As I work through critiques of my novel and revise, I’ve found a recent comment very peculiar. I find it odd only because I’ve heard similar things sporadically before. As we know, writing is about many things, but a big portion of it is about the words. Word selection is important. It can shape the impression a scene or bit of dialoged can make. Let me illustrate with a very basic example.
She held the gun and pointed it at the target.
This tells us what is happening. It’s pretty cut and dry. “She” could be referring to just about anyone.
She gripped the gun and marked her target.
By just changing a few words, this sentence takes on new meaning. I feel more tension and “marked her target” makes it seem as if this woman is experienced in what she’s doing. Is she an assassin? A spy? A cop? I don’t know, but I want to!
Obviously there are brilliant writers out there more versed in this craft than I, but I hope this example helped clarify what I’m speaking of.
What I’ve noticed is how some people believe certain words are strictly religious, and if used in a different context seems off or wrong to them.
The offenders, so far:Crucible
Can these words have a religious connotation to them? Yes. But they are not one-trick-ponies. The latest crit of a chapter of mine had a reader question my use of the word crucible. A crucible is: A) A porcelain cup I placed in a desiccator in my Oil Chem Testing Lab class. B) An extreme test. C) A situation (place or time) that resulted due to a bunch of factors coming together. Like the Depression, or WWII, or Pearl Harbor. The word is not bound to religious context. I my novel, and in real-life, this word is used in reference to the last test a Marine takes in their basic training/boot camp. It is called the Crucible.
I could go on to the other words but I hope I’ve explained my point well enough and I don’t think anyone wants to hear me babble, least of all me.
Anyhow, getting back to word selection, I realize that people have relationships with words I don’t. I can’t simply say, “That’s not the reason I chose that word. It really means this.” I’ve often cringed at certain words other writers have used based on my own relationships with them. So, I too am guilty as charged. I suppose the distinction is I’ve never thought of a word being strictly religious or so religious I could grasp the meaning the writer intended.
I personally have this strange fixation with the word flange. I discovered this in the first semester of my Power Engineering class. I just love saying this word.
It makes no sense and I can’t explain it. :S I also have a love of the word candelabra. It’s just an awesome word for some reason!
Now for words I dislike. I can’t stand the word rugged when used to describe a man’s appearance. It makes me want to stuff a novel under a couch cushion, hide in the closet, and pretend I haven’t read all the cheesy romance novels I have. *shivers*
WARNING: The following is a rant Stella is directing at the word then. Please, hide your children.
Another word I hate is then. No matter how this word is used I can’t help hearing Cher from Clueless saying something along the lines of, “….and then he said he’d call me, and then he gave me his jacket. Then, the most amazing thing happened!”
AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! We get it! We get it! When you explain an event we understand it is being told in a consecutive sequence of events. If you open a door you don’t have to say you THEN walked through the opening. Gah!!!!
Ahem….I am better now. J
What are some bad relationships you have with certain words? Any good relationships?
Now, as far as the critique that took issue with your use of certain words, don't let it bother you. If it doesn't resonate with you, let it go and move on.
Words have all kinds of different connotations to different people. Just for example, another loaded word is sacrament. It means one thing to a Catholic priest, but something entirely different to a Rastafarian.
For the record, Crucible seemed a logical word choice for the test to me.
I also reckon the way a critique is phrased can make all the difference. A bald (and wrong) claim that "crucible" is a religious word is likely to put my back up. On the other hand, if the critter had said "I think of this as a religious word so the choice felt wrong to me as a reader," well, that's a valid point of view which could have you wondering if that will be a problem for many readers, or not.