Like all writers, I have a special relationship with words. In my case, I love them. I am fascinated by the way they work (or fail to work), the myriad ways in which they can be misunderstood, misused, even abused by people who don’t know any better or who should know better or who abuse words with malice aforethought.
I know some writers who have a love/hate relationship with words, who claim they hate using them but love having used them. I don’t get that at all, so I’ll leave it to someone else to blog about that. This blog is about the use of words to create emotional atmosphere.
As a writer of fiction, I rise or fall on how well I can use words to create an atmosphere in which my characters live and move and in which my readers exist with them during the length of a story. Words are symbols. They are signposts. They are colors. They tell the reader how to view a place, a person, a thing.
There are two parties to this, of course, the writer has to know how to use the words, but the reader has to know how to read them. This requires a shared knowledge base or shared experience or, at minimum, a shared definition and/or connotation for the words.
I’ve experienced the disconnect of using words of which a reader has no experience. Recently, I used the word “chops” to have one character describe another’s skill with something. My editor asked what the word meant. In my particular milieu, it’s usually used to describe a guitarist’s skill with his instrument, but I’ve heard it used to describe any skill, including my own ability to write (apparently) realistic dialogue. I prefer, for the record, the more colloquial “fu” as in: “You have amazing verb-fu, Ms. Bohnhoff.”
But, I digress. Continue reading