Drawing from the inspiration of my old high school’s last musical (Seussical), and the most two recent posts of Jodie Llewellyn, I’ve decided today’s post is going to be about words. Through my time as a teenage author, where people don’t take you seriously and they always think you don’t know anything, I’ve had many people tell me what words to and not to use. It started with the first draft of Elephant, where I was told to cut out all cussing. Not just limit it, but cut it out completely. While I agree with them that it should be limited in some way (as a 16 year old I just went crazy), but a word is a word. It only has meaning once you give it meaning, and purpose once you give it one. Our society views certain words as bad, and yet if you let them, they can have amazing emotional effects on the reader.
It’s the same with any word, really. When talking about words to cut out, I’ve had people tell me to ALWAYS cut out certain words. Adverbs. Adjectives. Little words they consider filler. And yet, those words are what make my writing mine. Is it really bad that I use them? Or have the critiquers been so brainwashed by the box they don’t know anything else? Words like “just,” or “really” aren’t always bad. In fact, sometimes they’re good. It all depends on how you use it.
Likewise with the words I’m told to put in. Stronger verbs, more showing, but not too much showing or it gets overwhelming, but you’re not allowed to “tell” me anything. It’s so confusing I threw my hands up in the air a few months ago and shouted, “I QUIT.” Of course, I didn’t really quit, but I wanted to. People have it in their heads that there’s only one way to do something. But the words I’m told to put in? I don’t use half of them. I don’t want to. They don’t sound like me. Of course, the other part is you have to know how to use them, just like any other word. Use the correctly, and yes, your writing will benefit. Use it incorrectly, and it reads clunky and unintelligible. Just like any other word.
Semantics are everything. How we view words, how we use them, and how we form sentences. That’s the challenge of being a writer. There is no exact formula like in math. There’s no guarantee that just because you follow someone’s advice your writing will improve. I watched a woman, who was given the advice to never use dialogue tags, destroy her work even more than before because she refused to believe that “she said,” or “he said,” can be used well. Writing is an art. Somethings will work, and some won’t. But if you never try, how will you know?
A word is a word, no matter how small, no matter how large, how fancy, or ugly. Some will make your stomach turn, others will make you yawn. What matters is not the word by itself, but the word among other words. “Eminent” is nothing but consonants and vowels with a specific definition until you put it in a sentence. A situation. Only then can it stir emotion. It’s just a word until you give it meaning, like every other word in the world.
As Aldous Huxley said in Brave New Wolrld, “Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
(P.S. Jodie’s an awesome blogger. If you’re not following her you should go check her out)