Friday, February 1, 2013

Twelve Necklaces

Our language seems limitless, yet we use certain word combinations repeatedly. They aren't clichés exactly, but pairs and groups of words that are familiar, like majestic mountains or winning smile. I think we use them as a shorthand: two words stand in for a paragraph of description. When we speak, we don't have time to choose fresh language if we want the conversation to flow. But when we write there's all the time in the world to choose our words carefully.

In our own language we presume a shared culture as well. Certain phrases may only be understood in certain regions or in certain time periods, particularly if they are colloquialisms or slang phrases. Readers from other areas may or may not understand the word without the description. So, if you leave the shorthand-like phrases in your written piece, be aware that not everyone may understand the references.

On the flip side, beware of the descriptions that are too familiar as well. If you write about a little girl's birthday party and you say the balloons were pink, the girl was wearing a twirly skirt, the tablecloth was lacy, and there were pink plates, you may not be showing the reader anything new: many people have an assumption about what little girls like and are like. You might write that the balloons had wishes on slips of paper inside them, the girl wore twelve necklaces, the tablecloth belonged to her elderly neighbor, and the pink plates held two-tiered cupcakes. Reach past your first impulse, take a second or third look.

If only a few stories exist in the world and they get told over and over, then your job is to tell one in a way that really comes from you. To personalize your story after you write it, check for phrases you've heard before and underline them. Then go back and go deeper into the meaning, imagine the phrases differently. Likely, the piece will get stronger.

Alternatively, use the phrases in a new context. Maybe the majestic oak tree is a way of describing a frilly toothpick on a sandwich.

Freshening our language can change how we see the world. Try thinking about language in a particular culture. Think about rewriting and personalizing familiar scenes and phrases. And think about putting familiar phrases into new contexts. We crave new experiences, whether we admit it or not.



4 comments:

Nicholas said...

That's cool stuff. I hadn't thought about certain words having as much meaning as an entire paragraph. Great post.

Velma Bolyard said...

yes. i just taught the hooligans about idioms. they were nonplussed.

Velma Bolyard said...

oh, and nifty car, is it yours?

Alisa said...

Saw the car on one of my walks, parked a few blocks from where I live, and thought it worthy of a pic. Glad you liked it. Peace.