WORDS DO MATTER
Words, words, words. As I attempt to sharpen my ability to write stories, something that I’ve known for years becomes exceedingly important to me—namely, the words I use are critically important. Words are wonderful things. They allow us to express ourselves to others in ways that also help us convey what’s actually going on for us, or not. That is, we can use words to reveal our innermost values, which serve to enhance or destroy relationships with others, or we can use words to hide our true selves.
This happened to me while writing my recently released book, Flying Solo. In early drafts of the story, I pitched the main character, Chris, as an eighteen-year-old. It was fun. I was in some ways reliving my own youth. And then I started receiving comments from early readers of the story that ‘a teenager wouldn’t talk that way.’ Not just one reader, but several reported back that the way I was having young Chris speak, just wouldn’t happen in real situations. Words. They DO make a difference.
On the advice of my writer’s group, I went to a Starbuck’s close to the main university campus in my area to ‘learn how youth speak these days.’ I sat at a small table for three hours, listening to conversations going on around me. I made notes on what I was hearing . . . well, actually, I mainly doodled. But there was one word I heard over and over. Ah ha, I had my response for those who want me to change my words in order to speak in the voice of today’s youth.
I hurried home and sat down to rewrite large sections of my story in order to make it sound more like how youth speak today. The word was like. That was going to be the magical insertion that would make my young Chris palatable to today’s young readers. I inserted like this and like that. “. . . like, can you help me? No, I like have too much to do.”
At the next writer’s group meeting, I took copies of my newly polished expressions of how youth speak—and they hated it! I did too. Words do make a difference!
I finally got the message—I needed to recast Chris as an older young adult in order to make my use of words fit the character’s age position in life. Sure, I could have rewritten the language used to reflect a younger Chris, but using that language somehow wasn’t in me. Having been a serious thinking person in my own youth, adopting language suitable for a current-day young person, didn’t seem to come to me.
Welcome to a newer genre of New Adult, an attempt by a known publisher to bridge the gap between Young Adult and full-on adult genres. I’ve found my author niche.
But back to words. I read fiction a lot. There’s a way of writing that attempts to reflect reality of the here and now . . . and I personally do not like it. Some authors of novels feel compelled to use words that reflect the viler kinds of language—the infamous four-letter variety. When an author feels they’re writing a gripping story by including “f_ _ _” this or that, they’ve lost me. I have a whole stack of those books, ready to be taken back to the library.
A favorite author for me to read is John Grisham. I have yet to find use of a four-letter word in his books. Lots of expressions about displeasure with those who abuse others and our environment, but no recording of four-letter words. If John Grisham can make it work, I can too. No, I’m not comparing myself to one of the great authors of our time. But I can compare my writing to his in this one way . . . no use of four-letter words.