Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Perfect Word

Anyone who is enamored of words, which most writers are, knows what it’s like to try and find that perfect word to convey the subtle shade of meaning you want.  My first drafts are filled with blank spaces, which I leave because even though I can think of one hundred nouns/verbs/descriptors that would be perfectly adequate in that place, I know the Absolutely Perfect Word exists, and I can’t quite come up with it.  However, I can’t afford to spend fifteen minutes wracking my brain for it, so I leave a blank and torture myself with it on the rewrites.Sometimes I do end up having to use one of those one hundred almost-right words, but when I do, I feel a sense of failure for not having adequately communicated with the reader. 

Subtle meaning is only part of what a writer strives for with the perfect word.  Sometimes the poetry of the sentence, the way it sounds, can only be served by a particular word.  In my current manuscript, I originally wrote a narrative in the voice of one character, but decided later that it would be better to have a different character experience this event and tell us about it.  Changing the point of view necessitated a major change in language, even though the gist of the scene was the same.

I read that if you ask an author why he writes, the better and probably more successful writers will answer that it’s because they love language.  I think that learning how to manipulate language is like* learning to manipulate the keys of a piano.  Language is our instrument, and if we don’t practice, study, experiment, and play with it, we might end up writing “Chopstick” instead of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”.


Judy Alter said...

I often compare writing to working out a math problem (at which I am absolutely abysmal)--its working out in words how to convey what you want to say. Some of us can do math; others can write. Maybe it does boil down to a love of language and playing with ways to use it.

Lisa Hall said...

I leave blanks too. If all else fails, I counsult my thesarus.