Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The power of a word...

Just how powerful is a single word? Well, one word can change the entire meaning of a sentence. One word can severely alter a reader’s perception of your characters. One word can slay an enemy, make you laugh, make you cry.

Today I’m going to talk about how a single word can change the meaning of a sentence. Case in point: the dedication of Awaken Me Darkly (this is for all the smarty pants who are still laughing at – uh, WITH me -- right Liz?). In it, I refer to my editor, agent, aunts and critique partners as ass kickers.

I refer to my parents as ass kissers.

Yes, you read that right. Kissers. I'd like to say it isn't a typo, but then my mom would hunt me down. It’s my own fault, a typo I missed (over and over again, darn it!) and want to kick/kiss my own butt for it. Thankfully my parents find it vastly amusing. But look how it changed the entire meaning of the sentence.

So let’s look at some sentences with minor differences, yet vastly different meanings/images.

Kate’s gaze darkened.
Kate’s gaze lit.

With genuine horror, I apologized to my parents.
With feigned horror, I apologized to my parents.

Tall tress knifed the skyline.
Tall tress danced in the skyline.

Sounds easy enough, right, to pick the words needed? Not always. Sometimes the sentences might say the same thing, but they don’t always portray the same image. She cried. She sobbed. There *is* a subtle difference. Identify weak verbs/adjectives and see if the sentence reads better or portrays a stronger image with a simple change. None of these are wrong; some just work better than others for a particular scene.

Kate walked to the store.
Kate skipped to the store.
Kate strode to the store.

The walls were crimson.
The walls dripped crimson.
The walls gleamed crimson.

“You disgust me.”
“You, like, disgust me.”
“You so disgust me.”
“You f-ing disgust me.”

She coasted her fingers over his muscled stomach.
She coasted her fingers over his hard stomach.
She coasted her fingers over his stomach.

Questions? Thoughts? Comments? Post here!
gena showalter


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amazing what a word can do. Those examples highlight just how important word choice is.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 10:12:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, this is kinda mean, but I also found it vastly ironic...

Tall tress knifed the skyline.
Tall tress danced in the skyline.

Brings to mind Bello in the Ringling Bros. circus I went to on Monday. :)


Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 10:29:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Nephele Tempest said...

Hi, all. Just sticking in my two cents. You know how those books and articles on writing tell you to pair down your adverbs? Well, this is a perfect example of how you can do that. A well-chosen verb can set the mood without any need for modification and give you a tighter, more powerful sentence. After all, why tell your reader that your main character walked quickly (or slowly) when instead they could hurry, race, speed, jog, amble, stroll, weave, or meander?

Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 12:19:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Kristen Painter said...

I'm still chuckling about the parents thing.

Sorry but it is wickedly funny. (And it does make a great story.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 12:21:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Ellen said...

Awesome post, Gena. Every word in a manuscript is important. I also enjoyed Nephele's comments about how strong verbs can help the adverb fiends among us (like yours truly) cut down on the overuse of adverbs. That's a good thing to remember for those of us that are adverb-challenged.

And like Kristen, I'm still giggling over the *ss kissing thing. I know I'm evil to laugh at your misfortune... but I just can't help it:-D.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 1:30:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Devon Ellington said...

So true.

The right word can make a piece.

The wrong word can destroy it.

Now, after plenty of procrastination, maybe I can return to my work and find the RIGHT words to make the two articles due today sparkle!

I think I might have found this post just in time -- for a little headslap from the Muse!


Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 1:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Jaci Burton said...


I love adverbs,....she said, sadly *g*

Perfect way to outline it, Gena.

And I'm still laughing about the typo. It's absolutely priceless and I admire your parents sense of humor. You're so lucky to have them, even if they are ass kissers



Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 1:40:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great article.
No, how 'bout suh-wheeet article.

Now I'm off to put a diaper on Darth Precious...forth fifth time this hour. Where's the duck tape when I need it?

Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 1:49:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love playing with word choices! It's an absolutely FABULOUS way to get rid of cliches and share character details. For instance:

My geneticist hero thinks: They already suspect I'm a few test tubes short of a full rack.

Or my biker heroine: Her heart beat a rock and roll drum solo.

There are SO many FUN ways to turn old trick into new treat ;) And using the character's vocation, personalities, and habits helps narrow down the possibilities from a gazillion to a few thousand :) I find that having a focus/direction helps immensely.

Gena--AWESOME topic--totally love it! *GRIN*

Friday, June 3, 2005 at 10:19:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Gena Showalter said...

Jenny! You are absolutely right. In Heart of the Dragon, my heroine is a flight attendant and when she realizes she's falling in love with the hero, she thinks something along the lines of, "falling like a jumper from a plane, no parachute in sight, just splat.”

Friday, June 3, 2005 at 12:04:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL! I love it when it works out to not only rid yourself of the cliche, but give the reader a grin too! ;) Loved the example Gena!!

Friday, June 3, 2005 at 12:57:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love reading this! I'm known in my RWA chapter as The Word Warden. Only by using words skillfully and accurately can we maintain the English language as an effective means of communication. Patti/Patricia Frances Rowell

Friday, June 3, 2005 at 3:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Judson Knight said...

Gena, thanks for being such a great Web Mistress in Deidre's absence!

One of my favorite examples of the difference a word makes--or rather, of the difference the emphasis on a particular word makes--is the sentence "I didn't say she stole the money." That sentence can have at least seven additional nuances of meaning depending on which of the seven words is emphasized.

Saturday, June 4, 2005 at 9:54:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tee hee- I feel so much better now you've written this. I am forever getting hung up on a word and asking my Romance Diva buddies to brainstorm with me because I want exactly the right nuance.
Seems justified now.

Friday, June 10, 2005 at 10:25:00 AM EDT  

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