Thursday, February 6, 2014
Put Down That Thesaurus (What Not to Do)
This past week, I downloaded a sample of a book to my kindle. (I was iffy about the author because I'd been disappointed with his/her earlier book.) Right up front, the book hooked me. THEN, I read to the end of the sample. One of the last few words, from the point of view of a woman who worked at a flower shop and used and thought in everyday language, was something similar to and along the lines of magisterial.
The word, so did not fit with the story, with the character, with the flow of words, that it jarred me right of the sample and actually discouraged me from wanting to read more.
But magisterial, or any similar out-of-context word, is just one little word, right?
Yet the sample represents the author's storytelling abilities and the author's handling of the story.
The use of one word reveals that the author is more interested in using his/her thesaurus than telling an awesome well-written story. There's a big difference in the focus on writing, than in the focus on telling and writing a story well.
Instead of story, this author's real focus is on words. Yeah, you can combine words to tell a story; however, if the focus is on all the thesaurus-based, big fancy words, then the actual words become THE story. This one word, or a similar-type description, reveals that this story will be the author's story, not the characters, and that I will have difficulty relating to and connecting to the characters because the author didn't step out of the way and allow the characters to live on the page and share their story.
The thesaurus has a place in a writer's life, but ALL thoughts and actions and dialogue MUST be from the point of view of the current character. All setting, action--basically ALL words--are through the experience of that particular character. Otherwise, they are just words.
And when an author shares the point-of-view (POV) character's experiences, and intrudes with words that do not fit with or for that particular character, the reader-character connection is broken. By using words lifted from a list of thesaurus synonyms, that do not apply for that POV, the writer is cheating his/herself and also the reader.
Yes, the thesaurus can add flavor to the character's POV, but a person from the country would not describe the blue of the sky as cerulean, but more like cornflower or robin-egg blue. The description and observation would come from the basis of that character's experience, not from the thesaurus.
Cerulean, however, might fit well for a fashion designer or a psychologist, to use as a common, everyday word for a description of a drilled-down color of blue.
That's the key!
The character that the above-mentioned author shared with me was not presented, in thought, action, words, introspection, etc., as someone who would use or think such a word as magisterial. Such usage makes the story more about the author than the story or the character or the reader-character connection.
Sadly and understandably, I, and many others, I am sure, will not be buying the book. And I'm not being magisterial at all. (Yes, I looked up the word magisterial, the word I used in my example above, AND the actual word the author used, in my handy-dandy thesaurus.)