Vision: A Resource for Writers
Holly Lisle's Vision
More Than Words
By Matthew Cranford
©2001, Matthew Cranford
Where would writers be without words?
Okay, yes, that is a seemingly pointless rhetorical question, but the
trick is in how words are used, both in phraseology and in any given
characters vernacular. The imagery of a story, including the setting, the attitude,
and the background of each moment, is critically impacted by the authors
choice of words. Including subtle
imagery in every line can mean the difference between a short story and a long
novel, but more importantly, it can mean the difference between comprehension
and confusion to the reader.
avoid either boring or confusing the reader, the writer must make an effort to
keep every line of text easy to understand without dumbing it down or omitting
crucial adjectives and details. It
would be extremely pretentious of me to assume that I can point out good and bad
examples of effective phraseology in existent writing, so Ill just make some
When the Prince saw the Princess, he was surprised to see her in such
that gets the point across, but in a sentence like this, the reader should
already be familiar with the Princes and the Princess names, and the trite
usage of Prince and Princess could and should be avoided.
Beyond that, the structure, although understandable, is redundant in the
use of see and later the use of saw.
In a sentence such as this, the comma does more to take away from the
readability than it does to add to it. A
more effective phrasing might be:
Prince Kirby was caught off guard when he saw Morella in such
we have taken care of the comma without changing the meaning of the sentence.
However, commas can also work for the writer, creating more opportunity
to add imagery. This sentence is
easily understood, but can be still better with more descriptive words and some
helpful insights into the mind of the character.
Partially out of shock, but mostly out of utter disgust,
Kirby vomited at the sight of the ravished remains of Morella.
one adds detail, it is important not to go overboard.
A sentence that is too wordy can be more distracting than a sentence that
is as bland as butterless popcorn. An
example of overkill:
of disgust, shock, and utter horror, with a touch of vehemence thrown in there
for good measure, Prince Kirbya man of great reputation and
fortitudedisplayed his human foibles by vomiting profusely at the sight of
his once cherished and beautiful Morella--now nothing more than a ravaged and
after I read over that rather lengthy sentence again, it doesnt seem so bad
(minus the whimsical comment about vehemence).
However, it is entirely unnecessary to mention that Morella was once
cherished and beautiful, as that should have already been established earlier in
the story. The same can be said of
the description of Prince Kirby.
examining the progression of the example sentences above, it is important to
note that the attitudes and expressions become clearer with every sentence. The more detail that is added, the more the reader will feel
as if he knows exactly what the characters are going through.
Details make it easier for the reader to relate to the characters and to
their situations. But again, too many details, especially those of the
unnecessary variety, will lose a readers interest; all the hours spent
putting those words on paper will have been in vain, if the reader chooses to
read something elsesomething that will keep his or her attention.
and tone are also developed by the vernacular and vocabulary of each individual
character. For example, a comical
character may have a limited vocabulary with very predictable yet irrational
dialog, or he could have an unusually expansive catalog of terms at his
disposal, and may chose to display this vocabulary without warning at the worst
possible time. Likewise, indicators
of background -- such as morals, temperament, and education of a character --
are often displayed by his choice of words and ability to communicate with other
is important to include subtle differences in dialect, whether the story is
based in reality or in the realm of fantasy.
It goes without saying that in works of a fantasy author has more liberty
in the language of the writing, including the creation of new languages, the
nuances and particulars of dialects, and even the ins and outs of the
grammar and dialog structure. But
this liberty can become a burden when the author is trying to convey a message
to the reader. It is very easy for
a writer to become too involved in those very same nuances and particulars, and
lose the focus of the story he is trying to tell.
something else that goes without saying: if
the characters are to have impressive and varying vocabularies, the author is
going to need to have at her disposal a much more comprehensive knowledge of
words than the sum of the characters they have created.
so here we have another example of bad formin two consecutive paragraphs I
have stated that which goes without saying. If
these things truly go without saying, which they do, then I am just exercising
my right to lengthen this copy with pointless words, a right which is
devastating when employed, as it serves only to lengthen the appearance of the
copy without actually adding anything of substance or relevance.
Be aware at all times of what is being written to avoid rambling and to
keep the reader reading.
guideline you should follow above all others: When it comes to your own work,
dont listen to anybody else until youve listened to yourself.
Do what seems best for your own characters and your own writing, and then
see if it fits in what the rest of the literary world deems acceptable.
And if its not in sync (damn that boy band, theyve destroyed a
perfectly good phrase!) with the worlds standards, who cares?
Its yours; enjoy it.