Tuesday, February 08, 2011

COLUMNIST: Speaking of Words

Speaking of Words

So you like to create. You even have something to say and have a few work-in-progress articles or stories tucked away waiting to be finished in your mental workshop. Well, whether your plan is to shower the universe through your intellect and education or cuddle them with cozy stories that make a heart healthy, either way, your main attack will be through your words. Words are the invisible power tools of life, and the proper and/or improper use of them can mend or bend a life. Words are like bullets; they’re harmless until used. Are you blowing your audience away with unintentional bad choices of expression, or are you making them stalk you like a jilted lover, hungry for your next production? Can your readers pretty much predict your next line of thought, sleep-induced by your repetitious writing methods? If so, can you speak-a-the Englez and say “boring!”?

Well, among many required tools, all writers should own a thesaurus and use it frequently. But don’t worry. We’re about to embark on an exciting journey of history, challenges, and amazement that exist in our alphabet world that is sure to spruce up your creative juices and lingo. Did you realize when you were a kid, in class, observing and reciting those big shapes above the blackboard, how much the letters of the alphabet would affect you, especially as you got older? Of course, you didn’t. How would you know that those figures, formed together in certain numbers and groups, and either spoken or read, would bring you joy or pain? Take a moment to reminisce about the best advice someone gave you and how it made a difference to you. Now, think about the bad news that changed your whole day. All delivered by the force of words. Perhaps a different selection of words, phrases, or play in the dialogue you received might have presented the message in a totally different light.

In the coming months, we’ll explore the history and many origins of words, the challenges and methods of marrying just the right words that will create—or deflate—the point of view you want to relay to your audience. Understanding the potency of words will help you blow exciting life into your infant articles and stories and help transform them into an adult phase of literature.

Ever had a conversation with someone who was talking a lot but really saying nothing and after a while you
just tuned them out? On the other hand, have you been lucky enough to meet a stranger that really engaged your senses by their conversation and you had to make their acquaintance so you could stay in touch and learn more from them? That’s pretty much the same two options that your readers face whenever they pick up one of your creations.

So, let’s start by defining the meaning of the term “word.” A “word” is that by which we communicate our will; by which we convey our thoughts; or by which we issue commands; the medium of communication with others. Now let’s go to the beginning and find out how words came about. No, we’re actually going to The Beginning. If you believe in the Bible, you know that during creation, God spoke the words, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Wow! There’s no greater example of how powerful words can be!

Now, let’s examine the first words that actually introduced the greatest book in the world, the Bible. “In the beginning …” Straight and to the point, right? These words tell the reader whatever is about to happen started from this point. These few words also make you want to know more, such as, what happened and what is this story going to be about? What we do know is nothing in the story has occurred before now, and we get to watch the story unfold at its birthing. A lot of information poured into just three words, right? No wonder great storytellers from way back, when crafting together a few other words to make another memorable statement for the intro of their stories, remember the now popular words, “once upon a time.” These words lead your mind to feel that this story or event happened at some point in time and probably only once. Also, the words allow the date to unfold at any time in history. They are another group of small words packing a huge punch of imagination.

When was the last time your opening sentence grabbed your reader by the pupils and promised a lot by saying hardly anything? Successful writers know that your opening words have to excite curiosity so that the reader thirsts to know more. Seasoned writers also know that a page-turner includes at least gripping or interesting sentences at the end of each page and chapter. Remember that novel that you couldn’t put down, and promised yourself you’d read only to the end of the chapter? But as hard as you tried to end it there until later, you found yourself peeking at the next chapter, until the same process had controlled you again, chapter by chapter. That’s the whip of a true storyteller: a writer that believes in the powerful sword of words and wields it uniquely to command and hold your attention.

Imagine the task of Moses, the first biblical author. He had no option but to be engaging with his choice of words. He needed to get his people to not only hear him but believe him. A hard job, no doubt, but one that was softened by his use of the right words. Even in the days of the town crier or square crier, their appeal to gather a crowd or to be heard was often fueled by the directorial expression of, “Now hear this, now hear this!” Again, only a few words, but words that leap with power and demand attention; audience grabbers. How do you initially grab your audience’s attention?

The beginning of your creation is just as important, if not more, as your plot and ending, stealing your reader’s mind away from all else that competes for her attention. It must be immediate. With the right words, the “robbery” can be complete and effective. You can improve your technique to kick-in-the-door, so as to speak, by doing a few simple exercises. Start by creating attention-grabbing opening sentences. You don’t have to have a story planned; just make up a line that blows the wind of thought into your page.

For instance:

1. The abandoned child crept slowly down the long, dark alleyway, holding his breath as his heart thumped against his tiny chest and the stench of garbage perfumed the air around him.

2. Genève trembled as she loomed over the lifeless body, feeling the weight of the smoking gun that covered her right palm, as blood colored the creases of her left hand.

3. Marvin cheerfully raced to his telephone and answered it on the second ring, unaware this would be his last phone call, ever.

Next, redo the sentences making them as short as possible, turning that long rip into a gouging stab.
For instance:

1. The abandoned child crept down the dark alley, his breath short and heart thumping, as the stench of garbage kissed his nostrils.

2. Genève trembled over the lifeless body, feeling the hot, heavy gun in one hand, and blood dripping from her other.

3. Marvin cheerfully raced to his telephone, answering midring, unaware this was his last phone call—ever.

So, you get the basic idea: grab the reader’s attention at the door. Now pull out those word tools and start building or redecorating a creation already-in-progress. Give it your best kick possible. Feel free to continue any of the above lines and see how the action materializes. I’d love to hear your responses or read some of your own door-kickers.

Pens up! to speaking words the write way.

Rachel Berry has been gifted by our Creator to be many things; on the list of these blessings are daughter, caregiver, wife, mother, grandmother, sister, best friend, aunt, published author & poet, motivational speaker, radio talk-show host, mentor, columnist, and community leader.

Berry is proudly promoting her latest book, A Slip In The Right Direction, part one of a YA series.

To arrange speaking engagements, e-mail her at admin@blackpearlsunited.org.

For book signings, please e-mail her at rachelwrites2@yahoo.com. To preview and buy her books, please visit her Web site at http://www.LuLu.com/RachelBerry &; http://www.rachelberry.webs.com/

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LaShaunda said...


Wow you got me rethinking my first sentences. Thank you for the column.

Rachel Berry said...

Always my pleasure lady

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