A recent epiphany while revising: I had been focused overmuch on the way words look on the page and had begun to ignore how they sound. I found that reading aloud my entire manuscript (something the amazing Barbara O’Connor always does) really helped me catch unintended repetitions, awkward phrasings and overuse of pet words (one of these days, I will write an entire novel without using the word, “just,” not even once!).
The way words sound matters. If you are ever anywhere near LA (or any other place she might be teaching), make sure you take a class from Ann Whitford Paul. She is the queen of poetic picture books and she gives an amazing talk on using a poet’s tools in writing prose. I can’t do justice to her wisdom, but I remember her speaking at length on how certain sounds work to convey certain emotions. For example, hard sounds (found in the word “kick”) seem to convey hard emotions. Can you imagine a gentle way to say, “I’m going to kick you”? And, though I suppose in some instances the sibilance of an “s” could remind the listener of a snake’s hiss in some way, this sound is primarily soft and soothing.
In a draft I’m working on, I’d written this sentence after a little girl gets pushed down on the ground by some mean older boys:
Blood seeped around the edges of the ragged hole in her tights.
I’m thinking that the s sound in “seeped” might be too soft. Among other options, my thesaurus suggests, “oozed” and “trickled.” I’m kind of leaning toward “oozed” because it sounds better with “around,” and because — at least to me — it connotes something worse than a trickle.
Do you think about the sounds of the words you use? I’m betting you do and I’d love to see examples of revisions you made based on sounds.
Love this post! I like to do really close readings to figure out why certain words make me feel a particular way. It could be the sound–like you just showed with your bloody line and how the ooze/around combo gets that full, round O feel in the mouth–or it could be grammatical.
Swap out the past tense “seeped” with a present participle “seeping” and you get a suspension of time and lingering mood. Gerunds can create so many different types of mood through stasis–pleasant and not so pleasant.
If you were writing your story in the present tense and the line “Blood seeped around the edges…” were *gerundized* to “Blood. Seeping around the edges…” Creates a different mood altogether (and a different story).
Sorry to mess with your words. I hope that little girl gets up and kicks some mean boy butt.
I loved thinking about this aspect of writing. I guess as a musician and writer I’ve subconsciously been aware of the sound and depth of words, but never really stared this concept in the face. I’m so glad to see your example of it as well, which paints a vivid emotional picture that transports me into your story even though it’s only one line.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately on how words sound. I am not an auditory learner by nature, but I’m finding myself falling in love with the spoken word. I started listening to audio books recently. I find myself noticing words I missed while reading the same book.
I also started using a voice dictate program to use while drafting. It’s interesting because I am much more bold when I speak into a microphone.
I wonder what it all means?
By the way, I like the word “oozed” as well.