Sunday, April 3, 2016

finding the right words

As if writer's block weren't enough of a problem for hopeful authors, there's another obstacle we all encounter. It happens when we've already come up with a great idea--a beautiful setting or a compelling action scene. Even a sexual encounter. It comes to us intact in our mind's eye, ready for the page but for some reason we just can't find the words for it. The description sounds flat. The action feels sluggish. The romance lacks passion.

Mark Twain came up with one solution for this problem:

But, there are other ways around the problem, too. Metaphor and simile work well...if you can come up with something fresh and new, not these old rags:

Instead, try something like this:

Telling the reader that something has reawakened her character's feelings of guilt, Ann Patchett puts it this way: "The great lumbering guilt that slept inside of her at every moment of her life had shifted, stretched."

And later, instead of describing her character as giving up, she writes: "The clear resolve she had had in the restaurant seemed to have broken like a fever in the night..."

The senses speak louder than adjectives. Don't tell me the man is angry...let me hear the teacup clatter on the saucer when his fist hits the table. Smell, taste, and feel your way through the story.
  • She smelled her own wooliness." (A woman, dressed for the winter weather she left in Minnesota, arrives in the steamimg Peruvian jungle, from "State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett.)
  • "The accent in Naples is like a friendly cuff on the ear." (from "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert.)
  • "There is a sweetness about him. A bitterness. Something irresistible, like Swiss dark chocolate. Like good red wine." (from one of my drafts...)
In my last post I suggested you describe the color red. Like me, you may have come up with a few similes and metaphors: the color of blood, a ruby, a cherry. The color of the setting sun that promises fair weather. A color that angers a bull. A lost balloon.

Then, I asked you to describe the color red to a blind person. I drew a blank. How did you do?

I still sometimes have trouble coming up with the right words. How about you?


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