Friday, April 22, 2016

Best of the Archives: Juicy Words


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Occasionally I’ve written staff interviews or articles for my church’s monthly newsletter, and a friend told me she especially enjoyed reading the ones I wrote because I use what her elementary school-aged son called “juicy words.”
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Naturally, I laughed. Juicy words? . But you know, as writers, isn’t that what we should be aiming for? To make our stories come alive with juicy words and phrases? To use them to paint vivid pictures, evoke emotion and reveal character for our readers?
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Now before you call 911 and demand that my thesaurus be taken away from me, please note that I’m not talking about replacing every word or phrase you use with something utterly out of the ordinary, a deluge of prose that bogs down the story flow and makes readers stagger from one paragraph to the next. (Haven’t you read books where sentences are overwritten and clunky? Far too many sentences that draw you to a screeching halt and unfamiliar words forcing you to grab a dictionary every other page?)
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What I AM talking about is adding a pinch of spice. A splash of color. A tang of taste. Not using the first word or clich├ę that materializes in your head—and leaving it there on the page, gathering dust. Yes, in first drafts that’s entirely acceptable. Getting the story on the page is first and foremost. But when that draft is done. . . there’s still oodles of work to do!
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. JUICY: rich, succulent, flavorful, tasty, full of vitality
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Check out this "before" example:
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Two words got Trent Michaels’ attention and reminded him of his pre-West Point, pre-deployment days a dozen years ago.
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But Ruth Logan Herne’s “Reunited Hearts” says it this way:  Two words jerked Trent Michaels out of his comfort zone, tunneling him back a dozen years, pre-West Point, pre-deployment.
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Don’t you get an entirely different impression of the scene from Ruthy’s words? The first attempt states the situation nicely enough. The facts are there. But the second makes you feel it. The abruptness of the word “jerked” and the visual “tunneling” make all the difference. You’re there with Trent, aren’t you, as he hurtles back in time?
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And how about this "before"?
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She thought about the sound the pine needles made as she walked on them, the bugs flying around, the sun making her face feel warm.
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Audra Harder’s “Rocky Mountain Hero” puts it this way: She concentrated on the soft crunch of pine needles beneath her every step, the cloud of gnats buzzing around her ears, the wayward splotch of sunshine heating her face.
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Nice, isn’t it? And no thesaurus in sight!  Notice how specifics also beef up the image—not just “bugs” but “gnats.” Not just buzzing, but buzzing around her ears.
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How about this "before" phrase? It felt painful as he remembered…

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Missy Tippens’ “A Family For Faith” puts it: Pain steamrolled him flat to the floor as he remembered …

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Minor wording modification, but “steamrolled” is so active, so evocative. See how juicy words and phrasing work? Or how about how Missy turned a quite common “he laughed” into “A deep chuckle rumbled in his throat.” “He laughed” states a fact, but can’t you almost hear him in her choice of words?
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Myra Johnson’s “Romance By the Book” took an ordinary “She caught her breath” and turned it into “A hiccup of a breath caught in her throat.” And … “Sailor wanted to help him, but he’d already turned down Allan’s offer” was molded in Myra’s hands to become: “Sailor ached to help him, but he’d already rebuffed Allan’s offer.”
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See how emotion is revealed in her juicy word selection? Let’s look at a few more "before" and "after" examples:
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Before: He drank a glass of tea as he watched Margaret Reilly walk around the great room of the Reilly home. She was dressed in a pink suit.
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Tina Radcliffe’s “A Rancher’s Reunion” says it this way – He sipped a tall, chilled glass of sweet tea and watched Margaret Reilly flit around the great room of the Reilly home. A butterfly in a pink suit.
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You not only get a sense of who Margaret is, but you “see” Will, too, sipping that ice-cold tea.
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Before: Having washed and rinsed his hands, Will washed his face and neck and dried off with paper towels.
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Again the facts are stated, but Tina Radcliffe’s “A Rancher’s Reunion” enriches it as: Sudsing his hands and rinsing, Will sluiced water over his face and neck, drying off with a wad of paper towels."
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Can’t you just see Will sudsing up? Smell the soap? Feel the water on his face and how drying off with a wad of paper towels rubs his skin?
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Before: Her young charge was on the landing, hair in a bun, her cheeks pale, her gaze on Callie.
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Janet Dean’s “Wanted: A Family” puts it like this:  Her young charge appeared on the landing, her hair corralled in a tight bun, her cheeks pale, her gaze tethered to Callie’s like a lifeline.
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Before: At dusk, streetlamps came on. As afternoon became evening, it got quiet and felt as serene as the town’s name. Peaceful.
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Janet Dean’s “Wanted: A Family” said it this way: The colorless cloak of dusk settled around them, streetlamps flared to life. The clamor of the afternoon softened to a sigh leaving a sense of serenity that whispered the town’s name. Peaceful. In these two examples, Janet paints a vivid picture, sets the mood.
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Before: The people were quiet and only the soldiers walking along could be heard.
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How did Debby Giusti write it in “The Officer’s Secret?”  A hush fell over the crowd, leaving only the cadenced footfalls of the soldiers to echo in the stillness of the day. I don’t know about you, but I can feel that solemn, military procession.
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Before: Katie struck out at Jack and pretended to glare at his friends.
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Julie Lessman’s “A Hope Undaunted” did it this way: Katie swatted at Jack and broiled his friends with a mock glare. Can’t you just see Julie’s feisty young flapper? Love it!
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Before: The Colorado River flowed through the canyon.
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Mary Connealy’s “Deep Trouble” lassoed that mundane description and replaced it with: The bright blue of the Colorado River twisted like the grand-daddy of all rattlesnakes in the far depths of the canyon. . And a few more juicy words . . .
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Can you tell Cheryl Wyatt loves to write action-packed scenes in this description from A Soldier’s Reunion?  Disregarding her own pain and fear, she scrambled through mazes of twisted metal, forcing her feet across puddles of burning gasoline.
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Look what Camy Tang did in her “Deadly Intent” – "His sandalwood cologne wove around her” and “Her heart twirled in a riotous dance.” And how about: “She took the bag from them, the scent of garlic curling up at her.”
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Cara Lynn James (“Love On Assignment”) took a standard “she blushed” and turned it into “A blast of heat scalded her cheeks.” And a simple “Charlotte smiled” transformed into a character-revealing phrase with Cara’s spin on it: “Charlotte squeezed out a smile.”
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And last, but not least, Glynna Kaye’s “Second Chance Courtship” takes "wind blew the snow off the trees" and converted it to this: A blustery gust shook the powder-like crystals loose, flinging them into the air and sending a fairy dust cascade earthward.
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See how a few well-chosen words can make a difference? Make the most of those JUICY WORDS!!
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Their Unexpected Love. Sunshine Carston is looking for more than beautiful scenery when she moves with her daughter to Hunter Ridge, Arizona. She’s looking for answers. According to family legend, her ancestors were cheated out of their land by the Hunter family. But when she meets Grady Hunter, Sunshine’s mission is endangered—how can she investigate the Hunters when she’s falling in love with one? When Grady’s mother becomes ill, Grady steps in to help her run against Sunshine for town council. But what will Grady say when he finds out about Sunshine’s investigation? To rise above the past and forge a future together, they’ll need a love stronger than any feud...

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This post first appeared in Seekerville on August 24,2011. Comments are closed to today to allow us all more reading and writing time.