Friday, July 11, 2014

Words Perfect ie: the perfect words by Karla Stover


I’ve been thinking about words, lately. Many’s the time someone in my writers' critique group has said, “I don’t think the character would say that.”

For years the only thing I collected was words. I told people it was because I didn’t have to dust them. Of course, poverty played a part.Without using a thesaurus, my husband and I came up with nearly a dozen different names for freeways, and then we turned to other words and forgot freeways, autobahns, interstates, etc. No matter; it was the hunt that that was fun.

I listen to NPR every time I’m in the car as a way to study words and dialogue for my writing and am surprised how many educated people still use “like” and “you know.” (When I was in Toastmasters, we counted “ums” as a way to make the speaker aware of them). David Sedaris was talking last week and he peppered his conversation with “you know.” Very off-putting, I must say. I don’t buy his books and don’t know if I will, now, not that his sales will reflect my lack of purchases. When I got home, I tried researching these two conversation fillers but the best I came up with was the movies, Valleygirl and Clueless are the probable culprits. However, I wonder if they should be used in writing contemporary dialogue.

I write articles for a monthly magazine and was asked to do a profile on a local antiques store. They call themselves an antique store—no S. My editor said I was nit picking but honestly, the store isn’t that old.

I love words that create atmosphere: Whose woods these are, I think I know, his house is in the village, though, he will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow. Though and snow and know, such long drawn out words and so effective in creating a somnolent scene. Or, Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary . . . Don’t you just love dreary and weary? My writing isn’t particular dependent on mood-creating words; what I need is snappy dialogue. That’s a tricky one. As T.S. Eliot said, “Last year’s words belong to last year’s language,” and as a writer, I don’t want my books dated by the expressions my characters use.

On the rare occasion I’m not listening to NPR, I listen to music and try correcting the grammar. I don’t get no satisfaction . . .” “If I was a rich man . . .” And yet, in their contexts, the words work. “Any satisfaction” sounds weird. Also, Mick Jagger can pull it off; I don’t think Michael Buble ′ could. Now, when I’m writing, I work hard to make my dialogue—grammar faux pas and all—fit the character.

And one last thought: I have been reading Acton Bell—Anne Bronte, that is—and nowhere does she use the expression: Ever so. I am guilty of using it in my own historical fiction and will not again. Or, to quote Poe again, I will use it Never more.
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