Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rocks That Build Mountains

I was half-listening to the local radio broadcast this morning when the radio alarm went off. Usually, I spend a good amount of time in a vague stupor, elbowing Hubby to stop snoring and poke the blessed snooze button.
However, this morning, Jimmy and Yvonne were discussing a most disgustingly horrible story--I actually thought I might still be dreaming somehow--on their BIG FAT FAIL segment. It was about maggots. In a plane. That’s all I’m going to be saying about it, because, well... shudder. If you want to read all about it, you can do so here.
The story provoked Jimmy to start talking about how he hated the word maggots. It’s an ugly word, I agree. But, it got me to thinking about other words I can’t stand, and just how important words actually are. Especially to writers.
We writers like to hoard words the same way Captain Barbossa hoards treasure. 




And, in a way, words are similar to jewels. There are lots of different types, from just as many different places. Some stay hidden from us for a long time, some are manufactured, and some of them we see so often that we take them for granted. 
There are words that shine and sparkle, like pizazz. Some words are really big and impressive, but can only be truly appreciated when put into the proper setting: antidisestablishmentarianism, for example. At the same time, big words can be fabulous all by themselves, the Hope Diamond of words, if you will: 
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
That’s the kind of word that can sit in a glass case at a museum in dramatic lighting, perfectly content to have people of all ages come by to gaze on it in wonder. It also sounds just as interesting when you say it backwards. But even I wouldn’t be that precocious.
Other words are not jewels at all. They are fool’s gold at best, ugly rocks at worst. They are not pretty to look at, and when you throw them, they make a dull thump on the ground. Because of their misshapen, ungainly form, you can’t even get them to skip nicely across a pond.
Everyone has a different word that falls into this category for them. For Jimmy, it was the word maggot. For others, it could be moist, or phlegm, or snot. It doesn’t always have to be a word that describes an ugly thing, but most commonly we associate ugly words with ugly things, perhaps because words are meant to describe our world in the most accurate way possible. Nasty things need nasty sounding words to describe them. 
I cannot stand the words vomit and squat. It was admittedly difficult simply putting those words out there where people can read them. The first is one of those words that is horrible to do, to read, and to say out loud. Simply speaking it, forming the words, makes you have to gag a little bit. At least, that’s how I feel. The second word sounds awful and is quite unseemly to do. I much prefer the word crouch for that action. It is only a few steps above, still not one of my most favorite words, but it rolls off the tongue better and sounds less like something you would do in the woods when you need to relieve yourself. 
But what other word might we use to describe what someone does next to a body at a crime scene?  Kneeling is out, as this would be a very messy thing to do, not to mention potentially destroy valuable evidence. Bending over doesn’t bring an investigator close enough to view important details. Hovering sounds creepy in its own right. Huddle makes the reader shiver. Besides, why would anyone wish to huddle next to a dead body?
We writers have to be very meticulous in the words we choose while crafting a scene. Many times we get to play with the sparkling, shiny jewels we love. Other times, we have to dig up the ugly rocks and toss them in the pile with the rest. They’re a necessary evil. 
But, in the end, we step back and take a look at the big picture. A novel isn’t made up of just a few words, but the sum of a whole truckload of them. We mix in the right amount of hidden gems, with the big boulders we need for a strong foundation, and hope that in the end, we get something as satisfying and majestic as the whole mountain itself.