A Love of Language--from my archives

Katherine Longshore 1 Tuesday, August 13, 2013
I dug up this post while cleaning up the files in my computer.  I'm pretty sure I never posted it here on the YA Muses blog.  If it was a guest blog post, I didn't keep a record of it.  But I liked it, and decided it was worth passing on as one of my favorite posts--because it talks about some of my favorite things.  Words.

Language.  The dictionary defines the word this way:

1. the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way
2. the system of communication used by a particular community or country.
3. the manner or style of a piece of writing or speech.
• (also as bad/strong language) coarse, crude, or offensive language.

As writers, we apply all of these definitions.  We communicate through our writing.  We write in the system of communication used by a particular community – in my case, I use English.

And then there is definition three.  Which can, I think, be synonymous with “voice” – that elusive part of the manuscript that is so necessary and yet so indefinable.  Voice can’t be taught.  It has to come from within.

Rhythm.  Sentence structure.  Word choice.  All of these go into a writer’s voice.  And you can see it.  Sense it.  In books, blogs, even e-mails.  A writer can never quite escape from his innate voice.  Even a writer who writes first person point of view, taking on a different character for each project.  The writer’s voice still shines through.

But language as a part of a writer’s voice has a more specific definition as well, I think.  It goes back to word choice.  The structure of the voice itself depends on the words – the sorts of words – and the way they’re grouped together.

Look at the difference between the first lines of Laurie Halse Anderson’s FEVER:  I woke to the sound of a mosquito whining in my left ear and my mother screeching in the right.

And M.T. Anderson’s THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING:  I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple trees.

Both authors are writing about the same time period (the latter part of the 18th century).  Both authors are award winners.  Brilliant minds.  But look at the choice of words, and how they are put together.  They give us the narrator's voice, they set the tone of the novel, they evoke entirely different images.

I’ve been asked to look at my word choice, and the way I use them, throughout the course of my writing life.  I’ve been in an in-person critique group for several years.  Invariably, when I share my work, at least one person asks, “Will your readers understand what you’re trying to say here?”  They question words like ignominy and de rigeur. And I am thankful for that.  Because of my critique group, I have abandoned words like choleric and branks as too archaic.  And I have found replacements for words like screwed and hypothetical as too modern for my 16th century setting.

But I have kept ignominy and many others despite the questioning.  Because I feel compelled to choose the most fitting word I can when describing something particularly important.  It isn’t just dark, it’s crepuscular.  Why?  Because the sound of the word itself fits the setting, fits the feeling I’m trying to evoke.  The word crepuscular is sibilant.  It hisses and spits.  Much more ominous than simply dark.

My choice of words is part of my voice.  I’ve even had Muses comment on my everyday correspondence:  “Only you, Katy, could find a way to fit the word detritus into a three-sentence e-mail.”

Dropping those kinds of words isn’t a form of vanity.  My words come from a deep-seated love of the English language.  The sounds it produces.  The images it evokes.  The beauty of a perfect combination of seemingly opposing ideas.  And sometimes, the only word that fits is the one that sounds the snobbiest.

Because in my house?  Our special kind of messiness isn’t because we have stuff everywhere.  We have detritus.  It has flowed to its position as if eroded – books, papers and LEGO wash to the corners of the rooms and pile up.  The vision is more evocative, yes?  It’s a shame the perfect word doesn’t make it any easier to clean up.


Once again, you have sent me to the dictionary only to find that your word choice, is, as always, paradisiacal.

I know, not quite the right word...

Post a Comment

Grid_spot theme adapted by Lia Keyes. Powered by Blogger.


discover what the Muses get up to when they're not Musing

an ever-growing resource for writers

Popular Musings

Your Responses

Fellow Musers