Thursday, October 08, 2009

More on Happy Words

First, a formal congrats to Vicki for her starred review in PW for Winter of Secrets. Now everyone go order the book!

To the business at hand: Rick’s “Putting Words Together” piece (Sept. 22) has stayed with me. He covered many topics including editing as well as what some writers (a lot more knowledgeable and successful than me) have called the “magic” of fiction—using words that “sound happy together.” One question Rick raised was, How do we locate those happy words?

I think most of us write by ear, even the most expert grammarian among us. Athletes often speak of entering “the zone.” Runners speak of “runner’s high.” And I believe writers have this sacred space as well, that place where the book seemingly writes itself. Allow me to digress to a previous discussion of voice for a moment: For me, finding the voice of the piece equates to locating those elusive “happy words.”
James Lee Burke, in an interview in January Magazine (Oct. 2004), said, “The creative process is more one of discovery than creation. The character is already in the author, I think. The challenge is not to allow the ego of the character to dominate the story.” Burke speaks of allowing the character to come forward, undamaged by the writer’s inhibition. To me, this is voice—finding the proper persona for the piece. That done, the author may write confidently.

Of course, this is not easily accomplished. I’ve written some really unhappy words—outright angry words, really—over the years. Some real clunkers. Most have been caught, pre-publication. Some, admittedly, have not. But I know when my prose is fluid and crisp, my story is going well. When I’m writing words that fight amongst themselves, the story has stalled, and I’ve lost that much-sought-after confident, authoritative voice. So I go back and reread my story to see where I went wrong. Then I revise and work until the words are smiling once more because, like momma, when the words are unhappy, everyone else is too.

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