How to Color Your Words

mapI love the curve, the sparkle, of the English language. Especially when used properly.

They say French is a colorful language, as is Spanish. If one uses their words wisely, all languages have beautiful ebbs and flows to them.

Today I was working on an arts and crafts catalog, and came along the glazes section. There were layers of descriptions, of ways to describe the colors. The first layer was the simplest of words: blue, gray, red, pink, purple. Even though we have different opinions on exactly what kind of blue we want, the color swatches were indeed blue and red and gray. Sometimes simplicity works.

Then there’s the second level. Words that are associated with things rather than what it is. Caramel, raspberry, grape, carrot, cinnamon. Who doesn’t know what colors those represent?

The third level was a little more imaginative. Sour Apple, Orkid, Tuscan Red, Pink-a-boo, Wine About It, Cara Bein Blue. You get the gist from title of what the color is. A colorful play on words, to be sure.

Then come the descriptions that stretch your imagination. Snapdragon. Hawaiian Sand. Granada. Sunset Jewel. Strawberry Fields. Yellow Universe. Snow Fire. You kind of know what those colors should be, but you need to check the swatches to be sure. These words leave a lot to the imagination. When I looked up Snapdragon, it was pink and yellow on cream. When I looked up Hawaiian Sand it was black and white and blue. Once my comprehension made sense of it all, the names of the colors shimmered on their own wavelength.

How do you know when to expand your vocabulary, and when to keep it simple?

One trick is to read your sentence(s) out loud. Some words are made to be read in the quiet recesses of your mind. Others are made to read aloud, savoring the alliteration or the rhyming or the pure creativity of the sentence. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring or George Martin’s A Feast of Crows may sound great being spoken by British actors, but would sound funny with a flat, Midwestern accent.

Know your audience. Too many flowery words may make them roll their eyes and pick up a magazine. Not enough description will do the same thing.

Another trick I learned was from the same arts and crafts catalog. Combining two words, one to evoke an impression, the second the color, is a clever way to leave an impression on the mind. Smokey Merlot, River Rock, Burnt Jade, Weathered Copper, Rustic Mustard, Roasted Eggplant — the combinations are endless. Look at the scene you’re writing, and pull something from the atmosphere and add it to your color.

Read other novels, short stories, and poetry. You will be surprised what phrases and words will call you. When they do, write them down. I have a notebook full of descriptions and words that I thought were lovely, colorful, dramatic, descriptive. I might never use them, but I could get the feel of them.

Use the thesaurus. Sparingly. There is nothing wrong with finding other words for your more mundane ones, but readers can tell if you just picked one off the page or if you thought about it. Make sure the “new” word you use flows along with the rest of them.

And don’t be afraid to make up your own words. I know that’s against most writing rules, but if you have a character that fits the description, use it. If it all flows like the bubbling stream, no one will care. For example, I have a quirky, pretzelly, smart heroine who is an astralologer. A combination of an astronomer and astrologer. Looks weird, but once you get to know her it fits her like a glove.

Colors are everywhere. Learn to describe them, or better yet, let them describe themselves.

 

Use Your Words

 

th (1)What comes to mind when someone describes something as “Mediterranean”? Or  “savory”? When someone is described as a “godfather”, do visions of Marlon Brando come to mind? Or your Uncle Hal?

Descriptive words are as varied as the world is wide.

Having given credit to a very general cliché, let’s think about the concept.   We are conditioned to react to words based on our own experiences. Images flash into our minds before we even can think about them. That is why your choice of words in your writing is so important.

For example, at NLP Language Patters for Advertising  http://blog.nlp-techniques.com/2012/07/mmmmm-write-persuasive-advertising-food/, the author writes: “The menu psychology research found the use of these five descriptor categories in the labels, food descriptions (or both) help increase sales dramatically…Visual (handcrafted, slow-cooked, fork tender); Gustatory (crispy, creamy, spicy, melt-in-your-mouth); Health & Diet Words (low calorie, all natural, organic); Memories/Nostalgia (Ye Olde, Homestyle, Made from Scratch); Geographic (Cajun, Sicilian Style, Southwestern); and Brand Names (Jack Daniels Sauce, Oreo Cookie Ice Cream).

“They also say to avoid what are now considered menu description cliches: zesty, sumptuous, mouth-watering, indulgent, unforgettable, world-famous, smothered, hearty, flavorful, pan-fried, special, and using apostrophes (“”).”

So even when you think you are using creative words you might not be using the right creative words. Describing food is no different than describing thoughts, motions, locations, and ideas. From blogs to novels, descriptive words are the bridge between the mundane and the magical. And as writers we have to be able to dance on that bridge.

I used to be the queen of descriptive words. Every look, every thought, was punctuated with adjectives, as if the reader couldn’t figure out for themselves if the hero was aggressive or merely forward. These were good times, for in them I developed the art of language, and each over-used description eventually was either changed or deleted.

But how do you spice up your writing so others will get your meaning yet interpret things for themselves?

I have a hard time describing my blog as “spectacular” or my art finds as “fantastic” because the words are so generic and over used. But I still want to grab the reader’s attention. I want to tickle a nerve that’s been hidden for quite a while so the reader comes back for more. So in my quest to sell myself and my wares I need to find words that describe me and my craft and hone in on those words. Make them mine.

Developing a writing style of your own is important.  Read others’ writings. The Classics. Descriptive passages from Lord of the Rings or Farewell to Arms might be miles apart in style, but both are endless rivers of creativity. Take a look at free verse or rhymed or sestina  poetry and see how each word is stretched to its full extent.

Then find your own style and stick to it. Now, Stick To It is different than Never Change It. If you have a fancy for words, by all means use them. Then re-read your work and see if you needed all those words to describe your point. If you are a writer of few words, make those count. There are some words that can replace a paragraph. Learn them.

Words are music. They sing, they explain. They carress. They express. And they all are yours for the taking.

Use your words.

 

Poetic Expression

magic bookThere is something about getting older that brings out the bouquet of life around me/us. I don’t mean the I’m-gonna-die-sooner-than-later syndrome (that we all go through no matter what our age), but a sense of looking around and taking more and more in.

Okay — part of the “take it all in” thing is that I’m moving a little slower than I was 30 years ago, so there’s more time to look around. More time to gauge my steps so that I don’t trip over something. Or step on something. Or twist my back avoiding something.

But it’s more than that.

I’ve always enjoyed poetry — I’ve written a number myself now and then. Lately I’ve been finding myself wanting a way to express a moment in time without typing a thousand words. I’ve had no formal poetry education; my expertise in writing has come mostly through trial and error and writing since I was 10 and being a proofreader for 15 years.

I find that sometimes a hundred words say more than five hundred. That, depending upon the word and its placement, thoughts and emotions can be inferred instead of spoken. Now, that’s no surprise to those who have mastered the art of poetic license, but it’s a surprise to me.

My friend Jane has been a poet all her life.  She loves creating effects with as few words as possible. And she is so wonderfully good at it. There are others whose blogs I follow, too:  Dawn Whitehand at https://apoemandadrawingaday.wordpress.com/, Catherine Arcolio and https://leafandtwig.wordpress.com/. I have my favorites, you have yours. Sometimes you find someone who writes just what you feel. Other times you are left wondering. And that’s a good thing, too. But that’s the beauty of poetry.

Life flies by so fast. Maybe too fast to read a three-page poem. But there’s plenty of time to read a short word or two about the world.

Try writing one yourself. You will be surprised how melodious it feels.

When is a Cherry not a Cherry?

cherryLike an artist loving colors, like a potter loving texture, I love words. I love the written word, the spoken word. I love the English language in all its curly q’s and static punctuation marks. I love reading, I love creative conversations, and, as you know, I love writing.

I’m also such a child when it comes to words.

Take today. I’m entering catalog copy onto the website, and the product is hoes. I chuckle as I type. I wouldn’t have chuckled 15 years ago, but the world of English has changed since I was a young tart. One of my favorite movies is Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee. More giggles. Pussy used to mean cat. Cock was a male rooster. Chuckle chuckle. A shaft was a vertical opening or passage through the floors of a building. Jugs held moonshine or water. Laughing with me yet? Now I find myself avoiding those words just because of today’s connotations.

The same is true with reading and writing sex scenes. Now, I’m not a puritan. Through the years I’ve had my share of “love on the picnic bench” or “kitchen table bumps.”  But as I get older the words just don’t stimulate like they used to. There are lots of books out today where women are ravished and men are studding and the language is as red as bing cherries. I mean, how many erotic positions and sounds can there be? I’m not a prude either. Healthy libidos are what keep us young. So how do you balance sex and love and lust in your blockbuster novel without being embarrassed about every other word?

One way is to write sex scenes that explode without saying one dirty word.

Ever try saying something without saying something? Now, that’s a challenge! Funny thing is, I enjoyed the challenge. Try out this passage from my latest creation:

His sensuality devoured me, sparking a hunger I never knew I had. I was not a virgin, but I might as well have been, as I surrendered to his caresses and his demands. Falling on the feathered bed, his hands found every curve, every fullness of my body, sending electrical currents through me. Currents I almost could not stand. His mouth followed his hands, and I found myself following his lead, my needs exploding into sounds and screams of pure pleasure. When he took me it was if a monster roared above me. Guttural, wild, transcending this plane to another and another. I matched his transcendence, spiraling out of control, the heat from our stones exploding inside of us, inside of each other.

Not one male chicken, not one kitty cat.  Not one moonshine container or vertical passage in a  building. Normal “words” like hands and mouths and explosions, but nothing is ever really said. Just implied.

I suppose for most it’s a pretty boring passage. The point of using variations of cats and roosters is to get that extra blush that words like kisses and hugs can’t bring. It’s like using swear words when you’re a little kid. You’re not supposed to say them, but every time you do you get that little thrill of being naughty. And that’s the power of words. One word can launch a thousand dreams, a thousand nightmares. That — is power.

I must admit I do miss some of the old-fashioned words, though. I personally miss — and use — the cat’s meow, groovy, the cat’s pajamas, jive, holy mackerel. I’m not going to stop watching The Gay Divorcee just because slang has twisted the words around.

But that’s not going to stop me from giggling every time I type the color buff or cherry.