Monday, August 29, 2011

It's all about word choice

So you know when you're writing a scene and it's just not working? And you can't really figure out why? I'm here to tell you:

It's all about word choice.

This is a lesson I'm learning the hard (but fun!) way through my advisors at VCFA, and it's true about so many things it's not even funny. Word choice is why adverbs are evil. Word choice takes a ho-hum scene and turns it into an OMGSCENEOFAWESOME. The difference between "hug" and "caress," between "walk" and "stagger," between "loud" and "explosive" is quite huge. 

But it's not always easy to figure out what the right word or group of words is to set the scene you want to create. Just the other night, for example, I was trying to write a kissing scene. (My favorite!) But not just any kind of kissing scene — a very specific kind. I wanted to write a more romantic kissing scene, the kind where it's clear the two characters are falling in love, where it's not about lust or passion, but about romance and tenderness. 

And I was really struggling. 

So I took a step back. I watched some videos of kissing scenes. (Totally for research. I swear.) Then I did my favorite kind of brainstorming: I created a wordlist for the scene. 

A wordlist can be a great way to set the mood for a scene you're struggling with. Basically, the goal is to create a list of words that remind you of that scene — but they don't all have to be related to that scene or the action taking place in it. For example, on my kissing list, I included words like "hold" "pull" and "lips," but I also included words that simply felt that they belonged in that scene, such as "sheer," "light," "slip," and "warmth." As I was watching the kissing videos, any words that came to mind that reminded me of the scene I was trying to create went on the list, even if they had nothing to do with kissing.

You can do this for any scene. A fight scene might have words like cut, beat, black, hard, and so on. Cut and beat obviously would be involved in fighting, but black? Hard? Those simply feel like they belong in a fight scene, even though the actual words have nothing to do with fighting. (And of course, you can disagree. Your word list will look nothing like mine.)

When you're done with your list, you have a foundation for your scene. You can take your list of words and try to build your scene around it. You don't want to over do it — just a few choice words sprinkled throughout the scene will help set the right tone and mood.

So the next time you're stuck trying to create the right mood for a scene, try a word list, or swap out some of the more dull, drab words in your scene for something with a little more punch. It will make a huge world of difference.

Do you have any tactics for helping you set the mood for a scene? How do you make sure the words you're choosing are right?

1 comment:

  1. I love this. I'm going to have to give it a try. (Any excuse to watch some good kissing scenes, right?)


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