Monday, February 25, 2013
The Power of Language
In our society, one word can have many meanings. It could be in the way they're spelled (there, their, they're) or in the way they're said. "Fuck off," she said giving him a soft slap on the shoulder. Or, "Fuck off!" She slammed the door behind her.
In real life, we use words and language to convey messages. Usually by the expression on our faces, or the tone of our voice, people gather the meaning behind those words. But in writing it's different. We have to find the right words to convey the right image to our readers. And it's the power of those words which make the reader feel. Whether they root for our characters, or despise them.
In a class I'm taking right now the instructor is very adamant about the power of language and creating complexity in your characters by using the correct word choices. To have your character "look" at something as opposed to "glare" at something, gives a different message, a different image.
Then there's choosing the right words for a character. Think about someone who was raised on a farm and the way he may view the world. Then imagine someone raised in a wealthy family, in an uptight neighbourhood. How they view the world will be drastically opposite to how a down on his luck farmer would view the world. Word choice conveys everything about your characters.
Do they swear a lot? Are they secretive? Do they blab their entire life stories to whoever will listen? Is their view of the world skewed? Maybe they blame the world for all their problems. Or maybe they're the leftovers of the flower child era.
Word choice makes a difference.
Creates a mood. Sets the tone for the story.
Think also in terms of real life. If you're depressed, or a chronically negative person, how does that constant negativity affect the world around you? The people in your close circles?
I guess the point is to think of your characters on the page as living, breathing people. (For most of us, they really are.) But we have an advantage. Those characters will tell us almost anything if we press long enough, dig deep enough.
Here's a few sentences I recently had to write for my class. The idea, to take an abstraction such as love, hate, guilt, despair, depression and write it in a way that is authentic to the character but also conveys that feeling without actually saying, "she was depressed".
From under the blanket she watched Hank move around the bedroom. A scratchy abrasiveness, like sand paper, wore at her insides. The more she watched his angular movements, the friction intensified, until there was nothing but a burning, worse than acid reflux.
Language does not mean using what many writers refer to as "purple prose". It's not about flowery, poetic language.
It's about words suitable to your characters to strengthen who they are to the reader.
And being creative.