Friday, August 04, 2006

Three, Four...Shut the Door...

Three: WORDS.

Words are our business, our building blocks, our fascination, our magic.
It's not unusual, I don't think, for a writer to have about 17 dictionaries of various kinds within arm's reach to supplement the vocabulary, the word-hord, stored on the hard drive of his/her brain.

Like the fritillary it is, my mind fluttered and flitted over various flowers in yesterday's discussion and settled briefly on vocabulary as a means to evoke "atmosphere."
Later I saw where one of my favourite bloggers was snotted at for using the word "sinuous" in a piece of narrative prose.
Well, WTF?
I fluffed up like an attack cat.
With all due respect to the sensible precept that language must be accessible to the average reader, come on.
The word is not obscure, complex or complicated, and certainly within the recognition capacity of the average reader of that genre. Further , the context amply supplied the import. A cheap shot.
It occurs to me though, that writers are constant translators of language.
We dumb down, we extend and elevate and extrude, we apply dialect, foreign phrases, technical vocabulary, and regionalisms appropriate for our characters and our prose.
We constantly strive not to create the Tower of Babel.
Have you ever been nailed, fairly or unfairly, for your choice of words?


We usually like tidy endings, no dangling plot threads, no unresolved questions. Finish. Finito. Termine.
Series, however, must leave the door ajar, or at least unlocked.
So, endings are more difficult, if one intends various adventures to continue within the overall arc. One must invite the reader's curiousity for more without leaving them frustrated and terminally irritated.
One of the several ways this may be accomplished is time line - that certain resolutions are not reasonable possible within the posited time frame.
Geared as we are to the rotation of the earth around the sun, readers can accept that logic.
I hope.
Does this work, or is it weak and blah? Make you go eewwwh?

He put her passport in her hand and picked up her small case and handed it to her. He turned her over to the boarding escort and watched her walk away, very slim, very straight.
She turned at the boarding tunnel and sent a searching glance backward, half-raised a hand in a tiny gesture of resignation.
Then she was gone.
He watched, shoulders hunched, fists rammed into his pockets, as the passenger jet rolled away, arrowed up, climbing smoothly against the sky like a bolt from a giant ballista.
He watched until the blinking lights were lost in the timeless dimension of space and night.
He could still feel her, smell her, taste her.
I will find you again, my lady, he promised. Somewhere, sometime, I will see you again.


Erik Ivan James said...

Yup! It works.

kmfrontain said...

The excerpt is suitably bleak for a parting (perfect atmosphere!)

Someone pooped on using sinuous? 0_o

Scott said...

Nothing about that passage makes me say eewwh. It's not much of a dangler, just a promise of some future action. I tend to like an action that happens at the end that is the start of another major catastrophe, but nothing that mires or takes away from the victory won in this story.

As to the vocabulary discussion, there is nothing wrong with dropping a larger word once in a while. Especially if it is used in a context that allows for easy extrapolation. Why can't we learn a little, as long as it isn't crammed down our throats?

Sela Carsen said...

But...but...I like the word sinuous. It's a great word! My opinion is completely unbiased even though I use it in my own writing. ;) It's a strong and sexy word, like lots of "s" words.

Your ending is just a touch...bleak? I'm not left with an uplifting hope that they'll be together, but a rather heart-breaking promise. It makes me feel that if they ever DO meet again, it won't be on the best of terms. I don't get that sense of anticipation.

I'm sorry! You know I love your writing. And remember I'm the kind of person who almost requires a HEA. Not everyone does, so keep your target audience at the forefront, rather than the dissenting voice.

Bernita said...

Dear guy...

Good, Karen, but one wonders if it invites further interest.

Yes. Grrr.

Thank you, Scott, I get what you mean.
If this was pure thriller, I think it definitely should follow that cliff-hanger approach.
As it is, I'm just not sure.
The action that suggests a continuing threat occurs a couple of scenes before.

That's much the way I feel about the use of a truly arcane word...a sort of a "pleased ta meetcha."

kmfrontain said...

Sure it promises more. Says so right at the end. :D A bluntly written promise is good enough for me.

Bernita said...

Yes, it's a great word.

Hmm, a good point, Sela.
A very good point.
Though the writer knows what will happen, that must must be conveyed to the reader.
Let's say I HOPE there are enough clues in this last chapter to clearly imply that, rocky though it might be, the two of them will get together.
He is a determined SOB, after all.

Jaye Wells said...

That's the ending I'd hoped Casablanca would have!

As for vocabulary, there's a major difference between having a decent vocabulary and using it and purposefully using six-syllable words so people think you're smart.

I knew someone once who would try to make me feel snotty by questioning my word choices.

"I don't know what glossary means," she'd say.

I bought her a dictionary for Christmas.

Ric said...


Personally I love it when an author's word choice sends me to the dictionary. We are wordsmiths, so we should all be delighted when someone uses a word we are still unfamiliar with, after years of college and reading.

It is amazing how often YOU manage to do that to me, Bernita. And I love you for it.

Endings simply need to be appropriate. Your example gives the promise of something more - something not quite finished but maybe another day...

At the end of the book or movie or whatever medium you use, the best feeling you can give the reader is for them to close the back cover and think, "I wish there were more."

Bernita said...

I like that, Jaye.

You've described the difference exactly.

These reverse snobs. I like that, too.
Oh yes.

Wondered if anyone would comment on that, Ric. Prize to you!
That's my philosophy about endings, too.
A lot does depend, irregardless of the finale, on how strongly the character(s) alone has/have engaged our interest.
There have been some when I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book because I have been so involved with the people in it.

Carla said...

Jaye - Ha! I know some people like that. It's almost like a reverse snobbery.

Hard to comment on an ending without knowing what's gone before, i.e. what story is it the ending of? Assuming it's Trio of Dragons, if I remember correctly there are at least two plots in that, aren't there - the terrorism plot (of which the time-travel plot is a part and a parallel) and the Damie/John romance? In which case, resolving the terrorist plot gives a tidy ending to that book, and not resolving the romance plot gives a carry-over to the next book in the series, no? The snippet gives me the impression that they are temporarily parted but that it's not over between them, i.e. there is more of their story to be told. Is that the idea?

Bernita said...

Always difficult with a snippit, I know.
That's it exactly, Carla -
~thinking "what a memory"~ with the added fact that the terrorism theme is hydra-headed and not entirely resolved - though the specific incident has apparently been concluded.

Carla said...

Ah, shows what an interesting book yours is, doesn't it, if I can remember the bits and pieces that have appeared on this blog? Consider it a compliment :-)
I also do something similar myself. In Ingeld's Daughter I managed to resolve both the political/adventure and the romance plots, but it took me a long book to do it. The current project is turning into a series, with a political/adventure plot resolved in each book and a longer-term relationship sub-plot that continues.
One of the things that sets Lindsey Davis' Falco series above many other mystery series is the way that she resolves the whodunit in each book, but Falco's relationship with Helena carries on developing through the whole series. And the mysteries sometimes arise out of hydra-heads left over from the previous book - so if you're doing something similar, you're in good company.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Now, see! That was a good way to leave the door open. I think that was other words no one would get mad, because it didn't leave us head-banging because we were in the middle of an episode. the context was that they would have a new episode when once again he found her *sigh*...un requited love!

Anyhow...on the vocabulary thing....tell 'em to suck soxes! or tell the person who was pinned to...vocabulary can sometimes be all in perception, especially if you compare a literary person to a commercial fiction person :-)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Carla.
You created lots of suspense in Ingeld's Daughter - found myself racing ahead to find out what happened.
Let's say instead, that I'm trying to do something similar!
Elizabeth Peters is another mystery writer who uses that method too.

Thank you, long as it's not so benign that it falls flat on its face.
But there are cures for that.

Brought out all my maternal instincts, it did.

Jen said...

I LOOOOOVVEee Elizabeth Peters.
My best friend gets annoyed with my choice of words at times. Fodder, conundrum, and many others. However, I was reading a book (whose audience was not the educated elite, but EveryMan) that used the word "vicissitudes". (I think I spelled it right.) I was driven to the dictionary. LOL.
Romance writing has often driven me to dictionaries. Example? Faux Pas. Had NO idea what that was.

Bernita said...

There's always new words, Jen.
I think of them as a neat little present someone's given me.

Faux pas? I make 'em all the time.

December Quinn said...

Wheee! Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels is one of my all-time favorites!!

I didn't recognize one or two words, Bernita, so stop showing off. It's crap. (I'm totally joking, of course. It's wonderful, as always. Full of longing.)

Bernita said...

I am so glad I found you, December.
I delight in her Amelia Peabody series.
Longing is good.

M.E Ellis said...

As my mind is horror based, the ending word made me think deliciously of stalkers and murderers...Soon...mwhahahaha! Loved it.

What the frick is wrong with the word sinuous?



Bernita said...

Never thought of it like that. It would work, wouldn't it?

I have to take it then that it does produce a certain - anticipation.

I know.Weird.

Dennie McDonald said...

I guess I missed whatever you thought was "ewww"... sounded good to me

I just write. I use the words that seem/feel right. If it doesn't work hopefully my crit partner or editor will point it out - soemtimes though I will fight for a word I want to stay in (or out as the case my be)

S. W. Vaughn said...

Oooh -- well, I got shivers reading it, so I'd have to cast my vote for yep, it works.

And actually, I have been skewered only recently by the Minions on Evil Editor's blog, largely concerning my word choice for a 150-word opening. :-) An interesting experience, that!

Dakota Knight said...

Bernita, hey!!! Great post as usual.

Will "soon" be tomorrow? I'm looking forward to the sequel...:-)

December Quinn said...

Mwah, Bernita.

MissWrite said...

It's wonderful, Bernita. It does have a touch of melancholy to it, yet you are left with the feeling of hope, and genuine desire.

Oh, and HAHA, I beat you this morning. Usually you have your new work posted before I get on-line. I'm glad though since I went missing yesterday due to a heavy work load, I got to respond here before the new blog was up.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Dennie.
That objection was simply smart-ass and without merit.

Than you, Sonia.
Saw that. Didn't comment because I'd seen a longer excerpt on your blog and read "natty" to be omniscient sarcasm or close third self-sarcasm.
Thing is, in 150 words, readers ( particularly critiquing readers) tend to be very "literal." Little time to realize a writer's subtle word choice.

Kind, as always, December. Thank you.

Work load? Good! Was worried your back was giving you serious trouble.
Really pleases me you find it adequate, Tami. Thank you.

anna said...

Later I saw where one of my favourite bloggers was snotted at for using the word "sinuous" in a piece of narrative prose.
Well, WTF?

WTF!! I am howling here. I can understand your huffiness however
it is a tricky business finding the exact right word. the really exactly right word.

still laughing!!!