A Humorous Look at Words

Words are the writer’s stock in trade. An effective writer (one whose prose does what she wants it to do) loves the language. She knows that there is one word – the best word – for every purpose.

Working with words can be fun. If you want to be a writer you will interest yourself in words as a carpenter interests herself in wood. Words are endlessly intriguing and full of surprises.

For example, have you ever heard of a popliteal? That’s the area just behind your knee. And what’s that thin structure between your nostrils called? A vomer! Next time you see your friend, tell him he’s got mustard on his vomer and see what he says. Better yet, tell him it’s on his noop – that’s the sharp point of the elbow.

Words in the pens and keyboards of accomplished writers can do amazing things: make us laugh, cry, love, hate, shout, change our whole way of life, sometimes. They bring images to our minds: a “sway backed horse,” “fairies dancing,” “head-on collision.” Unusual words used together can astonish and delight: “squirrel fever,” “turkey on your back,” “giggle water,” “lapping the gutter.”

It’s also interesting to learn where words originated. The word “Egads”, for example, began life as an acronym for “Electronic Ground Automatic Destruct System.” The word “Gefoojet” refers to something that ought to have been thrown away long ago but wasn’t. “Frantling” means the mating call of the peacock.

Good writing uses words judiciously. If you want to convey fear, you don’t say “The man shambled,” or “lurched.” You say he “fled” or “rushed.” If you want the reader to pick up on a character’s shyness, you don’t say she “guffawed” or “flung herself about.” You say she “flushed,” or “looked down,” or “away.”

Words have connotations. “Lurched” gives us the idea (connotes) that something is wrong: maybe the person lurching is sick, or drunk. In any case, his balance is off. A person who is nervous may be “excitable” or “impatient” or “hasty,” each word conveying a slightly different characteristic.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

To say a person is “impatient” would work well in a doctor’s waiting room or in a line for popcorn, but “excitable” would convey something that just doesn’t belong, unless the situation called for him to become excited over some event while standing in line.

Words must carry their weight in a sentence. The word ‘run’ conveys movement/speed/danger or excitement. It says nothing about the character or her state of mind (except perhaps that she’s excited, but it only hints at that. Perhaps she’s a jogger!) An opportunity wasted! It’s a “blah” word. Avoid blah words such as “run,” “stopped,” “did,” etc.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Get yourself a thesaurus and whenever you find yourself writing some blah, non-descriptive word (especially a verb!) look up that word in your thesaurus and among the synonyms find a better one, one that suggests something beyond its face meaning. Make it convey what you want the reader to believe about the character at that point in the narrative.

The whole idea of writing fiction is to make the reader see and feel and experience the events of the story, along with the characters, so that when she finishes the book she will feel she has lived the story. This is very satisfying to editors, readers and people who buy books. The more words you know, the more efficiently you will be able to connect with the reader’s senses, mind and heart.

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