Are we still not doing “phrasing”?
Forgive the shameless Archer reference. What I want to talk about is word choice, but it was too good to pass up.
After she read After Life Lessons, my mother had a few things to say. She had some helpful criticisms, some thoughts, and then: “You know, I don’t like the word cock.”
This was immediately followed by a conversation about how there are no good words for male anatomy, so “cock,” as it stands, was about as good as we could get it. (Phrasing!) We went through several variations over wine, and ended the conversation cracking up over, I believe it was, “throbbing manhood.”
I love my mom.
Word choice is a funny thing. Given how much we all talk (and type, anymore), it’s not something any of us put a lot of thought into in our daily lives. I have a habit of reminding my kids to “find their words” before they speak but, when it comes down to it, few of us spend more than a split second of thought before words come out of our mouths.
It’s the magic of our brains, really, that ability to follow another person’s speech with our own. Imagine how very long conversations would take if we considered every last word to come out of our mouths. Deliberation over certain words aside, can you imagine deciding if you should insert “the” or buy a vowel or something?
In writing, of course, things are a bit different. We read differently than we listen, and where our brain picks up nuances in speech, it can gloss right over some writing while snagging on a misplaced, or poorly chosen, word. The wrong word can yank you right out of a fictional piece: way back, I had some beta readers call me out on a character referring to suburban homes as “McMansions.” It’s something I’ve said multiple times in my life, but, indeed, that specific character would never use such a description. It was removed, and the passage flowed cleaner, more like him, less like me.
When reading, word choice, as much as– or even more, in some cases– character development, setting, plot, even, defines how we feel about the writing itself. If a character moves and thinks and acts a certain way, and then a word the reader doesn’t associate with them– be it too academic, or slang, or simple– there is a disconnect, and the world the writer has created cracks a little bit. It can be difficult to impossible to reenter a world you don’t feel is entirely truthful.
While a single word isn’t likely to doom an entire story, repeated slips can. To use a tired metaphor, it’s like a plate, where one crack spiders into more and the whole thing falls apart. If your pompous doctoral candidate keeps using flat, simple descriptions, lacking in specificity, his intelligence, his entire characterization, can be damaged. He’s no longer impressive: he sounds like a dumbass.
Some words aren’t quite as problematic. Like our use of “cock”. It was the lesser of a whole host of evils, and fit more with the twenty-something character set. Certainly we could have used “penis,” but there is something weirdly jarring about that word when describing an act of sex. The others (including my mother’s snort-laugh suggestion of “throbbing manhood”) just sounded silly. So cock it is.
I really just wanted to end the post like that. But!
After Life Lessons was released on April 8th and we’ve been so humbled by how enthusiastic and positive the majority of the response has been. THANK YOU. We love sharing Emily and Aaron, and their zombie-filled world with everyone.
We just finished the first draft of Interludes, a series of first-person point of view stories from the same characters in the year following the first book. It will be released (for free!) this summer, as we work on the second part of After Life Lessons. We did a broad plotting session for that last night and I’m very excited about it! It will include some new characters and an expanded look at the world several years after the zombie infection wiped out most of humanity.
If you still haven’t gotten a copy of After Life Lessons, it’s available at Amazon (also at UK, Canada, and more), Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Kobo. If you have read it, I’d love to hear your feelings, either in the comments here, or in a review on your preferred site.
Thanks for supporting indie writers!