The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Work/life balance has left me with little free time to contemplate words, and sadly, even less time to tell people about them. With the Raymond Carve contest coming to a close, I should have more free time this summer! Should being the key word.
Balancing between work and writing is difficult, but not impossible if writing is your passion. Since January, I’ve been inundated with proposal work often requiring more than a hundred hours a week. Business proposals are merely a more obscure form of fiction, after all, so I got to flex some writer muscles. I’ve also learned more about earned value management, radar systems, and hyper-spectral sensors than I wanted to know.
The language of proposals got me thinking of writing, but let’s be honest – reading ingredients lists off packages of chips in the grocery store gets me thinking about writing. Sadly, so few snack products care about grammar and sentence structure.
While watching an episode of Cupcake Wars (don’t judge my waste of free time), my wife reeled at the word moist. It’s an over-used adjective on the show, and it’s intended to denounce the perfect soft and delicious cupcake. It reminded me of her other hated word – panty. Everyone has vernacular which strikes a specific chord, but having lived with my wife for nearly twenty years I’ve learned that moist panties creates a perfect delicate combination to inspire both terror and rage, often resulting in my arms getting bruised. Also, those are the two least likely words to be used in a business proposal, unless perhaps your pitch is for a new reality show featuring underwear models baking cupcakes. There simply isn’t any way to say moist panties without sounding like a wimp. It’s hard to picture Christian Bale’s Batman saying those words, even harder to imagine the Terminator mouthing them. But translate to German, Faushen Hosen. It sounds like an insult you’d shout at someone!
Having gone through several rounds of short stories during the Carve contest, I read through multiple entries where the words used were simply overdone. Words shape what a reader feels. Pacing a story requires more than sentence length and exposition; word choice is often an overlooked commodity in fiction. Where Tolstoy or Joyce can be cumbersome to modern ears simply because of the eras they were written, I have to wonder if someone might find Twilight too verbose in some future century. Clever wording can propel fiction and engage a reader, but it shouldn’t overpower the story. Poetic language needs to compliment the story or it risks becoming the centerpiece, often forcing the reader to break from engaging with characters and plot. A fair number of short stories I’ve read recently seem to rely on the nuance of language to overcome plot holes or lack of character depth. I think the best use of nuanced language should come from the edit rather than the initial draft, or should be revised in the edit. Symbolism and variations on language should work seamlessly with the story and add to the overall picture without complicating it. Otherwise, the clever phrasing you think makes your story shine might be nothing but faushen hosen.