Word up

Bang!

As a linguist and a writer, I love words. However, as a teacher of creative writing, I know that the mis/over use of words, particularly adjectives and adverbs, is the most common ‘fault’ you’ll find in the work of novice writers.Insecurity will have new writers shoehorn as many descriptive words as they can get into a sentence – with the result akin to an over ‘bling-ed’ Christmas tree. The advanced writer will ‘show’ an emotion/atmosphere/interpretation without  resorting to a heavy-handed sprinkling of descriptive words.

It’s hard to ween yourself off adjectives and adverbs. Part of the problem is that there are so many words in the English language, a tongue with more word-families than any other language. This fact is rooted English having sprung from French and German, so there are English words that describe quite similarly (ie “loving” is from German and “amorous” is from French). And with such a lavish spread on offer, it is hard for the newbie writer to exercise restraint. Oh but, to improve, you must.

That is not to say you can’t enjoy words. English has magpied extensively from many languages. Most of my favourite words are ‘borrowed’ words and include: “pyjama” and “shampoo” which come from India (though I’m not sure of the specific languages), “Hacienda” and “siesta” which are Spanish. “Itsy-bitsy”, “paprika”, “coach”, “goulash”, “hussar” and “biro” which are Hungarian. “Smithereen”, “galore”, “banshee”, “slew”, “brogue”, “kibosh”, ‘hobo’ and “shanty” which come from Irish. I enjoy writing them, I love saying them – to paraphrase Frank McCourt, it feels like having jewels in your mouth. I’ve just got to be careful about over using ‘exotic’ words in my prose. It can look pretentious.

And you don’t only construct literary art from words but they also set the tone of the piece and there are certain words and phrases that are closely associated with particular genres of writing. Romance type novels I associate with “tawny” and “chiselled”. SciFi writers invent words to name their machines, planets and creatures such as “Klingons” and “Zogathons”.

Words are fun, go ahead and celebrate words – but do so in moderation…

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About suehealy

Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre and associate lecturer in playwriting at the universities of Lincoln and Portsmouth, Irish playwright Sue Healy has a PhD in modern theatre history. Her most recent stage play Imaginationship (2018) recently enjoyed a sell-out, extended run at the Finborough Theatre and is headed to the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough in August. Cow (2017) was staged at the Etcetera Theatre and Brazen (2016) ran at the King’s Head, funded by Arts Council England. Her work has been performed at the Criterion, Hackney Attic, Claremorris Festival (New Writing Award winner), Brighton Festival (the Sussex Playwrights’ Award Winner) and Sterts Theatre and has been developed by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin and support by the Peggy Ramsay Award. Her nine radio-plays have broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. She has won prizes for her prose including the Molly Keane and HISSAC Awards and the Escalator Prize. A UEA Creative Writing MA alumna, Sue spent eleven years in Budapest editing Hungary A.M. Sue also tutors Creative Writing at CityLit. View all posts by suehealy

4 responses to “Word up

  • Trent Lewin

    I think words are fickle instruments sent by the devil, and the longer they are, the more evil. Adverbs and adjectives, I much agree, in very strict moderation only, but I think there are some longer more writerish-sounding nouns and verbs that should go on a diet too, cause they’re fat. I would also kick to the curb long descriptions about stuff, cause in my head as mussed as it is, it’s likely from a statistical standpoint that the reader is smarter than the writer, and hey shouldn’t we give those readers some credit for being able to fill in the blanks and to help carry the story. I do however like run-on sentences. It’s also possible I suppose over supper that readers can come up with their own contrary conclusion or the like, that sounds like a reasonable possible outcome, I’m down with it.

  • heretherebespiders

    I rarely describe! Actually I think I need to do more, I never tell what a character looks like or set a scene. I didn’t know galore and slew are Irish! Brilliant, fair play to ye! 😆 (giggling)

  • harulawordsthatserve

    Love this, fascinating to know where some of those ‘jewel’ words come from – and thanks for the reminder to write with restraint…I’ll do my best.

  • Eagle-Eyed Editor

    I love the jewels in the mouth analogy. Wonderful.

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