Thursday, March 25, 2010

Soothing words

There, there. Night-night. Rest your head on the pages of the book and...

...slowly...

..fall...

...

asleep...


No! Bad! Soothing words are for lullabies and corporate memos. I don't want my writing to put people to sleep; I want to scare them, galvanize them, make them weep and laugh and stare, shaken, into the distance. I want to keep them awake at night, reading under the covers until, red-eyed and lost, they stumble through the next day.

Stories have power; let us not anesthetize them with soothing words.

What do I mean by soothing words? Well, self, I'm glad you asked. This morning I half-seriously did a search of my manuscript for:

There
was
were
felt
thought
saw
looked

In some cases (like deliberately simple dialog), these are okay. In many (of my) cases, they are not. They are soothing! Drip by morphinic drip, they anesthetize and ... uh ... lull reader to ... to...uhh... zzzzzz.

Exactly.

My challenge, now that my manuscript is peppered with florid yellow highlights of these energy-killing words, is to replace them when possible. The scary thing is that I had no idea how often I fall back on them. I think most writers -- certainly including me -- are tired, or intimidated, or lazy, or confused, or insufficiently committed during the first draft. That's okay.

The problem comes when that uncertainty, and its attendant uncertain words, carries through into revisions.

We all have words we lean on like crutches. First drafts need crutches. But for a good story: stand up straight, hurl away your leaning stick like Odysseus in the great hall, and shake the reader out of the complacency of every-day life. Isn't that why we read?

2 comments:

Barbara said...

Now that's what makes an intoxicating, spell-binding, terrifying--choose your appropriate word here--story. Why, oh why then do we have so many trash books on the market that sell like hotcakes with mundane, boring, superfluous drivel?? Is that really an indication of what readers really want to read or is it, often like the media, what people read because THAT is what is tossed at them?

Sam said...

If it makes you feel better, even with those words in your book, I still stayed up and read under the covers and stumbled through (snooze) work the next day, bleary eyed...
And I had to sleep with Ziggy for the next week. And with the door locked. And with a light on in the hallway....