NOTES ON CRAFT: ON LANGUAGE AND CLARITY by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: ON LANGUAGE AND CLARITY by Olakunle Ologunro

clarity

Notes on Craft: On Language and Clarity

by Olakunle Ologunro

Hey there,

If this is your first time reading this letter, you can flashback to the previous letters in the series here.

The letter for this week (or month, seeing how very irregular and inconsistent I am 🥴) is about language and clarity, and how these two things work to improve the quality of your writing.

***

In my final year of university, I had the privilege of reading the works of some students at other levels. Many of them were freshers trying their hands at prose writing so they could hone their skills. Some of the stories had potential, but there was a major barrier preventing this potential from shining through. That barrier was language.

Language, to me, is the vehicle a story travels in. It is the microphone that amplifies the story, the colour that animates everything. And this is why it is important for you to get it right. The use of language in the freshers’ stories came from a place to impress– at least that was what it read like to me. They used too many ‘big’ words, a lot of which took up space but added nothing to the story as a whole. They were clunky, mismatched, and useless, and instead of displaying their mastery of language, it revealed their tumultuous relationship with language.

Simplicity and clarity is a sign of mastery in language. It shows that you are able to communicate effectively, express yourself in the story and give your characters room to do the same. This is what I strive for in my stories, what I think you as a writer should strive for too. Each time I sit down to write, I wonder, “How best can I tell this story?” I make myself the reader because I believe that if I am able to understand and communicate my intentions in the story, I have solved a major problem.

“Anyone who wants to become a writer should be vigorous, direct, simple, and lucid.” That’s a quote from Henry Watson Fowler. But then, to do this, what are the basics?

First of all, don’t use ‘big words’ where a simple one will do. Buy instead of purchase. That is, in a situation where a simpler word or sentence can achieve the desired effect, choose it. Yes, the big word looks fancy, interesting, but will it add to the story’s flow or take away from it? That’s one thing to always consider.

Another thing to keep in mind is that clarity also matters in the story before anything. Language can be as clear as day, but if the story itself is unclear, only little can be done to salvage it.

Do not attempt to impress a perceived ‘judge’ because you assume that a certain type of writing is not fancy enough for them. Don’t assume to know what they will like or dislike. You cannot know, really. So, when you enter for a competition or simply write to submit it, do not choose intentionally complex vocabulary. Do not be deliberately unclear, unless that is what you are going for. Simply tell the story that feels like you. Let it be in a language you are familiar with.

Read. This cannot be overemphasized. What stories do you like? What strikes you in their use of language? Study the people who have gone before you. It is one of the best ways to learn. 

As I write this, “Conference” by Naja Marie Aidt is the story that comes to my mind. The simplicity was what struck me on my first encounter with it. How the language worked to simplify the prose rather than complicate it. Such a level of simplicity is what I aspire to and what I hope to transcend. I think you should do the same. Language can comfort, enrage, arouse, disgust, and do many things to the reader. But only when it is applied simply.

I’ll end with this paragraph from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s conversation with Zadie Smith on writing, relationship, etc.

“Clarity’s important to me. I forget who said that ‘Prose should be as clear as a windowpane.’ I’m very much in that school, and it’s the kind of fiction I like to read. The kind of writing that I like to read is writing that is clear. I think it’s very easy to confuse something that’s badly written as something that’s somehow deep. If something is incomprehensible and the sentences are bad, we’re supposed to say, ‘Oh that’s really deep.’ It’s not the kind of fiction I like to read, so I guess maybe when I’m editing I’m thinking about that. I’m thinking that the sentences I really admire are sentences that are lucid.” 

Listen to the full podcast here.

What are you reading? More importantly, what are you writing? How is it coming along?

For me, I reached out to a number of writers and asked them to share a piece of work most significant to them, and what they think other writers can learn from it. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share each letter with you.

Don’t stop writing.

All my love.

-Kunle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credits:

Photo by Dancan Wachira from Pexels

 

 

 

 

NOTES ON CRAFT: THE THING ABOUT FLASHBACKS by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: THE THING ABOUT FLASHBACKS by Olakunle Ologunro

Conversations

Notes on Craft: The Thing About Flashbacks

by Olakunle Ologunro

Hey there,

If this is your first time reading this letter, you can flashback to the previous letters in the series here.

This week’s letter is for flashbacks.

When you think about flashbacks, what comes to mind? I’ll be honest, I think of two things. First, I think of the Nollywood typical treatment of flashbacks. Yoruba Nollywood, especially. You can watch a movie where everything is a flashback. Or a flashback that contains three more flashbacks. 

I kid you not.

The second thing that comes to my mind is a sprint in a former direction. A runner turning back to swiftly pick up something. And that’s how I often like to approach my definition of the word, as well as my relationship with the entire concept. A sprint in a former direction, usually to pick up a[n old] detail, or to draw the readers’ attention to something that is important to the story or the character’s personality.

The definition of a flashback is simple, easy to grasp. It is when you, the writer, take the reader out of the present story and go back into an earlier time in a character’s life, or an earlier event in the main course of the story. 

Here’s an example from one of my favourite short stories to read, “Someone Like Sue,” by Rebecca Curtis.

This is what I was thinking:

The fact that Sue didn’t have a job didn’t surprise me. The last I knew, after college, she’d been working at a large department store. But I always thought she’d lose the job, especially because she was so small—she only weighed ninety pounds and she was only five feet tall. Her smallness seemed to point to something about her everyone could see, that she was untrustworthy and could be easily beaten up. Not many people had trusted her in college, and a lot of people had beaten her up.

In this story, this character has just received a phone call from a woman who calls herself Amy but who the character believes to be Sue, her old friend from college. The character is sitting down after the call when her husband comes to her to find out who called. But our character is thinking, and in revealing her thoughts, the author flashes back to her college days to reveal her relationship with Sue, and the kind of people Sue and our character are.

By using flashback, the author achieves a number of things:

  1. She reveals details that help the reader understand Sue and the character, and thus gives the story more depth because the reader now understands the motives of each character.
  2. Interiority. The reader is able to see the character’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the situation. 

But her friendship brought me a lot of benefits, like the way we held hands when we entered a party, and how all the guys thought that looked good, and when I thought about the money I’d loaned her that she never paid back, I knew that in a way she thought I owed her the money, because of all those times we’d held hands.

Reading the whole paragraph to the end, the reader is able to see how the character feels about Sue, what she thinks about their relationship and her reaction to Sue’s lie that she is now Amy.

  1. The flashback helps us understand the current conflict even further. We, the reader, now understand why Sue might pretend to be Amy, and why the character struggles between giving her the money or not.
  2. The author has also been able to tell the story in a way that is not 100% linear. She takes the reader to the past and back, and this time, the reader returns with even more details that make the story more interesting and gives a new dimension to the previously expected outcome.

 

Flashbacks can take a number of ways: an object can be used to start a flashback. A word, a gesture, a sound, all of these can bring about a flashback for the character. 

As a writer, the best approach is to use flashback as a tool to complement and strengthen your work. Make it richer, more interesting. But also be wary of too many flashbacks. This will do the complete opposite of what you have in mind. 

Ask yourself questions. How does this flashback change your story? What does it add or take away from it? How has it changed your character? What do they now know?

A very simple way to do this is to apply it to yourself. If, right now, you had to flashback to a specific period in 2020, what would that period be? Why? How will the flashback change your present circumstances, even if for a minute?

Let me answer that. If I had to flashback to a specific period in 2020, it would be the lockdown period. Why? It was the one time where I felt absolutely listless, I could barely read or write. I’ll emerge from this flashback with complete gratitude for where I am right now: able to read and write again, to enjoy the solace that stories bring. 

Now, will you also take the test?

Read: “Someone Like Sue” by Rebecca Curtis.

 

See you soon.

-Kunle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credits:

Photo by Dancan Wachira from Pexels

 

 

 

 

NOTES ON CRAFT: HELPFUL TIPS ON WRITING DIALOGUE by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: HELPFUL TIPS ON WRITING DIALOGUE by Olakunle Ologunro

Conversations

Notes on Craft: Helpful Tips on Writing Dialogue

by Olakunle Ologunro

Dear Writer,

It’s me again. I apologise for how long this has taken. Life happened. To be honest though, that’s the nature of life: to always happen. What matters is how we manage it, and frankly, I think I’m doing a poor job at it. But we move anyway, trying and failing until we arrive at perfection.

This letter is about one aspect of writing we must try and fail at, until we arrive at perfection. That aspect is dialogue. Dialogue plays an essential role in any form of writing you do, either fiction or nonfiction. A story cannot simply rely on narration alone. The stories will have characters, and it’s only natural for these characters to have conversations about what they are going through, the beauties of life, and perhaps something as mundane as what they had for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Even if these characters have speech impediments and cannot verbally express their desires, they can communicate through sign language or other means, and this helps move the story forward.

Dialogue can be used to reveal things the readers (and even the characters) do not know. 

Dialogue can also show character. Through the way they speak, their choice of words, one can deduce their educational status, their philosophy of life, their dispositions. If they stammer, dialogue should be able to reveal it. If they are nervous, afraid, or flirty, dialogue should be able to reveal it.

Dialogue can also show age. A teenager can be portrayed to use ‘like’ in sentences. For example: “And I was like, oh my Gosh, you did not just say that. Like, can you imagine.”

Dialogue can be used (and should be used) to express emotions: anger, joy, disgust, surrender, etc. If the dialogue is effective, you do not have to rely on dialogue tags like: “You are mad!” Anuli shouted angrily. Because the actions preceding and the dialogue would have shown that to the readers. In fact, you should avoid using any other dialogue tag other than ‘said.’

So, what do you look out for when writing dialogue? What tips are helpful?

For starters, here’s what I do:

  1. I try to know who the characters are. Knowing them means I can understand the kind of things they would say, and how they would say it.
  2. I read the dialogue out loud. This way, I test it to know if it is something a real person would say.
  3. Sometimes, I don’t read it out loud. I turn it over and over, cut out parts that I consider unnecessary. How do I know parts that are unnecessary? Return to 1.
  4. I listen to people. Take not of how they speak, the words they use, the breaks between choosing the next word. And since fiction imitates life, well…

So, how does one get better? Practice. Practice. Read how writers use dialogue, and then practice some more. Here are more helpful tips:

  • Avoid unnecessarily long paragraphs of talk.
  • Ensure that each character has a unique voice or style of speaking.
  • Include details that may or may not have anything to do with speech. For example: 

“Good morning, Mama,” the girl said.

Mama sized her up with her eyes.
“What is good about the morning, Raluchi? Tell me, what is good about the morning when you are yet to pay me what you owe?”

“Squad” by Linda Musita is a story I like for how it uses dialogue. There are two characters in conversation, and Linda Musita depicts them perfectly such that we are able to tell distinctly who is who. What is more? Linda Musita eschews the dialogue tag ‘said’. This goes a long way to show you that there is no “one size fits all” approach to writing dialogue. Master the rules, then bend them the way you want.

See you soon.

-Kunle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credits:

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

 

 

NOTES ON CRAFT: WRITING HABITS by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: WRITING HABITS by Olakunle Ologunro

Notes on Craft: Writing Habits

by Olakunle Ologunro

Dear Writer,
 

So, I am here again. This time though, feel free to whip me because what I am writing about, Writing Habits, is a principle I don’t even follow myself. Okay, maybe I used to follow it, but life got in the way. But then, should life get in the way of something you love?

From what I know of them, habits are a routine of behaviour that has become a part of you such that it occurs subconsciously. Here’s a story from my childhood. A woman in my area had a child who was fond of sucking her thumb. It was supposed to be a temporary behaviour, the way children pick up things and then discard them. But this child continued. On and on until she made a habit of the thumb sucking. She would sit alone and the next thing, she’d pop the thumb in her mouth. On her way to school, she had the thumb in her mouth. Sometimes, she fell asleep with the thumb in her mouth. Thumb-sucking became a habit for her.

You’re probably thinking, thumb-sucking and writing, what’s the connection? Well, the connection is in the habit, the constant repetition of it until it becomes something you cannot break.

A lot of people who are writers have writing habits. My friend, M, for instance, wakes up at dawn to write. I’m not sure if I can do that. I sleep too often and too much to wake up and be reasonable enough to write something readable.

For you as a writer, I don’t know what habits you have. But a common one often touted is that a writer must write everyday. Well, I found something interesting in the form of a Facebook comment which I’ll paraphrase: You don’t have to write everyday. I don’t know about you, but I find that my life as it is does not give me room to write as much as I want to. Besides, I procrastinate a lot which is quite shameful, but let’s give God the glory. Anyway, the comment continues: The idea that one can write for hours a day does not apply if you’re not a rich American novelist with a wife making your sandwiches. Thinking about your work is writing time. Reading is writing time.

I hope this comforts you. At least for a while.

I said at the beginning that I used to have writing habits. I’ll tell you about them now.

writing
  1. Journaling: You know, keeping a diary and writing in it things that I found interesting. Or scenes from life and other things.
  2. Recording people: I used to own a small book with a brown leather cover. In it, I would write sentences I thought interesting, either something I thought up or one I encountered in a book. I would observe people too: how they spoke, what they wore, their carriage, their mannerisms, etc and record these things. For example, the sister in my church who punctuated her sentences with ‘like’ (I’m like no need because, like, children anniversary will soon come and you know, like, the children they em, like); the woman whose earrings were shaped like semicolons; the man who, when he spoke, always had a reason to run a hand across his head. I recorded bits of conversation too. Like that time when an announcement came up on the radio from a man who said he needed a God-fearing wife and my uncle said, “Person wey no fear God dey find God-fearing wife.” And sometimes, I recorded my environment too. The colour of the sky, the shape of a particular tree, the sound a particular thing made. If carried into the world of fiction, these things make your work true to life, honest. Here’s something from Teju Cole: It might be hard to believe that these things are interesting, but that is what your writing talent consists of: to make the ordinary interesting. In a field of unexceptional events, zoom in on the pungent detail.  
  3. Reading: There is no shortcut around this thing. You cannot be a writer without first being a reader. Read fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc. Read good books and bad books, because only then can you decide what you like and the things you don’t. And please, read interviews too. Interviews are very important, and I honestly find it sad that I don’t read enough of them. In interviews, one is exposed to the author: their opinion about certain things, but more importantly, the principles that guide them and their craft.

Many years ago, I was at JazzHole with M when this man came in. The details are foggy now, but when this man found out about our love for writing, he went out of his way to suggest things for us to make a habit of. I remember he said to read at least one short story per day, at least an article from a reputable magazine, an interview, and to write down things that we’d learned.

I will stop this letter here.

Do you have any writing habits? Do share them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credit:  Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

“Anyone who is able to weave a good story is my hero any day” – Interview with Olakunle Ologunro

“Anyone who is able to weave a good story is my hero any day” – Interview with Olakunle Ologunro

TABLE TALK

“Anyone who is able to weave a good story is my hero any day” – Interview with Olakunle Ologunro

As the Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest enters its second year, we had an engaging chat with the winner of the maiden edition in the flash fiction category, Olakunle Ologunro. His short story ‘Pampers’ was published in the Queer Africa 2 anthology, and republished in Queer Africa: Selected Stories, his flash fiction ‘And They Were Laughing’ was published in LitroUK.
In this interview, Ologunro discussed his passion for writing and the struggles he has encountered on his journey to find his voice in the literary world. Enjoy.

 

KD: Who is Olakunle Ologunro? Let’s meet you!
 
Ologunro: Hello! I am Olakunle Ologunro, a final year student of English in the University of Ilorin, Nigeria.

Olakunle Ologunro

Winner of the 2017 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Content (Flash Fiction Category)

KD: When did you first discover your passion for writing, what inspired you?

Ologunro: I honestly don’t know. I read quite a number of books while I was growing up, and because reading and writing go hand in hand, it is possible that my writing must have picked up from there.

KD: What are some of the challenges you face as a writer? What steps do you take to overcome them?

Ologunro: Oh, the general ones: Self-doubt and acute self-criticism; moments of feeling like I’m not made for this writing thing; moments of ‘Why the heck is this story not surrendering itself to be written?’
How I overcome it: I sleep. Or I go visit a friend. Or I check my WhatsApp and Facebook. Or I count my blessings. Anything, I just don’t remain at the table mulling over my problems. I leave them to cool and them come back to attack them or be attacked (again) by them.

KD: Who are some of the literary figures that inspire you/you look up to?

Ologunro: I’m not specific/limited. I draw inspiration from a number of sources that would be too numerous to list. But to put it simply, anyone who is able to weave a good story is my hero any day. I am not bothered if that person has never published a book, or if s/he is a multiple award-winning author.

 

But to put it simply, anyone who is able to weave a good story is my hero any day. I am not bothered if that person has never published a book, or if s/he is a multiple award-winning author.

KD: In 2017, you won first prize in the flash fiction category of Kreative Diadem’s annual writing contest. How did you feel about winning?

Ologunro: Surprised. Then excited. And then panicky.

KD: Let us get down to your flash fiction. What was the inspiration behind Imole? Was there a specific message you intended to pass along to the reader?

Ologunro: Would you believe me if I said that the idea for ‘Imole‘ came to me from nowhere? I can’t remember what I was doing then, but the line, “Your mother, belle of the ball, wanter of things beyond her capacity,” came to me. I think I wrote it down so I would not forget, or maybe I did not. The rest of the story followed that line of thought. The writing happened speedily, but the editing was not as speedy.

And no, I wasn’t interested in passing a message. At least that was not my foremost intention. I understand that people who read it might take away a lesson or two, but while I was writing it, all that mattered was telling a story that seemed ripe enough to be told.

KD: Apart from winning first prize in the flash fiction contest last year, what are some of your other achievements? (Awards, nominations, published works, etc.)

Ologunro: I placed second in a writing contest by Naija Stories, was a finalist for the Awele Creative Trust Award, was shortlisted for the Gerald Kraak award anthology, longlisted for the inaugural AMAB-Home of Books Foundation Prize. My short story ‘Pampers’ was published in the Queer Africa 2 anthology, and republished in Queer Africa: Selected Stories, my flash fiction ‘And They Were Laughing’ was published in LitroUK, and my recent short story ‘A Nonrequired Guide to Writing Love Stories’ appears on Brittle Paper.

KD: Are you currently working on any books at the moment?

Ologunro: No, I am not. I wish I was, though.

KD: What advice would you give to aspiring writers like yourself, especially in Nigeria?

Ologunro: “When it gets too tough to go on, remind yourself that if you can survive in Nigeria, a thing like writing is too small to break you.”
Just kidding. I cannot think of a good advice presently, but I’d suggest listening to Hall of Fame by will.i.am and The Script. The song found me years ago, and every line of it could easily be a watchword.

 

KD: What do you think about Kreative Diadem?

Ologunro: I think that they are doing a good job. To find a space (online or physical) invested in the growth and support of young writers and talents, is a great means of encouragement, something that we all need in large doses.

KD: Any final words?

Ologunro: Thank you so much for this chat. Thank you for thinking I have something important to say, something worth reading, and for reaching out. I hope we get to do this again.

 

Isolation

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