Friday, March 31, 2006

Multiple intelligences and writing

Writing: writers and multiple intelligences

Robert L. Fielding

In the act of writing, the writer draws upon many facets of his intelligence; of course, we first think of his linguistic ability – his way with words – his use of style to express himself, and his vast vocabulary – the clay from which he fashions reality.

But we might equally well point to his logical, one might almost say mathematical ability that comes out in skilful writing. For a good writer, must exercise precision in his thoughts, focus upon his topic, explain quantities in ways that are unambiguous, only introducing ambiguity into his writing as another weapon in his armoury of devices with which to relate his tale in ways that absorb his readers, and finally, like all mathematicians and scientists, he must adopt a problem-solving approach to his work – starting out with a basic premise, perhaps, and then adding and subtracting from it to weave his web of intrigue and fascination for his readers.

It also goes without saying that a writer must be supremely adept in his ability to communicate; in his interpersonal intelligence – for this is his stock-in trade. He must know his audience – the one he has captured previously with earlier work; he must be able to use characterization to people his novel with real, believable characters acting out their part as the tale unfolds; he must know instinctively what motivates people – why they do the things they do, in ways that accord with a reader’s expectations of how people behave under certain circumstances. He must do this well, for if he does not, his readers will find him out in an instant, stop identifying with the protagonist and put the book down – the writer must be in touch with mankind’s movers and shakers, with how people express themselves to justify to themselves and to others the rationale behind what they have done or are about to do. Even idiots tell themselves they are acting sensibly, even when the reader can see that they are plainly not.

Calling on his intrapersonal intelligence – his self-knowledge – the writer finds voices, roles and a sense of purpose for the actions he calls upon his characters to perform in the pages of the novel. He uses broadly understood symbols for psychological truths – leaving readers to flesh out in their minds the inner workings of minds the writer has created.

Observing the world in which he dwells and writes about, the writer must ‘paint’ pictures every bit as realistic as an pre-Raphealite artist ever did on a broad canvas. To read Conrad is to know the sea, Dickens the chaos that was the London of his day, and Joyce the streets of Dublin. The world which his characters inhabit is every bit as important as the things they do and say, the scene is just one more character in the novel, acting upon everybody and everything.

In language as in music, harmony is everything – styles that are not in harmony are discordant and strike the reader’s ear as not rhythmical. Of course, discordant language can be used to great effect, but its author must be aware of what is harmonious to write something that is not.

Lastly, the writer’s own kinesthetic intelligence – his knowledge of his own space, his movement through it, and the workings of his own organic self must come through in his work. Michealangelo, the sculpture of Rome and Florence, knew the human body, and its functions – how it moved, what forces worked by what means, but a writer interested in portraying humankind must also know the physiological side of his characters as well as the psychological one. Joyce knew the physical constraints of his protagonist, Leopold Bloom – knew them intimately, and was thus well able to describe them in ways that shocked early audiences, not used to such graphic portrayals of formerly taboo bodily movements and processes.

The writer, perhaps more than any other artist other than possibly the composer of music, must possess the various intelligences in abundance if he is to call upon his readers to use theirs in the reading. Readers so engaged return again and again to those works, for in them they recognize their own innate intelligences and are thankful to have them pointed out and utilized by a skilful writer.

Robert L. Fielding


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