Autumn, my favorite season, colors the world in golds, crimsons, oranges, and earth browns. The air, lit by the sunshine through the trees, shimmers warm like gold dust. Or sunshine air, warm and light, shines golden against the crisp azure sky. Or…what are the right words? How do I describe as accurately as possible the experience of autumnal air? I seek something original, compelling, words that put the reader outdoors, under the trees, on a warm autumn afternoon.
Isn’t that the definition of writing? Seeking the right words to capture the essence of an experience, thing, place or person. We seek original ways to capture that essence in metaphor or simile, without using cliches. It can defeat even the most experienced writer. We read other writing to sow seeds of new perspectives in our imaginations or give our minds permission to explore and roam, to transcend the boundaries of mundane thinking.
I’ve begun a new first draft of a short story that will not leave me alone. In my imagination, this story occurs at some point in the near future, in a city with a large research university. The main character, Abigail, teeters on the cusp of change: she’s broken up with her boyfriend, looks for a new job, and deals with a flare of psoriasis that leads her to her dermatologist. Her adversary is a university professor, George, a lean, middle-aged man who believes in science above all else to explain the mysteries of the universe. Empirical evidence rules his life. Abigail will rock his life, but will he open his mind and listen? He places Abigail in front of colleagues at a symposium he’s designed to challenge her experience, and this is where the story opens. Will she participate or not?
Fiction writing satisfies me in a visceral way. I feel it deep in my bones. My non-fiction writing produces satisfaction, but not in the same way. Fiction carries me to a huge playground for my imagination where I can enter different worlds and universes. The characters are the players, there to show me their lives and stories. So, you see how important it is to find the right words? Without them, I could lose my playground and players. At least, that’s how it feels.
Where to search? In addition to reading as much fiction as I can in different genres, I also own several dictionaries, a thesaurus, a synonym finder, and I’ve had a lot of fun perusing resources online for words. Sometimes, I find the right word fairly quickly. At other times, I search for days. Or months. I’ve put a chapter of my first novel away to let it ferment without finding that right word, and returned to it months later. Sometimes even then I cannot find the word I want. At such moments, I must confront the possibility that the word doesn’t exist and proceed as I used to as a student when trying to speak German with Austrians, i.e. describe with other words the idea or image or thing.
No matter how many years I’ve been writing, the search for the right word reminds me that I am still learning. I would not have it any other way.