January 10th, 2009

On Diction

A tip: When something has gone catastrophically wrong in the life of a writer, do not offer the comfort that this turn of events will be “excellent material.” While the disaster in question may in fact someday be a topic for writing, that is a pretty tarnished silver lining when one has just lost their job, heart or luggage. I guess I can’t speak for everybody, but certainly, these things matter to me far more in and of themselves then for their potential as stories. If the adage “tragedy + time = comedy,” it’s a lot of time, even if the story won’t wind up being all that funny.

I find events and anecdotes to be the easiest part of writing, anyway. If you buy the “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” theory of writing, the inspiration is for me is the idea, the thing the stories supposed to be about. And ideas are pretty thick on the ground, catastrophe or not, reality-based or not. Everything else, that 99% of sweat and struggle, is finding the words and structure and voice to show that idea on the page in some way ressembling how I see it and feel it in my head.

When I find something in real life that that seems like material, it’s usually not a thing that happened, but words: a way of saying things that’s new to me, or a new thing to say entirely. Vibrant writing, I think, comes from language in tune with who the characters are, their vocabulary and emotions, articulateness, vernacular: diction.

I like to go places where language is used differently from how I use it . No one at my doctor’s office would use the word “diction” but they might use the words “incidence,” “ameliorate,” “aggressive therapy,” “monitoring” or “gown” in a very different sense than I would normally encounter them, if I encountered them at all. This is why I can’t leave anyone alone who works in medical profession–sorry, guys!

Lately, I’m in love with yoga-diction, even though I’ve never been the biggest fan of yoga, nor very good, either, since flexible+clumsy+poor equilibrium=floppy. And I do not enjoy all the pressure to relax–tension is one of the core components of my personality, thank you.


In an intro yoga class, they mention the Sanskrit words for the postures, but genially and loosely translate them for the neophytes. I love this stuff–it’s direct quotes, near as I can reconstitute it: “Ok, now for Cow Face, first we’re going to form the lips of the cow with our crossed legs, like so…ok, great! And now, for the ears, let’s reach our right hands up into the sky…” There’s something you don’t hear elsewhere.

Yoga or any sort of organized physical training give me a chance to look at bodies and body parts with scrutiny that I don’t usually give them. “Make sure your ankle isn’t sickling,” “Look up at your biceps,” “Let’s tighten up those lower abdominal muscles,” “How close together can you get your shoulder blades?”

This stuff is strange and not very relevant to most action, but it’s useful to be able to see things from such a radically new angle (from the floor, with your legs in the air above you and your knees resting on your forehead). As a writer, words are all I have to work with, and I’m always in search of more, and more ways to use them.

Which is why I’m telling myself it’s gonna be fun to go to the passport office this week. Really! Who knows what they’ll *say*?

And now you’ve turned the other cheek

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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