Friday, May 28, 2010

Have you ever run out of words?

Sometimes it feels like there just aren't enough words. And I'm not talking about writer's block--that's a WHOLE other blog post. No, what I mean is, the struggle to find new and interesting ways to explain the same thing.

For example, if you're a mean writer like I am, you probably put your characters in a lot of stressful situations. And when you do, you need to show--not tell--their reactions, so your readers feel what they're feeling.

But how many times can the character's heart stop, or their stomach twist, or bile rise in their throat, or their palms sweat, or 'insert other-over-used-reaction here' before it just gets repetitive? How else do you say it, though?

Mind you--sometimes the situation itself is so obviously stressful that the reaction goes without saying. Oh how I love those moments. But what about the other times? The places where something seemingly innocent is said or done, but it triggers some sort of memory or thought or feeling in your character. What then? What do you do when there really aren't any words left to describe their reaction (especially their physical reaction)?

If you're me, you track down your CPs and beg for help. And then you spend 30-45 minutes brainstorming bad ideas until you finally, FINALLY land on something useable. Which is all well and good until you think about the fact that you just spent 30-45 minutes on one sentence.

One.
Sentence.
!!!!

Seems like there HAS to be an easier way. Maybe you guys know the answer. 

Do you ever run out of words? And how do you find the words you need if you do?

29 comments:

  1. OMG! I feel you. Right now I'm not fighting it, I'm just writing it all down without thinking of how many times I use any particular word.

    Revisions, however, are going to be a bear! When I take a closer look and realize I've got their heart racing 47 times and blinking back unwanted tears 32 times....yeah. BIG fun.

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  2. First of all I totally understand this frustration - I have it too. POV makes a big difference too, sometimes first person is much better, but not always.

    I try to use simple words to form metaphors or similes with provocative imagery to keep things orginal.

    Example: It was boring like a balloon without enough air left inside to make a decent farting noise.

    Just my two cents! Thanks for sharing Shannon.

    Today's guest blogger is THE Elana Johnson!

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  3. Uh, yeah. I feel ya. It's hard coming up with a different way to say "my heart stopped," without repeating myself.

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  4. Have you checked out The Bookshelf Muse? I live on that blog 24/7 while editing. Seriously, check it out now. It's a thesaurus for emotions, setting, and symbolism. :D

    Have a great weekend!

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  5. I am horrible at describing things, but have tried to read more (and pay attention to how well some authors can describe)--using your tips are also a great idea

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  6. Hi Shannon!

    First of all, thanks so much for following (waves back :))! Sorry it's taken me a few days to get back to you.

    Glad you liked my profile. Sometimes I read it and thing, "Geez, people are going to think you're cracked!" Yes, the 25 pound cat comment usually gets looks of an incomprehensible nature. But it's just his breed. He's a big boy!

    I look forward to getting to know you too. ALways happy to meet another writer :) Especially one who writes fantasy. Where I'm from, we're a very small minority.

    In regards to this post, I constantly struggle to come up with new ways to say and describe the same old things. I find myself re-reading and discovering (with much annoyance) I've had my characters sigh more than speak!

    Have a wonderful weekend!
    Jen

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  7. I keep a file folder of posts from Angela at The Bookshelf Muse, and it is worth its weight in gold a hundred times over! That woman is PURE BRILLIANCE! :-)

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  8. Too funny! I often find myself describing things the same way. And yeah, it's frustrating when you spend so much time on one freaking sentence!

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  9. Oh. Yeah. Especially for the little emotions--frown, scowl, smile, grin, rapid pulse. Sigh. I use my thesaurus a lot and Angela Ackerman's The Bookshelf Muse is an awesome resource. (well, now I see everybody's shouting out Angela, as well they should!)

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  10. haha, yup. I think my character's heart stops and stomach twists about thirty thousand times. Thankfully I'm in my first draft still... but I think I need to learn some new words ASAP! Glad I'm not alone!

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  11. If i say that my heart stopped I try to actually picture a heart stopping then I try to describe what I'm seeing in my head, so like, "the beating in my chest became muted" or, "the lump behind my ribs had stopped beating".

    Try actually picturing the event you "overuse" so here's another, stomach in a twist,
    "my insides were wound tight." "my gut was in a knot." "I couldn't straighten myself up thanks to the twisted mess that is my guts."

    Hope this helped... remember... VISUALIZE! ;) you got this!

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  12. I usually don't notice until I go back and edit. Then those repetitve words and phrases start leaping out at me. Best thing I can do is break out Mr. Thesarus and go from there.

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  13. I feel ya. My mc has a heart condition...not really but if anyone in real life had their heart race, stop, thunder, skip, and so on as much as she has...they would be dead.

    I am going to check out that Bookshelf Muse that everyone is talking about!!

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  14. I have no answers. Just empathy. Over half of my book takes place in a confessional - in the first draft, I had a lot of claustrophobia-type description. I think I had 45 "chest tightening" statements. And then I thought about animalizing the fear / feeling and suddenly I have an arsenal of new words. Darkness as the panther can claw, scratch, bite, hunt, etc.

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  15. What also helps me in these cases is to try and use the scene's setting and atmosphere *itself* to build some of that dramatic tension and get the reader to feel it. Also, copious reading helps, cuz I can crib some words that other authors have used to great effect.

    Contest Ending! Help Pick a Winner On My Blog!

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  16. good lord! Matthew made me spit out my tea! ;o)

    Honey, I am there with you while you preach on! I reference books I enjoyed in the same POV or look into how the setting can tell create the atmosphere I need - sometimes I just have to step back and then approach it as though I am merely a spectator trying to understand a mime. Can they convey enough by movement/show or is this an instance where telling can work?

    Visit My Kingdom Anytime

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  17. Oh good gosh I know exactly what you mean. At this point I've started making my MC tougher just so I don't have to describe those scenarios anymore. If you find a good way, PLEASE share!

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  18. I run out of words all the time! If you ever find a sure fire solution for that, I'd be happy to hear it.

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  19. I have definitely experienced this problem. After a while, I found that the structure of my sentence lended to using and reusing the same word types. So I changed my sentence structure or point of views (sort of) and that helped a great deal. Also made my my writing less formulaic.

    Great post!

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  20. I've had this problem, too. I keep a folder stuffed with wording and passages I stumble across while reading and researching. When my brain fails me, I reach for the folder.

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  21. I so agree. I keep words I read on index cards. But I also like you just stare at the page & sometimes don't come up with much.

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  22. That's definitely something that stalls my writing, too. For the first draft, I try to just write through it, with a note to myself to go back and revise that particular sentence later. I do echo Stina's recommendation for The Bookshelf Muse. She has so many amazing words/phrase. :)

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  23. Hi Shannon! I'm so glad you introduced yourself on my blog. YES! I run out of words...or the ones that matter, anyway. And you know what else I've found? The sentences that I think are really cool are usually the ones that end up being edited out. I've also found that sentences that I think are boring or overused are the ones that my critique partners like the most - go figure. I'd be lost without my critique group! I'm thrilled to have found your blog and I look forward to getting to know you too! Have a fabulous Memorial Day weekend.

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  24. I run out of words all the time. When that strikes I like to read through my dictionary. I know it sounds weird but it sometimes helps things flow.

    Have a great weekend.

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  25. LOL, I only worry about that once I'm doing my second draft.

    Then I have to do a find of my crutch words, highlight the ones I use all the time, and then see where I can use metaphor, and where staightforward descriptions might work better.

    Then I freak out a little and send it off to betas to figure it out for me. ;)

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  26. Sadly I don't think there's an easier way. I found so many 'took a deep breath' and 'breathed deeply' in my first draft I thought I was going to strangle the computer. 'Cause, you know, it had to be its fault... *sigh*

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  27. Interesting post...it makes me think a lot, but I don't necessarily have an answer. You have to try thinking out of the box. Go beyond your immediate genre and see what works.

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  28. Adding in I use the Book Shelf Muse, as well. The emotion thesaurus is great. I also like using her setting thesaurus.

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