"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Planting the Right Word

By Mary Ann Cherry

Every spring, the planning of my new garden becomes an obsession. Like most gardeners, I can’t resist the early vegetables, the spring bulbs, and the overwhelming variety of blooming annuals. Today, when my thoughts beat a path from my mystery novel in progress to my greenhouse, I realized something. Writers would benefit by using their words in the same way a grower prepares and plants his beds. Either there is a strong correlation between gardening and writing, or I was just desperate for an idea for my turn at the blog.

Nope, it’s true. Choosing words from the thesaurus is a lot like choosing those veggies from the nursery, and even more fun when we mix in the flower angle, and getting our hands dirty. When writing fiction we prepare the dirt, mix in a lot of supplemental characters, and we need a variety—of heights, color, importance of words—in order to make a piece work.

Words? Each is specific to location. Zone three? Paragraph four? Words become the tall calla lily that stands alone or the short foliage that adds background color. They are productive, standing stiff and straight like a stalk of corn, silk tassels darkening in the field. Words blossom in clusters like repetitive phrases. Toss them all in the garden with a bit of foreshadowing or compost thrown in for good measure. Grow the ultimate experience for the reader.

A good gardener plans to include all the senses--the sight of vivid blooms, the smell of roses, the sound of birds or running water. Writers can use senses to boost reader involvement. Don’t neglect active words that add sound. Verbs that incorporate sound add excitement. Instead of “he walked”, maybe he “thumped”, “thudded”, or “clattered” down a walkway. “His deadline loomed, and his footsteps tick-tocked down the hall.” And don’t omit calm passages. Red roses are showcased by duller flowers, and active words are heightened when contrasted with quiet paragraphs.

How does your garden grow? Some writers prefer the profuse abandon resulting from wildflower seed spread like buckshot across the yard. Others prefer the strict English garden—the topiaried boxwood, the muted walkways. Even the word “garden” evokes a variety of images. Synonyms suggest even more. Think of the image generated by the word “park” or the dark cemetery feel to “plot”. Which row hides Aunt Agatha?

Whatever our individual writing style, the choice of word should be precise if it is to plant the correct image in the reader’s mind. Give your character a few thorns. Throw in a few weeds.

Life is, after all, like a garden.