Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Fiction Day - How Many Times Can You Say Angry?

I use a thesaurus, Sisson's Synonyms, and Webster's New Dictionary in my writing. Admittedly, Sisson's is the most dog-eared, plus the binding is broken and pages fall out. (I seriously need to add a new one to my Christmas list.) But if I did not have them, I'd use LOOK a gazillion times as well as a dozen other favorites.

It's funny, though. There's a post-it note sticky on the page that has ANGRY on it. While more people tend to hang up on eyeball exercised like LOOK, STARE, GAZE and GLARE, I find myself more entwined in how to show my characters pissed off.

Being stuck on how to exhibit anger has helped my writing, though. I've taken it from foot stomping to complete silence. The stereo-typical white-knuckling (caught myself using that twice in one chapter) to the tight jaw (love that on a male character). Then there's denial ("I'm not mad") to the flushing face. Hand on hip, quick turns, slamming doors, even throwing papers.

In my critique groups, I note the repetitions of my peers on their papers. Everybody has them. And they point out mine. It's like our mind gets hung up on a good thing and sticks with it to speed up telling the story. Our thoughts are on the tale and forget that the individual words tell it. That's why repetitive editing is so darn important. Such repetition of words is the first sign of an amateur, or at least a writer who doesn't appreciate good editing. These repetitious terms can destroy the impact of a story.

Editor Mark Nichol is a freelance editor and writer and a former editing instructor for UC Berkeley’s Extension program, and edits trade and academic books for various publishers. He also is editor of the blog Daily Writing Tips. In one of his posts, Do Synonyms Exist?, he professes that "A synonym is supposed to be any word that means the same as another word. But I don’t think there is any such thing. I don’t believe that kind of synonym exists."

I like his point.  "...when you consider the meaning of a word, you need to consider both its denotation and its connotation. The denotation is the primary, literal meaning of a word. The connotation is the suggested or implied meaning of a word." No two words are the same in every situation.

Many new writers get caught up in eyeball movement. But GAZE isn't GLANCE. One can change the entire meaning of character's intention by substituting one word for the other. Using LOOK is rather benign, with little meaning other than the character saw something. No purpose, feeling or meaning. But "look" in your thesaurus and you'll find OGLE, OBSERVE, EXAMINE and PORE. Ooooh, can't you just feel the range of opportunity?

See what you miss repeating words? What you sacrifice by using the same word? There's a world of action, emotion, movement and thought in simply changing from one word to another. Now you see why my thesaurus and synonym books are so worn. They open my eyes to new situations, and have even caused my characters to behave differently than originally intended, as if the word gave them new ideas in how to mold a scene.

A single word can make your character move mountains.


Anonymous said...

Hope--Great post, as usual. The last line sums it up. With just a minor shift in verbs, the character changes in a major way.

Sioux @

Janet, said...

Great tip. I write on the computer and I pop over to Rhymezone all the time to check out other ways to say something.

Kelly Robinson said...

I've got bookmarked. It's amazingly comprehensive.

Alana said...

I completely concur with this post!