Monday, December 29, 2014

The Power of Words

Words are magic. Think about it. A "political" speech. A sermon. A description of anything. Tongue lashing. Threat. A Valentine's Day card.

Words are power. I wonder, can we forget the English teacher, the editor, the "rules" that sometimes govern words we use, words we write? (Actually, I should have written "overly govern.")

Once, at a writers' conference, a multi-published speaker warned us to avoid dialect. "Drop in an odd word or two here or there, but too much dialect makes roadblocks for the reader," he said.

Well, maybe. My second novel in the "To Die For" series was then at my publisher's and would be released in a few weeks. I write stories set in the Ozarks, and though my two protagonists do speak reasonably orderly English, others who appear often do not.  One of my major characters in MUSIC TO DIE FOR is Mad Margaret Culpepper. Can you understand this one example of her language as she speaks out her grief and love for her dead daughter?

"Elizabeth weren't 'special purty 'n' she niver had purties to fix up in, but she done good at school. She were good at poetry 'n' thinkin' up music. Oh my, she loved music--she had the purty things in her head."

No one has ever said they didn't understand everything Mad Margaret says, and I am grateful for that, because I love her as much as many readers have said they do. And yet her language is drowning in dialect.. I guess the main message here is that it's important to evaluate all that experts say about writing. Learn from them, yes, but then be daring enough to explore, expand, and, well, explode your own ideas onto the page or screen.

In some contrast to "no dialect" dictum is an article I just read in the Sisters in Crime magazine, "inSinC."

(Pause. Look how the Internet and today's technology have changed our language. "inSinC?")
The article explained how experts can test language spoken and written by various individuals and tell them  who wrote what. Seems language use, even when it seems alike, reflects our education, profession, family background, and much more. It is possible to solve crimes using this knowledge.  Wow.

In A RIVER TO DIE FOR, Catherine has been abducted by a potential rapist and held captive. At one point, here is what we hear:

She shook her fist toward the ceiling, shouted, "I want you to know I'll sue you if you fall," and felt better, if no safer.

And, later: "I, Catherine MacDonald King, J D., affirm and attest that I refuse to give in. I refuse to die in this mine."

Where is she? What is her profession? Have you learned anything about her personality?

My very most ever favorite use of words is found in one of Verlyn Klinkenborg's "The Rural Life" columns published in the New York Times on July 6, 2009.  Here is one paragraph:

"It is late afternoon as I write. There is blundering beyond the tree line. Soon the tuberous blunderheads trundle over the horizon; they begin to "wampum, wampum, wampum" until at last they're vrooming nearby, just down the valley. Or perhaps they're harrumphing and oomphing, from the very omphalos of the storm. Onomatopoeia is such a delicate thing."

Isn't that wonderful?  How I love the variety of language--and sometimes--its free use.  How about you?

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