In another venue, I write about the power of words. For this blog, words perform heavy lifting. They work to create images, explain ideas, describe a future world I’ve created and populated with characters from my usually over-active imagination. Writers use words to do what painters do: lose themselves in the painting. And to create the conditions for the reader to do the same.
Reading as a writer means to take particular note of the way another writer uses words to create a fictional world, describe characters and tell a story. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road sticks in my mind because of the muscular Anglo-Saxon vocabulary he used to describe the experiences of a father and son trying to survive in a primitive environment. Was that intentional? I haven’t read any of McCarthy’s other novels, so I don’t know. But the vocabulary gave the novel another layer of depth and richness, reflected the earthy and primal conditions of the characters’ story.
My poet friend commented yesterday to me that literary novels are too close to reality to read during these holidays. Only a genre novel could offer the needed escape. The writers of literary novels tend to focus primarily on language and style, while genre writers’ primary focus is on story. They unite in their work on character development, although plot-driven novels focus much less on character and they tend to fall into a genre such as thriller. They all use words.
A literary genre novel (something I strive to create) combines the literary with a popular genre, such as mystery or science fiction. In these novels, language or words become not only tools to build sentences to build paragraphs and tell a story, but they reflect the action, the sensibility of the fictional world, and give the story a richness and color similar to how the different timbres of the musical instruments in an orchestra give music color and richness. The most recent example of this that I’ve read is the science fiction novel Grass by Sheri S. Tepper. While I read the first two pages, my mouth slowly dropped open at the sheer beauty of the language and of the landscape she described with it.
Writers can have favorite words, those they use most often, or words so unusual that to use them would be like a millenial celebration. Here are some of my favorites:
- susurrous: full of whispering sounds (I’ve actually used this word in a story)
- deracinate: pull up by the roots (“She deracinated her life.”)
- puissant: powerful or influential (looks like the opposite)
- quidnunc: an inquisitive and gossipy person (from the Latin meaning “what now?”)
- hebetude: sluggishness (not the same as the heebie-geebies)
- adamant: unshakable or immovable, unyielding (the sound of the word is heavy, unyielding)
- frisson: shudder, thrill
- fribble: to trifle or fool away
- coelacanth: fish or fossil of a family of mostly extinct fishes
There are others, but I have not made a list (before this). They pop into my mind at odd moments, or in response to something someone has said. Or while looking up a word, I’ve become engrossed in reading the dictionary and found other verbal gems I hadn’t known existed.
Words. We use them to convey thoughts, emotions, and to connect with other humans, whether face to face or through the written word in novels…..