Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Write On Wednesday - Wordplay


Those are some of my favorite words. Yes, I have favorite words - I suspect all writers do. Words you want to say out loud, words you want to write with a fountain pen on thick parchment paper, words you want to link together to form a profoundly meaningful sentence that will touch the hearts of your readers. Writers play with words like artists play with color, photographers play with light, and musicians play with sound. We maniuplate these miraculous little tools of our trade to create atmosphere, character, and emotion, all brought to life by black and white letters on white paper.
In Poemcrazy, Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge writes about her word collection. "The great thing about collecting words is they're free; you can borrow them, trade them in, or toss them out. Words are lightweight, unbreakable, portable, and they're everywhere." One of Wooldridge's favorite exercises with her writing classes is to create a "wordpool" - everyone in class starts tossing out words which she writes on the chalkboard. Soon, she says, the words and voices begin to take on a rhythm of their own. Words evoke other words, and the students find themselves creating poetic combinations almost effortlessly.
You can even play this game by youself. The other day I was sitting in the mall waiting for my mom to finish shopping. I pulled out my notebook and started writing down any word that came into my head. Out of the list came combinations like apricot illusions, feathered whispering, illicit muses, percolating clouds.
Author Barbara DeMarco Barrett uses her word collection for free writing prompts. She collects meaningful words and phrases from her reading of favorite authors and copies them onto small slips of paper, which she tucks into an antique box. When she's looking for inspiration, or a way to prod her imagination, she reaches in, picks one out, and free writes for fifteen minutes, using this word as her starting point.
Both Wooldridge and DeMarco-Barrett advise keeping a notebook for words you love the sound of, would love to use, that impress you, that you've never heard before.
As much as we love to play with words, Stephen King has a dire warning for us when it comes to our vocabulary. "One of the really bad things you can do," he advises in his book On Writing, "is to dress up your vocabulary, using long words just because you're a little ashamed of the short ones. The basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate and cogitate you will probably come up with another word, but it probably won't be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean."
So, how about you? What are some of your favorite words? And how do you like to play with them?



Blogger Star said...

I find the snippets you've shared so interesting because I read somewhere that you should never use a bigger word when a smaller word would do--sort of from the mindset that using big words was just showing off and probably muddied the water for the reader.

I started my word pool as soon as I read it in poemcrazy. I've always had words that I like but didn't realize other did too until then. My list started in a looseleaf notebook but eventually I had to put it in an Excel file so I could alphabetize it (you know me!). As for playing with them, I don't. I should, but I don't. I just keep adding to my list, amassing them like adding gold coins to a treasure chest "just in case." For the most part I am not just dying to use a particular word in something (or anything) just to use it (which sounds curiously like my penchant for never using the art supplies I had as a child because I was saving them for a time when I might really want them--as if we might not be able to afford more--hmmm). I collect words that I like to say, words that sound like what they mean, words that evoke immediate emotion, words that I read somewhere and want to make my own.

Some of my favorites: coalesce, crinoline, diaphanous, folderol, inkling, murmur, piffle, redolent, sway, windowsill--also one of my favorite hyphenated words: clickety-clack.

This is such a fun post, Becca. I will need to check back to see how others respond.

Blogger Becca said...

Star - I like this idea - I just keep adding to my list, amassing them like adding gold coins to a treasure chest "just in case." That's what words are, aren't they - gold coins in the writers treasure chest?

I like some of your favorites too, especially "piffle" - when I was a teenager, my best friend and I used that word a lot, for some reason. It brought back a nice memory :)

Thanks for playing!

Blogger Tammy said...

I forget my favorites but I love the idea of a "wordpool" for inspiration on my poetry. THANKS!

Blogger deirdre said...

I just love this idea of a word pool. I don't have a favorite word right now, but will be thinking about it in the next few days.

Blogger susanlavonne said...

Great words! I love the idea of a wordpool and how brilliant of you to use what would otherwise be a boring wait-time to be creative!
Makes me wonder how our current mood influences the words that first come to mind and then as the list evolves..how the words/mood may change..hmmmm

Blogger Jane Poe (aka Deborah) said...

I've always had certain words that speak to me, but I never thought of collecting them - what a great idea!

I love luminous, tragic, effervesent, brilliant, symbiotic. So many more...

Much peace, JP

Blogger paris parfait said...

This is a fascinating post, Becca. I have a lot of words that I favour; lately I have become very taken with the sounds and beauty of some Spanish words. I agree with King's view that sometimes the best word is the simplest and the one that immediately comes to mind. And in my "Boite d'Idees" (in a previous post) I toss scraps of papers with word combinations and ideas.

Anonymous bella said...

I have favorites, but I don't have a collection. I would love to start one though.
Most words I love to use are ones that give me a good vibe about situations:
sparkle is a big favorite.

I'm famous for using my Thesaurus when I feel a word is to plain to use in my descriptions. I might not do that anymore for writing, but definitely for expanding my vocabulary.

Anonymous amy said...

a friend of a friend started this website recently..


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm...well, I 'reckon' that I'm gonna have to give this some 'serious' thought. Mind you, it might take me a while to 'figure' this out, as I tend to 'misremember' from time to time...
But I tell you what, there are a whole 'heckuva' lot of words that I find darn right 'magical'. But like I said, 'Missy', when they come to me, I'll be sure to let 'y'all' know.


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