the ending. Which seems doubly fitting. The moral is about how your own judgment is what makes a good deed a good deed and not the action in itself. However as I have discussed here judgment is blinkered by language, it is often as precise as a nuclear bomb. And this is why a pigeon-hole is rarely a comfortable home for mice, men and novels. A much more honest question is to who do you aspire to be or to what do you aspire? As a person I strive to be good, honest and warm. As a writer I aspire to be interesting, inspiring and intelligent.