Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Moral Tale

Who knows now what it was - some childish transgression.
The culprit was caught, mute and immobile.
Father glared down and demanded, "Answer me: Yes or No!"
The kitten-blue eyes looked up at him, puzzled, and then the sweet tiny voice replied, "Yes or no..."
God, it was hard not to howl.

Ah yes, clarity in expression. Underlines the value of beta readers.
We have to watch the choice of words too.
While the dictionary of antonyms and synonyms can be our good friend, the frantic search to avoid useful but mundane adjectives can result in peculiar constructions.
To evade, I presume, similarities to hard, granite, piercing and the like, to describe the hero's gaze, I remember an occasion when the word adamantine was used.
Fine. Then it was repeated. And repeated. Stuck out like a writer's thumb on a thesurus - in part because it did not co-ordinate with the rest of the story's language.
The term orifice , for example,when used to describe an alien on Planet X seems entirely appropriate, but if used in a romance in connection with hero or heroine...Well, it would make me wriggle, and it tinkers with POV.
And when using unusual or technical words or foreign phrases, it's a good idea to decrypt the meaning either by context or by an observation of another character.
Sorry this meanders, am on a blood work fast and have not had my coffee.
Blogger won't let me upload my cartoon!


Erik Ivan James said...

Clarity. Lack of it, does-me-in, often.

Scott said...

I labor over the thesaurus sometimes, trying to come up with a synonym that works without sticking out too badly. But once used, you said it exactly, put it to bed.

Bernita said...

We all have stuff, passages and paragraphs, we have to work with, Erik.

Yes, Scott!
Or we know the word, the exact, precise word we need, but can't quite bring it up out of the archives and so scrable through the book trying to find it.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Fun post!

I'm so used to striving for the exact right words that I forget the simple ones. I've spent an extra few minutes digging through the thesaurus, only to realize the word I was looking for was "distinct" or "refined" or "the" or some other basic word I should have known off the top of my head.

Anyone know a good synonym for "the"? I use that word too much (LOL).

Bernita said...

Think "the" is like "said," Sonya.
The reader accepts it without disruption.
And you're right on, some words are basic grammatical constructs and don't need to be trated up.

Flood said...

To paraphrase a famous author, whose name escapes me, I try for ages to find le bon mot, only to kill it.

Blogger is a tempermental thing.

Bernita said...

"Le mot juste," is sometimes "l'injuste."

James Goodman said...

Ah, yes the thesaurus is my friend. Especially during the polishing process, I seem to find a plethera of overused words, but the trusty thesaurus is a great way to overcome that, but still maintain the meaning.

Great topic, Bernita.

MissWrite said...

Great point. Additionally make sure your references do not make your reader gag with laughter--ie: she had long, slender legs with long blonde hair. (real example) Gives new meaning to 'bush'.

Bernita said...

Thank you, James.
One is bungee corded to my left wrist.

Or makes one want to hand the girl a razor, Tami.
Reminds me of a Mike Hammer line when he encountered a dame in a shorty nightie..."She was a blonde with a brunette base."

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I try not to use things that characters have to explain but when you write with scientific stuff in mind sometimes that's necesary.

Wroking it into a conversation is also an art, to keep it from sounding forced.

I guess that's why as writers we are always learning!

December Quinn said...

She waited, poised on the edge of the blade, until he finally slid his protuberance into her orifice with a groan...

The thesaurus in invaluable for sex scenes, but it can go way too far. :-)

Bernita said...

Know what you mean, Bonnie, having trashed pages and pages.
I often use Kathy Reichs' forensic anthropologist series as a model because she handles the scientific explanation AND French phrasing very well.
Of course, that sort of thing is easier from a first person POV, but I still find her techniques helpful.

Jen said...

Ouch! This one was too close to home. I noticed, once, that I had repeated the exact same phrase for the same description in three different wip. LOL.
I'm notorious for repeated words and action. Especially in sex scenes. I'm working on it, but I don't even know I'm doing it.
Thank God for other authors who catch it.

Candice Gilmer said...

I believe in Steven King's "On Writing" he says something about finding the perfect word.

To paraphrase, his idea is simple. Use the easiest word to fill in a blank. If "take a sh&*" is more fitting than "to push with his bowels," then by all means, use the former.

It's a concept I use a lot myself in my writing. (not that I focus on bowel movements, though... ;)

Bernita said...

Surely it should have been "his sword of love," - the knife blade and all that.

Don't know if it's such a sin in different WIPs, Jen. It's within the same one that will make a reader wonder.
And if a repeated action is used to indicate a character's habitual action and reflect a state of mind, one can also get away with it.
In fact, I maintain it's part of character building.
I have a character who scrubs a hand over his face when perplexed.

Looking back over the posts, I wonder how many more typos I'll make today.
That should have been "scrabble," and "tarted up," just for two.

So right, Candice. The KISS principle is a good guide.

Robyn said...

I find I have pet phrases I use over and over, and have to spend many minutes weeding them out. A fave author of mine uses "atavistic thrill" so often I can practically predict where she'll use it. :{

Bernita said...

Guess it can become a sin.

It's such a great phrase, Robyn, but if you can predict the appearance,I guess the words are a little over-used.

ali said...

I think that's good advice, from Candice - after all, when you're reading, you don't want to have to stop and go look something up. I hate not knowing what a word means, so I always end up going looking for my dictionary, and while doing that possibly finding something else to read...

A theasaurus can be useful, but it's possible to go way over board.

Bernita said...

There are times though, Ali, when an unfamiliar word may be integral to the story.
However, if the word "coustel",for example, is used in 12th. century setting, during a conversation about daggers, it shouldn't be necessary for the reader to dive for a dictionary.

December Quinn said...

Oh, Bernita, I can write the purple stuff till the cows come home. I'm refraining.

I actually like when a favorite writer uses a particular phrase over and over, but then, I hate change so that kind of thing makes me feel cozy and safe. :-)

Southern Writer said...

Hey Bernita, I love your opening paragraph! How adorable.

I've used thesaurus dot com so often that it will no longer work from my favorites list, even if I save it there again, and even after I cleaned my cache. I have to type it out by hand (horrors!) in the url field. But it's the best. If someone knows of a better one, I'm listening.

EA Monroe said...

Hi Bernita,
I hope your blood work tests come out okay! And they didn't have to jab you too many times with that darn needle!

I was cranky yesterday. I need to have my blood tested, too! Last time, it took 5 different people to get blood out of both my arms.

Bernita said...

From what I've seen of your writing, December, you can manage any style really well.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Southern. Happy you liked it. Still makes me laugh when I remember that scene.

I prefer print versions - have three I use regularly - Merriam-Webster, Oxford, and Random House.

Thank you, EA.
A real pain, isn't it?
They prefer to claim piddly little veins as some sort of genetic defect rather than their blood-sucking skill.
Fortunately, this time the Vampire was adept.

M.E Ellis said...

Oh, I just read a book that had a saying in it which was really cool.

Until it was repeated too many times. It made me cringe.


December Quinn said...

Aaaaw, thanks Bernita! I'm feeling a liitle doubtful after the smackdown I got on EE...so that really, really made my day!!

And I can't get blogger to upload my cover today. :-(

Bernita said...

Hate it when good lines go bad, Michelle.

And I was looking forward to seeing it, December.
Know the feeling. Took me a while to recover from Crabby Cows, only partly alleviated by their liking the flash piece.

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