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Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Power Of Language

The way a writer uses language in their novel can either make it distinctive and fresh, or dull and uninspired. It's one of the weapons in your writer arsenal so make sure you know how to handle it like a pro.

Slang is one way to use language to your advantage. However, you have to be careful that it isn't something that will be obsolete or unpopular by the time your book comes out. Don't forget, finding an agent, then a publisher, and getting published can take years. The beauty of slang is that you can create your own, the catch is that you have to make sure your readers understand what it means. Anyone who loves sci-fi can tell you what frakkin means and from which series it originated. In my novel there are no clocks and time isn't thought of in minutes and hours. They use sundials and think of time in shadows of the sundial instead. I had to clarify that so the reader understood it.

Use your character's ethnic background to add flavor to the language of your novel. Throw in words from the language of their ancestors now and then in conversation when appropriate. If your character grew up speaking or hearing more than one language then there's a good chance that will come natural to them. Do your research and get it right though!

Be careful with offensive language, and I'm not just speaking from a young adult writers perspective. Sometimes by putting too much offensive language into your novel you run the risk of limiting your audience. Just like exclamation points, adverbs, and adjectives, cussing is more powerful when used in moderation.

Have fun with language, you're a writer, use it to your advantage!

14 comments:

  1. I love trying to figure out how my characters would say things when they don't understand the concept of time the same way I do. Months become Moons, hours and minutes don't exist, a year old becomes a summer old, even if you were born at the beginning of the summer. It's a lot of fun to use language to bring all of that across in a manuscript.

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  2. Me too, it's a lot of fun! A summer old, I love that!

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  3. I have the most problem with that "colorful" language, but hey, I'm from New Jersey and so are most of my characters so one could use the argument that they are talking in the style of where they come from!

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  4. I agree about using offensive language. It doesn't bother me when there's a little sprinkled in a book, but when it's on every other page I get annoyed.

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  5. LOL! Don't worry Alissa, it's also important to be authentic to your character's ethnic background. And if that's colorful, then that's what you have to be. ;-)

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  6. Me too Melissa! Like a certain HBO show that will go unnamed, I couldn't finish the first episode because the cussing was way over the top! A little goes a long way.

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  7. Everytime I start to type a cuss word in a scene my mother rears her head, shakes her finger and throws me in my room to think about what I've done... oh, wait now, that was when I was a kid. Okay, so it stuck. ;) I usually use substitutes and make it like a character tick - each character gets a couple expressions to work with. Don't know if that's any better, but that's what I'm trying for now.

    Heather - I just love your blog, Hun! More each day.

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  8. Words are our medium as artists. Just like paint, they can be used in infinitely creative combinations. So we should definitely choose carefully. I totally agree with what you said about cussing. I do tend to use it. But not a lot. And only when it's true to the character and situation. Can't wait till scribechat tonight!

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  9. I totally agree with your paragraph on slang - you are so frakkin' right! LOL. One of the more recent masters of slang language (I think) is James Dashner and the vocab he created for Maze Runner.

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  10. Thanks DL, that's so sweet! I think using a cuss word now and than as a character trait/tick is brilliant! When I was a teen several of my friends had their favorite words so that's very realistic!

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  11. Beautifully put Lisa! I use them rarely but they do slip in when and where they fit. Thanks, I can hardly wait for Scribechat too!

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  12. LOL, Shannon! A fellow sci-fi fan! I love it. Excellent point about Maze Runner. James is a true artist, one we can all learn from!

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  13. Good post! From a historical romance writers point of view, language is VERY important to our books. We need to first research the terms and slang of said time period and then use just the right amount of it, drawing the reader into our world without really even having to stamp a date on it but not too much that we risk alienating our readers due to excessive use of archaic words.

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  14. I never really thought of that Lindsey, great point. I'm researching for my historical YA fantasy and am just starting to realize how important language will be for it.

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