Watch Your Mouth
It’s going to do a trick!
Sorry. I’m just chock-full of the bad puns lately. You can smack my wrist if you must.
Well, gentle viewers, we are back to The 25 for the penultimate day! Aren’t you excited?! I sure am. Though I’m going to have to start nosing around for little tidbits to chuck my two cents at day after day. Hm.
Think of your writing as a windshield. Ill-suited words can streak and cloud your reader’s view, and just-right language can be as clarifying as a high-powered carwash. Once you have a solid draft, it’s time to consider:
- Could a different word bring even more energy or resonance to a poignant moment through sound, subtleties of meaning, or syllabic rhythm?
- Could the setting be conveyed more vividly? Is the natural world palpable?
- Is the emotional tone consistently resonant? Are there neutral words or passages that could be more charged?
- Does the language powerfully enact the action?
As you polish and prune, each piece of writing will teach you something new about what is possible. Let yourself be surprised.
Ah, language. Such a fickle critter. Sometimes it’s in our corner, flowing off our tongues and out of our fingertips like some kind of magical chi. Other times, it’s a monkey flinging poo at our heads. And that’s all that drips off of us. Poo.
There are times when what’s important is to simply vomit the words onto the page, like this month, where hundreds of thousands of writers feverishly slave at their notebooks (electronic or otherwise) to just get the damn things out of us. Words.
And then comes December. It’ll roll over on you like a sleeping grizzly, flinging a furry arm over your face in its hibernation, then cough bear breath — which I imagine smells something like stale sushi and digested berries — in your face to remind you that what you just vomited on the page is stinking up its den. And you’ll want to clean it up, because you’re not stupid enough to piss off a hibernating grizzly, no matter how sleepy he looks.
The best way I know when my language is flinging poo instead of sparkling like magic is when my attention wanders away from the page I’m revising. Come December, I’ll be going back over my first draft with a red
pen text color to mark any points in the manuscript where I see something shiny in another direction, or start pouncing light beams on my wall.
Reading aloud can also show you sticky spots. If your tongue falls out on the floor or ends up in a knot tied around your uvula, some re-wording is probably in order.
The questions posed by The 25 are very good starting points. Some others to ask yourself are:
1. Are your action scenes dragging?
2. Does your exposition drop you like a weighted body at the bottom of the sea?
3. Do your characters make themselves distinct? Pick a random (but meaningful) chunk of dialogue and stick another character’s name in the attribution. Have one of your readers read it. If they shrug at you, look over that character’s dialogue. People have verbal tics. Listen to your characters until you find theirs, then pepper their speech with them. Liberally.
4. Does your story flow from beginning to end or does it cough and mutter in fits and starts?
Language is both the poo-flinging culprit and the glorious wand-waving solution to all of those issues. So when you revise, make sure you keep that grizzly happy. Or at least bring him some honey.