Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: The Right Word

I'm very proud to have another one of my Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker pieces up on the excellent Erotica Readers And Writers site - and bit thanks to the folks at Erotica For All where the article first appeareed.

The Right Word

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
– Mark Twain

No insult to Mr. Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens to his pals), but he’s a bit wrong there … but, more importantly, a lot right.

Wrong in when writing, slaving over just the right word can, too often, grind the process to a halt. When I hit that speed bump I usually just put the word I know isn’t the perfect, ideal, and – yep – right I just highlight it so I know, when I look over whatever I’m writing I can come back and fix it later. The key to keeping up your flow is not just writing well but to keep writing. Period. It’s far too easy to let niggling details get in the way of where you’re doing, and what you’re saying: it’s far better to just keep at it and then come back and do some tweaking after.

But Sam (Mark Twain to everyone else) is damned right about the damned right word. It’s been a very strange trip, going from writer to editor and, now, to publisher: I see a lot of things I wish that writers would get into their heads – and, similarly, try to get into my own thick noggin. The number one has to be to show and not tell: in more words, rather than less, it’s far better to be evocative and imagination-feeding than completely, unarguably, accurate.

Let’s try something: the brown chair. Not much there right? We know it’s a chair, we know it’s brown. End of story. But what if I wrote, “the chair was the color of a well-worn dirt road”? Immediately you not just see the chair but might even feel a bit about it: the road, and it’s color, overlaid with an image what a chair like that might look like, feel like, smell like, etc.

It’s far better to conjure the chair, with magical language and imagery, than carry it onto the stage. You can so much with so little if you take the time to think of words, and language, that is evocative and alluring that unarguably precise. The same, naturally, goes with sex: rather than saying that, say, someone’s breasts were perfect, or conical, or whatever shape you’re thinking of, try, instead to say they were “happily rich and full, tipped by the inquisitive arousal of umber nipples.” Okay, that might be a bit too much but I think you get my point: the first was dull, boring – the second says so much more happily at that.


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