As a mere child, I’d cut letters from words to make more words. For example, from the title of this blog, Words Matter: matt, rat, as, word, sword, words, matter, toward, wad, or, more, war, roar, stat, at, dot, draw, date, mate, rate, ate, watt, smart.
Then, I’d form silly sentences:
Draw Matt as a rat
Or a dot like dat.
I confess, libraries were far and few, and both television channels broadcasted in black and white. But we had running water.
Then I’d say something like, “Ouch! That smatted.” Can you believe nobody understood me? Although, thinking back, the family dog made an occasional effort.
When I discovered that one guy—what’s his name?—J.R.R. something created a language for elves, oh my gosh, I immediately set forth cutting letters from Sears and Roebuck catalogs again!
Writers must love words and choose them wisely and consistently for their characters. (I’m doing the best with the mind I have.)
Elton John wrote and sang: "And I would have walked head-on into the deep end of the river." What a great line.
Cowboy poet and veterinarian Baxter Black—in his own spelling—penned:
"…It’s a comf’terbul feelin’ when you don’t have to care
‘Bout choosin’ your words or bein’ quite fair
‘Cause friends’ll just listen and let go on by
Those words you don’t mean and not bat an eye…"
Baxter’s one of the funniest ol’ coots there’s ever been!
William Shakespeare, in his play The Tempest, left this immortal advice: "What's past is prologue." One cannot avoid liking William.
In Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George, we not only see what Zed looked like, but feel how stressed he was:
"…Zed looked up thoughtfully. He glanced at the window. It was pitch-dark outside, so all he saw was his own reflection: a redheaded giant with worry lines becoming incised on his forehead because his mother was attempting to marry him off to the first willing woman she was able to find and his boss was ready to deposit his well-written prose into the rubbish and he himself just wanted to write something marginally worthwhile…"
What about words from a character who packs chewing tobacco between his lower lip and gum? “To” may sound like, oh, anything from “yu” to “ooo” to “tvo” (isn’t that how you pronounce the number two in Swedish?). Seriously, put your tongue against the inside of your lower lip, push out, and converse away.
In Donald Maass’s book Writing the Breakout Novel, one of his “assignments” is to create a chart. For example, write a common item, and then write how five characters refer to it. (Charles the plumber says “toilet.” Dani the sailor says “the head.” A homeless man from England says “loo.” A teenager from Georgia says “goin’ naw.” A mom from Texas says “ladies’ room.”)
Do your protagonist, their nemesis, and all secondary characters sound alike?
Please, say it isn’t so.
I hope not.
Dang, what are you tellin’ me?
Plug my ears and cover my imagination.
Next month: Ideas—where’d they go?
A special thank-you to the organizers, crew, and guests of Western Reboot: Authors of the Modern West. Excellent program!