But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think;
'Tis strange, the shortest letter which man uses
Instead of speech, may form a lasting link
Of ages; to what straits old Time reduces
Frail man, when paper - even a rag like this -
Survives himself, his tomb, and all that's his.
from Don Juan George Gordon, Lord Byron
This is one of my favorite Byron quotes. In fact it is on the opening page of my website for just that reason. I like the idea of my words living on long after I’m gone. It can be, however, a double-edged sword. Words are powerful, whether spoken or written. They can change the world or change someone’s mind. They can change how we see others or how we see ourselves.
We, as wordsmiths, spend much of our time trying to pick just the right words to draw a reader in, to create the world of our story, to introduce characters who will resonate with our readers and make them want to continue reading. Just the right words will carry a reader through your pages like a gondola on the canals of Venice or like the passenger seat in a fighter jet.
Those of us who write historical romance have a completely separate set of issues when we write. We have to insure our words don’t just tell the story, but do so in language that isn’t an anachronism to the times. I am constantly using etymonline.com to check the date a particular word came into use. I also have access to a number of dictionaries from the nineteenth century and a couple of interesting sites on the history of swearing and the evolution of terms for “the naughty bits,” as my British friends call it.
And those of you who write paranormal romance often have the task of making up words to define the colors, emotions, and objects in your paranormal worlds. I am in awe of some of the elaborate glossaries associated with certain paranormal series.
I always have a notebook handy when I read. When I come across a particularly good word, I will jot it down in said notebook and later go back to write in a definition and an etymological timeline on the word. I also collect books about, well, about words. Peter Bowler has a great series of Superior Person’s Book of Words that have some of the most amusing, confusing and esoteric words in the history of the English language.
His eructation was neither called for nor polite.
(Sounds so much better than – Dude burped and grossed me out!)
So, as a writer, do you spend hours mulling over which word to use? Do you find that once you get to know your characters there are words they use that are unique to them? Are there words you shy away from using because you feel readers won’t recognize them or worse, might be offended by them? One of my critique partners found this interesting thread on an Amazon forum. Words to Cringe By
Check it out, but be warned. Do not read through this while drinking a beverage of any kind. You will drown your keyboard!
After you read it you will never look at your love scenes the same way again!
How about it? What lengths do you go to in order to choose just the right words? And have you ever written something, read over it and thought “Hey! That’s good! I wrote that!” Share it with us! In the words of my brother “It ain’t braggin’ if you’ve done it!”