A writer is someone who sees ordinary people, places, and events in a complex way. My world is filled with ‘what ifs.’ I’m a writer and my motto is: there are so many stories to tell. I want to share those multifarious adventures created by my over active mind. I want an audience to delight in the art of the story. I’ve learned that it’s not only the plot or characters but importantly how you voice a tale that keeps readers invested and turning pages– and the sound, emphasis and personality is what makes our narrative voice distinct and ensures it is unique, fresh and interesting. The language we use is fundamental to how we bring the voice forth- inserting overused language blends our work into the combined voices of a choir and keeps it ordinary.
Here are some of the key ways we reduce our uniqueness and potentially lose the spark that keeps us singular:
Cliché: a cliché is an overused expression or idea. I think of clichés as common language, everyday vernacular, tired phrases that can be used as filler when creativity lapses or the writer loses energy. It’s not that using clichés is incorrect; I sometime use a cliché in a line of dialogue to reveal a particular quality of a character. Yet while that particular tic can belong to a character, used in the narrative voice, it can undermine the quality and freshness of the writing by being boring. Readers are receptive to the new; regurgitating the old can cause them to fall asleep.
Jargon: I feel somewhat the same about jargon though if you’re writing a detective novel or medical story the use of language particular to the profession is certainly appropriate. But too much jargon can become irritating. Remember, it’s about the story. Don’t distract because you want to show your familiarity with an occupation’s verbal code. If your words don’t move the plot forward – then you’re using jargon as a crutch. Jargon-heavy dialogue can stagnate rather than push the plot forward.
Acronyms: these are another such irritant though sometimes necessary. In Finding Ruby, the background plot revolves around a character named James P. Hollinger who is head of the U.S. Department of Defence (DoD). This same character is closely tied with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations, the FBI. Referring to the full name of these organizations is a mouth full, so in that case the acronyms are handy. They’re used throughout the book because these organizations are present to the point of being characters. So am I breaking my own rule? Perhaps! But, as I mentioned in my blog, “Unauthorized Rules,” rules are meant to be broken.
Then we have the expletive, language for those with limited vocabulary. I like to use specific naughty words for shock value at a point of high tension, such as when a character is overwhelmed or cornered. And, used sparingly and in unexpected ways, I find them particularly pleasing. However, when expletives are the norm for a character’s dialogue and it’s a trait that defines them, then that character needs further development. I’m neither prudish nor puritan, but I believe there are more inventive ways characters can show their vulgarity.
I love words and consider sentences a beautiful thing. Clichés, jargon, acronyms and expletives while acceptable if overused can weaken your story. I prefer to use them with great discretion.