Words are important. As an adversary of mine once noted, “Words mean things.” Unfortunately, the necessity of a reasonable vocabulary didn't quite register with me right out of high school. My utterances were blue-collar speak, mimicking the likes of Vinnie Barbarino (Welcome Back Kotter –“What? Wier?”), and Joey Tribbiani (Friends – “How you dooin’?”).
Yep. I sounded just like that, until I hit my early-twenties where I was introduced to another class of people. Executives. I had a blue collar job in a white collar environment. I wore a shirt and tie under a suit or jacket, and had face-to face contact with my betters on a daily bases. I began to realize how my intercourse (minds out of the gutter, please) differed from the people who had a direct bearing on my paycheck. I emulated their speech; a word here, a pronunciation there, and within a couple years I overcame my blue-collar dialect and no longer sounded like a character in The Lords of Flatbush, unless I wanted to revisit it and called it back. I regarded it as an accent, something I could turn on and off; like an actor or a speech coach. (Please note: My reference to a movie and two TV shows based in New York, in no way suggests that I think New Yorkers have a funny way of speaking. My wife is from New York. Although I must admit, I take great enjoyment from making fun of her accent. It usually starts whenever she says the word “ball.” It comes out something like “bawl,” but with a long 'O' sound, and to be honest, I’m not sure I can even spell it phonetically. And after she reads this, I’m sure to have a date with the couch tonight.)
But I digress.
When I started writing, my new vocabulary became more than a way of just communicating with others on a verbal level. It became a tool, much like the computer I use to cobble words into a story. Now I've reached yet another plateau in the vein of vocabulary; the difference that using the right word can make. And therein, lay an example.
By the “right” word, do I mean the word opposite of left? Or do I mean the correct word? Or the proper word? The exact word that will impart the emotion or mood or intent, of the action or scene, or character’s attitude?
Wow! So much power!
This topic found its way to me last night while I was brain-working though a scene in the novel I’m currently hammering out. It involves, a smile; a simple, non-verbal communication that a writer must convey using the mechanical devices at his disposal.
Depending on the context of the occurrence, think about what a smile can mean. The variations can be both a noun or a verb: smile, smirk, grin, sneer; there are probably more, should I wish to consult a thesaurus. They convey emotion and attitude, but I am working with the word, “smile,” in this case, used as a noun, and pretty generic by itself. I want to convey a mischievous attitude in a setting of admonishment and require an adjective to enhance the noun, “smile.” Scene description: Hanna is being chewed out by her boss. It is a serious situation to him, but amusing to her, yet she must respect the severity of the event and the authority of her boss. Here is the sentence. What adjective would you use?
Hanna suppressed a (insert adjective here) smile. “Small target,” she said. “It was a tough shot.”
Initially, I used the adjective “tiny” to suggest she was trying to refrain from angering her boss further by making light of his scolding, but it wasn't working. So I picked another that works so much better. I used the word, "impish."
Have a better one?
Have a better one?
If I like the word you suggest better than the one I used, I will use it in the novel with a nod to you on the Acknowledgements page. In the case of multiple suggestions of the same word, I will acknowledge the person who suggests it first (Comments are date-time stamped. Employees of Intrigue Publishing and affiliates as well as immediate family and household members are not eligible.) That should cover the legal-eagle stuff.
If this proves to work well, I will make this same offer whenever I am in search of … the “right” word.
Some deal, huh? No money, but a lot of fun.
So I suppose the point to this rambling is, if you want to right (I mean write), invest in words. They are beautiful, they are unique in and of themselves, and they are your tools—same as a hammer to a carpenter, a semi-automatic pistol to a police officer, or an automobile to a chauffeur.
Ya can’t write without ‘em.
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Illustration used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com