Words That Get Stuck

I’m reading some trash fiction right now and I’ve noticed… a lot of things. But it’s nice as an author to see it in action and think outside the box when correcting them on the fly. These problems are words that get stuck.

If you’re new to this blog, I’m reading Fifty Shades of Grey for various reasons. One of them is humor. The other is professionally. And outside of the content, outside of author-y judgment, there are two major things that E.L. James does with words that are wrong.

She lets words get stuck.

I’ll explain and leave the other for another post.

The word “murmur”. I murmur something to you. I don’t like this word since it sounds like an aside rather than an actual conversation. Someone whispers or pants in your ear a sexy saying. Someone murmurs to you that your friend is drunkenly hitting on every man at the bar. Bad word choice for the bedroom. But then it’s repeated. And repeated. Over and over. I wouldn’t be surprised if it hits 80 odd mentions in just a chapter or two it’s used that often. That isn’t me being hyperbolic, it’s the primary form of conversation in the bedroom and is repeated over and over. It stops being funny after a while.

What is EL James to do in my world?

I’m not a fan of using a thesaurus just because you can. But words get stuck and a new one is desperately needed to break up the monotony (god, that word sounds monotonous just saying it). New words can breathe life into old work with just a few changes. Other words in the book get stuck too that a thesaurus could fix. Still (as a verb…), medulla oblongata (three times is too many, maybe even once – but it’s sooo sexy), and ice in wine (wrong, just wrong).

Still, I get stuck too. I hate myself too when that happens. “Slip” was one that plagued my writing. I couldn’t get around slip when referring to clothing. Slip on, slip off, slip into, slip out of, and on and on. All perfectly legitimate, but it piled up and I was filled with self loathing.

I started a thesaurus attack. I found drop, move, slide, slither. Okay. Grabbed some slips and slipped in a slide. Then a move, and soon a shuffle appeared. I attempted to find the right ratio of synonyms for the action to seem fresh and new and exciting. It’s a common approach, and it was one that I was taught in Comp courses. “Use the thesaurus” was drilled in me. So I did.

Wrong.

Slip was just the surface problem.

The first problem: the reason why ratio approaches don’t usually achieve anything, is that the underlying action is boring. How many times do we have to hear something about a dress, an article of clothing, or anything like that. The dress is not what is important, it’s what builds up to that dress hitting the floor and what happens next. Save the words for those important points. Otherwise, do what a movie does, just cut the action out and go to the conclusion where you address an actual psychological point about putting on the clothes.

The second reason is that I was leaning on the word to do more than it should. If I wanted something to be sexy, I should have had more action around just getting dressed, more psychological drama about how it felt to be in that dress and the little actions that go into putting on a dress (like checking your ass out in the mirror immediately after the dress goes on). I was being lazy. And sometimes I am a very lazy writer. Sometimes I just put action on the page to have action and forget about why we read action – the psychology of why we act and what that action does for the greater story.

It’s natural though. Everyone does it. Writers are not perfect and some of the people I know who write are indeed lazy (myself included).

But Editors are supposed to be perfect to off set the laziness. They’re supposed to be gods. And as gods they should catch these things before they go to print. And if they fail, they should be subject to harsh penalties, like losing fingers on their highlighter hand.

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