The Final Word Less One - on any subject anywhere any time that the author finds interesting -

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The DMV for Artistic/Poetic/Literary Licenses

Generally speaking, we creative types are not satisfied with the world as it is. Whether the venue is poetry or prose, paint, chalk, bronze or film, sometimes reality has to be tweaked to make the story or the image "better". Artistic license has been something the author/artist TAKES but the reader/viewer GRANTS.

Lately, I've gotten very tired of politicians/political spin doctors/advertising mavens appropriating such license. I'm announcing that I personally will be issuing artistic, poetic and literary licenses. No longer is this market unregulated. Here are examples of licenses I will and will not grant.


Poetic license is is where the poet alters the usual grammatical order of words, or the pronunciation of a word to fit a meter:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.  (lines 1-5)
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!  (lines 29-30)
Poets are still free to do this at their pleasure at no charge. There's no money in poetry. Likewise, song folks go on doing what you got to do to make the words fit the music. People like George W. Bush or the writers of the panels on Farmville...apply now and I won't levy a fine for past transgressions. But you will be required to take a course in grammar from a certified teacher of English before I will issue you your license.


Examples of artistic license can be found all over, not just in the realms of fiction. Events in history are often depicted according to the way the "truth" ought to have been. For example, when Lincoln died, newspapers and engravers rushed to bring images of the stricken President and the important visitors to the small room in a lodging house across the street from Ford's Theater.These images vary widely and don't necessarily depict the people in the room when Lincoln died. Often they show who should have been there or people who visited the death chamber at some point or even Cabinet Members who wanted to be there. Some depict Lincoln's children who weren't there. A couple show Mrs. Lincoln even though she broke down completely and had to be taken to another room in the house.

Prints as Historical Evidence-Lincoln's deathbed by Chris Lane

I will temporarily grant artistic license to folks creating actual art including pictures, films, video clips, posters, cartoons and other areas of the visual arts. If you PhotoShop a recent picture of me to make me look young and skinny, I'll allow that. If you are the bonehead making Vladamir Putin look ripped, however, I will come down on you like a ton of bricks.

Manipulating historical images has never been so easy or so wrong. Intelligent people can make allowances for oil paintings but photos fool the brain into thinking it must be real. Since one picture is worth a thousand words the fine for messing with a photo of historical importance needs to be a thousand times as much.


This is like artistic license for writers. Some permissions are granted by the genre; for example, science fiction writers can have FASTER THAN LIGHT speed on their space ships. Some stories could not take place without this or other assumptions of technological breakthrough.

If you are writing an historical novel and are altering points of historical fact, this needs to be noted in an afterword in your book. Writers of history and historical novels have a similar responsibility not to knowingly misrepresent the past to the present. Both sometimes speculate from the known facts. I get really, really annoyed by people who think their story is so great they can tailor history to suit.

In particular, folks who take historical figures and make them fictional characters in novels have a steep road. To cast Jane Austen as a detective makes me more than a little queasy. I did grant the author of this series some license for the space of a couple of books but than began to feel that Jane's time was being wasted in detection. Stephanie Barron was writing too many books and Jane Austen only got to write six...not fair.

Biographical novels are a different story. A novelist's imagination can sometimes see under the skin of a famous person to make them live again for the reader. As long as the novelist is using what facts can be known and making a good faith effort to speculate to the facts, this kind of work can be very valuable. Robert Graves wrote some exceptional novels, including I, CLAUDIUS. In some ways, the modern reader can approach more easily famous figures from classical or medieval times via a good historical novel than from strict history.

So once again rushing in to fill a great cultural void, apply here for artistic/poetic or literary licenses. Lawyers and politicians must submit a filing fee of $100 and submit a through proposal. The actual cost of the license will be determined on a case by case basis. Some may wish to complain about this. I can't help it. Please note that I do not issue Dramatic Licenses. That's another department. Go down the hall, third door and throw a hissy fit. Judges will award points for style and volume and grant licenses based on how convincing your performance is.

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