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13 May 2003

Ah, ah, ah, alliteration. The poet's enemy, but the novelist's friend; I love it. And so, of course, I overuse it. Shamelessly, in the normal course of events. Rhyme is wretched in a piece of prose, but alliteration is like rhyme in reverse, doing the same job without the same dull echoes, the heavy thud of repetition. (In fact, I just this moment looked it up, and alliteration has been called 'head-rhyme' - I didn't know that, and am feeling very clever for my own analysis).

Frankly, I blame the computer. For the over-use, that is. As with so many of my stylistic quirks, it's all down to ease of use. I tend to be on a roll when the sweet phrases come, practically taking dictation; and I love them for their rhythm, for their liquidity in my head and through my fingers, and when the smoke-alarm goes off, whoops, there's another alliteration, and isn't four successive words perhaps a little excessive? - well, I just ignore it on the perfectly reasonable grounds that it's virtual text, I can come back and change it any time, better to have it down now and take it out later than leave it out and want it when I can't remember how it went. Never used to be like that in the old days, when I typed onto paper and every alteration meant at least one sheet's retyping. In those days I'd work over every sentence again and again before ever it got written down. Not no more. And of course when I go back and edit, sometimes I miss the alliteration because I'm reading in a different voice and I'm looking for different things; and sometimes I let it pass when I know I shouldn't, just because I like it and a man's allowed a little slack; and so - although it is, I say again, the novelist's friend - there is, I confess, too much alliteration in my work.

Sometimes, though, even I will balk. Today I started writing a Jamesian ghost story (it's homework, honestly, for this course I'm doing; first time in three decades I've been asked to write a story for my homework). Serious fun, I'm having such a good time with it; but the title is an embarrassment. Can't get away from it, it simply does have to be called The Brass Benares Begging-Bowl. Which brings into that dangerous four-instances area, and it is too many, and there is nothing to be done. Indeed, I've already compromised on this one; it ought properly to be called The Bonze's Brass Benares Begging-Bowl, but that was going altogether too far. I suppose in fact that James would simply have called it The Begging-Bowl, he had a penchant for the plain title; but while this is an exercise in pastiche, it is also a genuine story and mine own and so demands my own voice in counterpoint, and so shall have it.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the novelist's enemy is the adverb. An insidious little beast, keeps creeping in where it really isn't wanted.

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© Chaz Brenchley 2003
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.