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

Monday, March 5, 2018

Becoming “Wordsmiths” by Charm O’Ryan

Words—a writer’s best friend. I mean come on, let’s face it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to inform us we’d be staring at a blank screen, unable to express ourselves, unable to tell our stories, unable to make a living without them. And don’t get me started on how silent the world would be if no words existed at all. Not a bad thought for someone who never gets enough silent moments, for sure. But in our world, it is the “written” word I want to speak about today.
And there are so many of them to choose from.

It is the selection of our words and the weaving of them into our characters, our plots, our descriptions, our every-writing moments that makes us into individual authors with unique styles, unique rhythms, and unique “voices”.

My cousin used to write beautiful, near-literary, romance novels. We were long-distant critique partners for over a decade and exchanged emails pretty much on a daily basis. With every typed correspondence we’d share, I noticed a saying always appeared beneath her name: I am a Wordsmith … I beat words into submission.

Though many years have passed by since I read one of her emails, that one sentence has stuck with me. It is the inspiration for today’s lesson. Beating words into submission, stringing them into sentences like an artist mixing paints to achieve the perfect intended color, twisting them into ways that would give readers an unforgettable journey through a story no other author could tell, was something I, too, wished to do.

I wanted to become a Wordsmith.
According to the Encarta Dictionary (English), “Wordsmith is a noun that means: somebody who uses words skillfully, e.g. a professional writer or journalist.” And, in case that escapes any author reading this today, that means me and you. With that in mind, let’s keep looking at words and the way they can, and in some cases, should be used.
Novels and the words we choose. Setting aside style and voice, many of us will use some of the same words. However, genre, as well as time and location the story takes place, will give us diversity…we’ll use words that lean towards the genre we’re writing within.

Examples of genre usage:
Romantic words—a romance writer’s best friend. Let’s see … hmm … simple ones: love, sex, intimacy, climax, passion, embrace, etc. An author of romance may use these terms far more than an author of say horror.

Diabolical words—a horror writer’s best friend. Evil, goosebumps, fear, sliced, diced, hell, demon, Satan, Abyss, etc, are all words most romance writers would not use albeit there are probably exceptions in either case … myself being one, as I like to dabble in paranormal romance.

Military thrillers—F-16 jets, bombs, tanks, firing, guns, smoke, soldiers, cursing, probably aren’t going to mention demons and Satan involved in an evil embrace of climactic passion! I think you get the point.

Examples of time usage:
Ah, how I love historical romance and the use of words that give credence to the time period the story is set within. Unbeknownst, naught, methinks, wondrous, loquacious, Godspeed, nonplussed, vex, milady, milord, all help the reader feel the sense of time and place in history. I have used nearly all of these words, and more, in my first two novels: one set in 1692, the other in 1479 England. Beware, however, that too much of a good thing can also ruin a story. When I wrote my first novel, I wrote the entire thing in Old English. I didn’t realize no one really wanted to read a romance novel written in
Old English, so I learned a valuable lesson. Therefore, remember to have balance between the old and the new when writing in a certain time period. Use enough time-period appropriate words to flavor the story and give the reader a sense of authenticity.

In the pacing of a novel, flowery long-listed adjectives, and words with so many letters one has to get out a dictionary in order to understand what the character is saying and or doing, can often slow down the speed and the tempo of our stories. So be wary of overuse. Sure, a great word once in a while is okay, might give the reader something to think about long after the last page is turned. Slowing them down too much, however, making them stumble over sentence after sentence might just cause them to close the book before they’ve reached chapter two! So keeping the pace of our stories strong and quick is definitely a win, as most readers nowadays like a fast read. Other things like grammar can contribute to this as well. But we’re talking about words here and we’re going to stay on topic.

Authors can even take the liberty of making up our own words. Of course, science fiction writers know this well. They make up their own people/creatures, languages, and worlds. But a uniquely thought up word used in dialogue or a character’s thoughts, can also be pulled off in any genre. In my story, Lillian of the Valley, a long contemporary romance, Deputy Joe almost “Spooged” in his pants. I’ll let you all figure out that one on your own. However, it wasn’t as nasty as you might imagine. Rather than sexual, it was my heroine’s thought after seeing how excited the deputy got when the sheriff gave him an important task. Naughty naughty if that’s where all your minds went first!
Words; so powerful, so descriptive, so breathtaking in their variety and wide-scope of meaning. Search them out; read through the dictionary; let’s challenge ourselves to learn a new word or
two each week. It’s not only fun, but enlightening. A wealthy vocabulary will only strengthen us as writers.

I once went on a venture of writing down words I’d read in other novels or text books, seen in movies, or simply heard in conversations of both stranger and friend. Sure, it took a while. But a jot here and a jot there, and wall-la! I had pages and pages of handwritten words to pilfer through when I needed to be reminded of the variety that existed to meet my writing needs.

Not everyone is a Wordsmith.

Not everyone is a writer.

Garbage cans are filled with people’s attempts to write. Perhaps they are not naturally talented, can’t tell a story if their life depended on it, or they’re just too damn lazy to learn the craft and keep it polished; keep up on what’s expected of an author in an ever-changing world. Home computers have opened the doors to anyone and everyone who thinks they’ll be the next bestselling author. But they’ve also opened the door to a wealth of knowledge our grandparents could’ve never imagined existed. Millions of words and their various meanings are literally at our fingertips.

Yes, a Thesaurus is our best friend.

Okay, seasoned writers, I am aware I used some clichés in this lesson. I did so purposefully. Cliché … I even like that word … it’s got a beauty to it, doesn’t it? Cliché. Say it aloud … “cliché”.

Is there room for improvement? Always.

Can we learn something new? Most assuredly.

Does it hurt to be reminded of things we may think we’ve already mastered? Absolutely not.

Thus, my writing friends, if we aren’t Wordsmiths yet, we will be. Because, as writers, we know that without the ability to manipulate words … sentences … paragraphs … in exclusive ways that convey the beauty of our own unique style, our own exquisite voice, we will not shine bright amongst the throngs of an unruly crowd of mediocre authors and/or author-want-to-be’s.
Words and the way we use them not only separate the failures from the successful, but also place our mark in this old world … OUR words that will be remembered long after we have left it. So what is it we wish to say? Did we say it in a way that clearly defines our intent? Think about these two sentences next time you sit down to write. Whether it be fiction or nonfiction matters not. If we stay true to our voice, our resolve, if we hammer our words into submission to create sentences that engage our readers to continue flipping pages and buying books, then we will have succeeded in leaving our individual messages to not only to this generation, but the next, and all generations yet to come. Happy hammering! (Smile)

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Charm! When I watch movies/TV I'm usually paying attention to the characterization and plot line. Now I'll have to keep a pen and paper handy for words. PS I thought your word, Spooged was that he peed or #2ed his pants.