Word Choices – Round Robin Dicussion

This month’s Round Robin topic poses the question about word choice and how the words we choose manage to develop characters within our stories.

Or, as I like to call it, taking ownership of your craft.

Writers are in the word business. This is how we convey our art to the world, so our word choices are supremely important. Granted, most of the time the real art shows up during the editing process.

At least it does for me.

The first draft I just sort of keep going but the second draft is when I hone in on what words create the affect I want. I’m not sure how other authors do it, but for me it works best when I take a chapter or a scene a day during the editing process and I sort of … edit just that chapter/scene that whole day.

Which means I end up editing the same chapter/scene at least 3 times and each time I’m looking at something different.

First Pass – Graphic Detail … meaning the setting my characters are standing in. I do this first because it gives me something more to work with when I go through and focus just on the characters. If I’m grounded in the setting, then my characters can interact with that setting, which, in turn, helps convey who that character is to the readers.

Second Pass – POV character … meaning I dig in deep with my point of view character for that scene. I ask how they’re feeling that day, how they’re being affected by what’s happening in the story, and what about the setting really annoys them. Or, conversely, what they love about the setting.

No, seriously, just stopping to ask; “Hey, what does so-and-so hate about this room?” reveals sooooo much about who they are as a character. I promise. Give it a try.

Third Pass – Major/Minor characters … meaning I concentrate on the other characters on the page in that scene. And I ask the same exact questions for them that I ask about the POV character in the scene.

This is from Persona … my WWII novel that was going to be published this year but someone convinced me not to give up on the traditional market just yet, so it’s currently being considered by … ahem, places.

She turned and headed for the bathroom across the hall. Maybe she’d left the bathroom cupboard open again and Grendel was perched on the towels. She sighed in annoyance, pushing her way through the half closed door. She’d have to wash those towels again before she could use them. Grendel shed like the beast he was and she had no desire to be covered in orange cat fur.

She flicked on the light.

“Grendel, you little vagrant. You know you’re not …”

A blur of blue and white rushed at her from behind the door. Megan tried to scream but something fleshy and firm clamped over her mouth, smothering the sound. A heartbeat later she felt the hard edges of the counter press into her backside and she was forced to lean awkwardly until her head touched the mirror above the sink. She squirmed and tried to break free, too terrified to think. One word screamed through her mind; intruder.

“Sh! Please!” A man’s voice hissed near her ear. “Please! I don’t want to hurt you!”

It took several seconds before she realized he had spoken English.

English with an American accent, she thought.

Megan forced herself to relax but the grip he had on her was hard and uncomfortable. She felt a tremble pass through him, smelled blood and fear in the room, and prayed they could get through this without anyone getting hurt. He pulled back and his face came into view. His nose looked like it might have been broken once and he had strong, masculine features lined with a reddish beard and the dirt of many days in hiding. Olive green eyes stared at her, hiding none of his panic or pain, and she began to realize he was injured.

His body started to shake more forcefully.

“Do you … do you understand?” He asked.

She nodded her head as best she could, rattling the mirror a little. He exhaled unsteadily and began to let go. His hand slipped away from her mouth.

“Thank God,” he said. “Thank God.”

His eyelids drooped suddenly and he collapsed on top of her. Megan yelped, scrambling to grab hold of him before he slid to the floor. He was heavy, so much heavier than she’d been expecting, and she struggled not to fall herself. It took several minutes but she managed to get his limp body squashed into the corner between wall and tub.

She stood up and stared down at him, panting. A smear of blood ran down the right side of her dress jacket and Megan felt her mouth go dry. He really was injured.

For a dumbfounded moment she stared down at him, her mind catching up to the events.

There was a bleeding American man in her bathroom.

Bleeding, she thought again and forced herself to move.

She knelt, peeling back the man’s navy blue coat to reveal a heavily leaking bandage underneath. It was lashed across his torso, the deep red seeping through enough that she couldn’t rightly anticipate where the wound was.

Her stomach turned and she covered her mouth with a trembling hand.

She looked at his ashen face; saw gaunt illness overlapping what she imagined to be a normally handsome, strong man.

How far had he come with such an injury?

To be this deep inside Germany he had to have come from a war camp somewhere. Megan had no idea where such a camp would be located, but she could see by the mud caked to his boots and trousers that he’d travelled quite a distance. By the reek of him he hadn’t had a shower in some time, too.

She turned and opened the cupboard beneath the sink, fumbling with the first aid kit stored there. He must not have been in the house long if he hadn’t found it. She opened the gray, steel container and spilled bandages, tape and scissors on the floor. Megan hissed in irritation, snatching all the contents and tossing them haphazardly into the case again. She kept the scissors out, prepared to cut through his dirty shirt to get to the injury.

A loud banging resounded from downstairs and Megan froze. Her heart seized and then sped as she glanced between the bleeding man and her half open bathroom door.

Someone was knocking on her front door.

 

OK!

So this scene reveals a lot about Megan. Firstly, she’s a neat and tidy person because she can’t handle the idea of drying herself off on towels that the cat has used as a bed. Secondly … she talks to the cat.

Which in my book makes her totally likable.

I talk to my cats. I can relate.

Notice there’s a shift in her perception in the scene. I’ve put some words in bold and italics to highlight them for you.

When she first goes into the bathroom the door was ‘half closed’ but then … after she’s encountered her intruder … that perception changes to a ‘half open’ doorway. And yes, this was done on purpose. Because Megan’s mindset has changed due to her fear.

Take a look at how some of my fellow authors address the issue of word choice in their works …

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich  http://wp.me/p3Xihq-OB
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

 

The Versatile Writer

One of the most important traits a good writer has is versatility. And I don’t just mean in life, but in the writing itself.

Yes, authors who want to see their books completed have to be versatile in their lives just to squeeze writing time into a day. Parents have to find times that don’t clash with the whole parenting regime (get ready for school, take child to such-and-such event, help child with homework, get child ready for bed.)

Those of us with day jobs obviously can’t write while at work, so there’s that obstacle to get around. And then most of us with children also have a day job, compounding the aforementioned things that take up our 24 hours.

So yes … writers have to be versatile.

But that’s not what I’m really talking about today.

You see, once upon a time I did a lot of interviews with a lot of different writers and I started to notice a somewhat alarming trait in most of them.

A lot of them, not all of them but the vast majority, were very stuck in one particular genre. It’s all they read. All they write. All they pay attention to.

I can only imagine that this mindset comes from the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” or “Why mess with a good thing” mantra that we’ve all heard. They found one genre that works for them. They like it. And they don’t see a need to expand further than that.

They “know what they like” and it made me just a little sad.

A book is a whole world, a whole life for the reader to live. By limiting yourself in your reading and writing habits, you’re limiting your readers too. Not only that, but you’re missing out on some really awesome learning experiences in regards to your craft.

Every book is like a cat. They have different personalities and different needs. Such as my cat versus my son’s new kitten.

IMG_0051

Pest. The Grandpa Cat.

My old grandpa cat (Pest) likes to laze around, talks to me while I’m on the phone, and lets me know I’ve been on the computer too long by attacking my head.

My son’s kitten (Nuisance) has a lot more energy, runs about, attacks anything that moves and recently chewed right through my headphone cord because apparently it looked really tasty. (Bad Kitty.)

I can’t approach Nuisance they way I do Pest. He attacks my hand when I do. I have to wait for him to come to me, curl up on my neck in the middle of the night and start to purr before I can really pet the creature.

It’s the same with books. You have to adapt to each one.

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Nuisance. The Kitten.

It’s alright if you really love writing in just one genre, but every genre has elements of the others in it. There’s mystery, romance, crime, adventure, and history in just about every single book you pick up. So if you’re not reading those genres, you’re missing out on seeing it done really well. (Or really poorly, depending on which book you pick up.)

So … versatility is more than just how you manage your time and adapt to your life, it’s about how you approach your craft. Are you willing to try something new?

Read a book you normally wouldn’t.

If you normally write in first person, try third. And vice versa.

Be a chameleon, you know? Your book is going to be versatile, or it should be, and how you approach it should change to match.