Thursday, July 29, 2010

Letters to a Young, Middle-Aged, or Geezer Writer, XXIII

How often have you pondered on the edge of consciousness, reaching for that most Flaubertian prize, the right word, not, as Mark Twain so aptly put it, its second cousin?  You know the word is out there, orbiting about your scene or concept, wanting a landing pad in one of your sentences.  Not that you are a snob, looking for arcane tropes to prove--what?--your erudition; you are merely trying to fit another piece in the puzzle that began when you undertook your project.

There is a word; other words may nuance out to the same approximate meaning, but there is only the one word that will do it for you, convince you of its absolute resonance and necessity.  The word appears, a long lost relative returning home.  You greet it with warmth, then move on, looking for the next word that in its way produces the sense of certainty you seek in your work.

You are certain, as in positive, aware for sure, although there is certain reason, as in some, for wondering if certain is the word you are looking for.

Sometimes a certain word bothers you each time you see it in place in a manuscript you are trying to bring to a final version; something about it reaches forth to attract your attention each time you encounter it, causing you to strike it out, then insert another, surer, more emphatic word in its place, giving you, at last, the comfortable sensation of relief now that you have it for certain.

Remember, you are the filter or, if you will, prism for the reader.  Just as the great superhero character of the past, The Shadow, had the power to cloud men's minds, meaning he could render himself invisible, you have the power to convey feelings, the most precious gift we have as writers.  Aha, I sense some of you already, set to argue with me:  What about ideas?  you snort.  Aren't they precious, too?  Didn't many of our great works of art and science come from ideas?  Of course they did, but as well they must have induced some feelings within their creators as they came into focus?  Aren't some formula haunting and magnificent in their function and purpose?  There are, in fact, men and women who experience such joys from considering mathematical formula just as musicians can see in a progression of notes an inherent joy or industrious reverence that they willingly translate for us with their instruments.

So I ask you to look carefully at your choices, to pick the combinations, sentence lengths, punctuation, and general deployment as they reverberate within you and--get this because it is important--within the sensitivities of the characters you create.  It is not only the right word in the right sentence in the right place for you, it is the right word for your characters as well.  If it is to be truly from them, it must certainly be of and from them.


Querulous Squirrel said...

There's nothing worse than reading dialogue where you can't tell the difference between who said what. Well, hardly anything worse.

Marylinn Kelly said...

The sky from a second-floor window is where I turn when the word will not reveal itself. I've begun to talk out loud and gesture; maybe it will coax what I know is there, somewhere in the middle-aged/geezer brain. A useful lesson, the right words not just for me, but for a character. Thank you.

Storm Dweller said...

Ahhh yes, the holy grail of the correctly placed word. It is especially difficult for someone like myself who borders on a learning diability called dysnomia. My struggle is mild, generally, and given enough time, eventually the word will peek from around the corner of my memory, and shout, "Olly Olly Oxen Free!" For someone like my little brother though, he finds himself describing every day objects in detail until someone is able to cue him on what he is describing, and yet he can create some of the most thought provoking points, despite this hitch in his ability to articulate them.
As far as our jobs as writers, those set to argue about ideas, well without an emotional provocation, dare I say the ability to perhaps emotionally polarize an idea, then why should the reader at all be interested in it. An idea by itself has no personal bearing on me, it's an object that sits and collects dust, until someone picks it up and attaches their motivation, their agenda to it. Then that idea may be something helpful or harmful, and the person presenting it makes all the difference in whether or not I see it as an idea I can run with, or one that I am threatened by.