This month’s Round Robin topic poses the question about word choice and how the words we choose manage to develop characters within our stories.
Or, as I like to call it, taking ownership of your craft.
Writers are in the word business. This is how we convey our art to the world, so our word choices are supremely important. Granted, most of the time the real art shows up during the editing process.
At least it does for me.
The first draft I just sort of keep going but the second draft is when I hone in on what words create the effect I want. I’m not sure how other authors do it, but for me it works best when I take a chapter or a scene a day during the editing process and I edit that chapter/scene that whole day.
Which means I end up editing the same chapter/scene at least 3 times and each time I’m looking at something different.
First Pass – Graphic Detail… meaning the setting my characters are standing in. I do this first because it gives me something more to work with when I go through and focus just on the characters. If I’m grounded in the setting, then my characters can interact with that setting, which, in turn, helps convey who that character is to the readers.
Second Pass – POV character… meaning I dig in deep with my point of view character for that scene. I ask how they’re feeling that day, how they’re being affected by what’s happening in the story, and what about the setting really annoys them. Or, conversely, what they love about the setting.
No, seriously, just stopping to ask; “Hey, what does so-and-so hate about this room?” reveals sooooo much about who they are as a character. I promise. Give it a try.
Third Pass – Major/Minor characters… meaning I concentrate on the other characters on the page in that scene. And I ask the same exact questions for them that I ask about the POV character in the scene.
This is from Persona, my WWII novel that was going to be published this year but someone convinced me not to give up on the traditional market yet, so it’s currently being considered by… ahem, places.
She turned and headed for the bathroom across the hall. Maybe she’d left the bathroom cupboard open again and Grendel was perched on the towels. She sighed in annoyance, pushing her way through the half closed door. She’d have to wash those towels again before she could use them. Grendel shed like the beast he was and she had no desire to be covered in orange cat fur.
She flicked on the light.
“Grendel, you little vagrant. You know you’re not …”
A blur of blue and white rushed at her from behind the door. Megan tried to scream but something fleshy and firm clamped over her mouth, smothering the sound. A heartbeat later she felt the hard edges of the counter press into her backside and she was forced to lean awkwardly until her head touched the mirror above the sink. She squirmed and tried to break free, too terrified to think. One word screamed through her mind; intruder.
“Sh! Please!” A man’s voice hissed near her ear. “Please! I don’t want to hurt you!”
It took several seconds before she realized he had spoken English.
English with an American accent, she thought.
Megan forced herself to relax but the grip he had on her was hard and uncomfortable. She felt a tremble pass through him, smelled blood and fear in the room, and prayed they could get through this without anyone getting hurt. He pulled back and his face came into view. His nose looked like it might have been broken once and he had strong, masculine features lined with a reddish beard and the dirt of many days in hiding. Olive green eyes stared at her, hiding none of his panic or pain, and she began to realize he was injured.
His body started to shake more forcefully.
“Do you … do you understand?” He asked.
She nodded her head as best she could, rattling the mirror a little. He exhaled unsteadily and began to let go. His hand slipped away from her mouth.
“Thank God,” he said. “Thank God.”
His eyelids drooped suddenly and he collapsed on top of her. Megan yelped, scrambling to grab hold of him before he slid to the floor. He was heavy, so much heavier than she’d been expecting, and she struggled not to fall herself. It took several minutes but she managed to get his limp body squashed into the corner between wall and tub.
She stood up and stared down at him, panting. A smear of blood ran down the right side of her dress jacket and Megan felt her mouth go dry. He really was injured.
For a dumbfounded moment she stared down at him, her mind catching up to the events.
There was a bleeding American man in her bathroom.
Bleeding, she thought again and forced herself to move.
She knelt, peeling back the man’s navy blue coat to reveal a heavily leaking bandage underneath. It was lashed across his torso, the deep red seeping through enough that she couldn’t rightly anticipate where the wound was.
Her stomach turned and she covered her mouth with a trembling hand.
She looked at his ashen face; saw gaunt illness overlapping what she imagined to be a normally handsome, strong man.
How far had he come with such an injury?
To be this deep inside Germany he had to have come from a war camp somewhere. Megan had no idea where such a camp would be located, but she could see by the mud caked to his boots and trousers that he’d travelled quite a distance. By the reek of him he hadn’t had a shower in some time, too.
She turned and opened the cupboard beneath the sink, fumbling with the first aid kit stored there. He must not have been in the house long if he hadn’t found it. She opened the gray, steel container and spilled bandages, tape and scissors on the floor. Megan hissed in irritation, snatching all the contents and tossing them haphazardly into the case again. She kept the scissors out, prepared to cut through his dirty shirt to get to the injury.
A loud banging resounded from downstairs and Megan froze. Her heart seized and then sped as she glanced between the bleeding man and her half open bathroom door.
Someone was knocking on her front door.
So this scene reveals a lot about Megan. Firstly, she’s a neat and tidy person because she can’t handle the idea of drying herself off on towels that the cat has used as a bed. Secondly … she talks to the cat.
Which in my book makes her totally likable.
I talk to my cats. I can relate.
Notice there’s a shift in her perception in the scene. I’ve put some words in bold and italics to highlight them for you.
When she first goes into the bathroom the door was ‘half closed’ but then … after she’s encountered her intruder … that perception changes to a ‘half open’ doorway. And yes, this was done on purpose. Because Megan’s mindset has changed due to her fear.
Take a look at how some of my fellow authors address the issue of word choice in their works …
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-OB
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com
4 thoughts on “Word Choices – Round Robin Dicussion”
AJ–cool excerpt! Very interesting post. I too write the first draft as just a get-it-all-out sort of thing, then in the second draft I make sure everyone’s voice is consistent, etc. 🙂
Thank you! I’ve come to understand that no matter what, I’m going to hate that first draft by the end of it, lol. So I hold no hopes for it and just tell myself I’m getting it down so that I can get it right later.
Learning how other authors work is always interesting. Everyone seems to do things alike but at the same time so different! I hope your traveling manuscript finds a good home, and I talk to cats too. Now I even understand what specific cats are saying.
I understand my old cat, but my son’s kitten … I think he just enjoys toying with me.