The Book of the Lost Royals is a massive tome of two million words in a realm of nearly as many peoples. Hidden from time in a secret vault that knew no decay, it promises to recount an unknown history from an age of wonders. And now, a meticulous translation has begun.
Starting from the front and reading toward the center, the Book tells of Amethestra Straverian, lost princess of the Kingdom of Evereign. A baby abandoned in the wilds, she was found by the unlikeliest caretaker, the one person in all of Empyrelia who might protect her from those dark forces that sought to destroy the world. Under this mysterious witch’s careful, if unusual tutelage, the girl known as Tildy will discover the world beyond the protective borders of the Garden of Dappledown.
Astute observers might find themselves compelled to flip the book over, finding there the start of the tale of Prince Adamantin Straverian, her brother. His story progresses also toward the middle, recounting how he was smuggled to safety under a dead child’s name, by an adoptive mother who would never love him as equally as the child he replaced. The boy known as Samor has grown up behind the walls of the remote ice fortress Yrrengard, being tutored and trained to recover the crown he is unaware he has lost.Continue reading →
One never knows. A creative project is an emotional roller coaster filled with self-doubt, self-assurance, and second-, triple-, and quadruple-guessing.
Sounds like a Monday.
There are bleak days and dark ones. These are the times when you wonder if your book would better serve as a doorstop than entertainment. I know many writers feel similarly during the course of a project. It could be an external factor, like your day job, piling upon your feelings of self-worth. It could be a matter of life and love. It could be a change in weather. Or it could be that you’ve read that blasted manuscript so many times, the words might as well be in another language.
Unfortunately, those feelings can create powerlessness, creating doubts that are very difficult to overcome. It’s the reason that so many of us have abandoned drafts that we keep promising we’ll return to someday.
We’re often waiting for perfect conditions that never arrive.
When we’re honest with ourselves, truly honest, we recognize that those days are more exception than rule. There are also good days, which are more rule than exception. Even better, we have those moments when it doesn’t feel like work. When things are clicking. When you feel you might – just might – have tapped into something special. And it gives you the power to keep going.
So. I’m writing this for other writers to let them know that sometimes, the universe rewards you and reinforces that you need to keep going. Here are three examples of when this happened to me.
1. I’ve had four Trusted Readers say something like this: I started reading with the intent of being critical so I could give you good feedback. But I got carried away by the story. YES! To me, this is one of the highest compliments I could receive. Instead of the story feeling like a chore or being read as a favor, I’ve managed to produce an enjoyable tale. It tells me some of the unresolved minutiae is perhaps not the distraction I believed it to be.
2. I had a colleague mention that my book title kept running through his head (the conversation was the catalyst for this post). He wasn’t actively following my progress, but he’d seen my Facebook updates. Something about “The Starfall Omen” had intrigued him, which I explained was exactly why I liked the title. It’s not too bizarre to be confusing, but it creates a bit of mystery. When you’ve hooked someone who’s outside the circle of people you’re trying to attract, it suggests you’ve done the job correctly.
3. This example is my favorite. My wife is Trusted Reader #1. She’s a literature teacher and a voracious reader who devours more than 120 books a year. She knows what works and what doesn’t. With much trepidation, I’d given her a copy of the mid-draft. One evening, she came downstairs hugging the manuscript and asking for more. In no uncertain terms, I was commanded to go upstairs to start on the next book. And this, perhaps more than anything, is when I knew I was succeeding – not that I would find success as a writer, but that I had tapped into something special.
These are the kinds of things that keep you warm on those cold days of writer’s despair. They remind you that your writing has more power than you believe. They give you that extra push to keep going, even when you wonder whether you’re wasting your time.
Writing is never a waste of time, but sometimes we need to be reminded of that.
If a person writes a book and no one reads it, is it still a book? Depending on your reason for writing, your answer will vary.
I write for a variety of reasons – relaxation, brain exercise, practice my craft, gottagetthatdamnideaoutofmyhead – but I primarily write because I want to entertain people. It’s a need written in DNA, and a novel is the current medium in which I choose to satisfy it (I’ve also dabbled in flash fiction, a novella, pitched a comic series, and currently have two tabletop game ideas I’m exploring).
Looking at it from that perspective, I won’t find success until my writing is in someone’s hands, whether physically, digitally, or in the not-too-distant future, displayed via holographic projection. Said another way, what I’ve written is not really a book until someone reads it. It’s simply a interesting story, perhaps an exercise, occupying a similar paradoxical state as Schrödinger’s cat.
I imagine people protesting on my behalf: Don’t sell yourself short! There’s value in the experience! Simply finishing is a major accomplishment! All these things and more are true. They have value, and I appreciate the sentiment.
But they’re not the things that bring me to the keyboard. However…
It’s funny, as I write this I’m reminded of something from my childhood, a phrase I learned watching classic MGM movies:
Which brings me to another perspective. It doesn’t matter if anyone sees what you have written/sculpted/painted. You might be a working for an audience of one. You might be working for an audience of none. The very magic – the miracle, if you will – of creation is worthy in and of itself. “Art, for art’s sake,” as the roaring lion reminds us.
Perhaps that is truly why we write or pursue other creative endeavors. The muse will not be denied. The art cannot be contained. That, too, is written in DNA, perhaps scratched and scrawled deeper than a need to entertain.
In the end, it doesn’t matter which reason is more meaningful to you, if either are. However, I think it’s important to consider and decide, because much happiness, stress, and sadness comes from artistic pursuits. Understanding what brings you to your creative workspace will help ensure you keep returning.
I’ve decided both are important to me. I began this post intending to take a position. Share an opinion. But when it comes to art, opinions like criticisms hold less value than the work itself. No one is going to include the phrase “opinion, for opinion’s sake” in their logo.
Good luck to you in your writing, and to its paradoxical existence in the world.
Like a 1930s Pan Am Clipper whisking us to parts unknown, our fingers fly equally fast across keyboards or touchscreens, often with the intent of taking readers to similar exotic destinations. When we don’t take a few moments to check our spelling, who knows where our readers will arrive? By the following examples, and made-up definitions, we see that sometimes they’ll end up in a far different place.
Stonedhedge – A line of bushes used to hide casual drug use.
Nakropolis – City of nudists
Pyramids of Geezer – Large stone structures on the front porch of an old man who yells at people for walking on his lawn.
Mecha – The holy land of robots.
Deaf Valley – A desert in the southwest US where the extreme heat causes hearing loss.
Parsenon – An ancient Greek building used for the analysis of sentence grammar
Pyramids of Giza
I captured these years ago in a piece I was proofreading. The author was embarrassed to see these errors, telling me these places are common enough to easily verify, even if spellcheck fails. Yep. I told him that sometimes our eagerness to complete a piece causes us to forget a step or two. That’s ok. And that’s where a good proofreader and editor can help (though you probably want them checking the tough stuff, not the gimmes).
A post in which website marketing makes a surprising entry into Mike’s website about writing fiction.
I’m a senior product manager for legal websites, which means I’m regularly asked for my opinion on writing content. As a professional writer, too, I have a fairly passionate opinion that is desperate eager to be expressed. Fortunately for my colleagues, I’m judicious in editing and in my use of the backspace key.
Ironically, a recurring topic concerns website page lengths. Word count.
A brief tangent about my bias: I like to read and research, and I tend to be verbose. As such, it could be assumed that I fit in the more-is-better camp. However, I’m also pretty good at skimming and scanning, so word count on a webpage is less relevant to me than many readers. The posts I write for this site are probably in the 400-800 word range, anecdotally-speaking.
The topic usually resurfaces when an article is written about search engine marketing or optimization (SEM, SEO). The articles say something like this: “We’ve found that high quality pages are often longer pages.” To many people in the online marketing industry, this is distilled into the inaccurate “more words = higher quality”.
Point One: Correlation and Causation
But that interpretation is not what was said, is it? There might be a correlation between count and quality, but that doesn’t mean there’s a causation. Said simply, having more words doesn’t necessarily impact the quality of a page.
If you’re familiar with the old saying, “All elephants are grey, but not all grey things are elephants,” then you’re already with me.
Because there was a time when SEO/SEM was more formulaic, there are many people still striving to do X + Y + Z on a website to ensure that it’s found by search engines and given prominent placement in search results pages (SERPs).
That’s just not the way it works anymore. And humans don’t simply want long pages, they want ones of quality and ones that are easily consumed. Since that’s what humans desire, machines are learning to reward the websites that provide that kind of content.
Unfortunately, it also means that many sites are stuffing their pages with unnecessary words, grandiloquence, or words that some marketer thought would satisfy search engine crawlers. The unflattering result being a page of content stuffed with fluff and far less engaging than a certain honey-craving bear.
Point Two: Reader Need
Does this mean that all webpages should be short and digestible? Certainly not. Not every page serves the same purpose, and your site will likely benefit from a bit of variety. Some users want bite-size pieces of content that answer some quick questions. A few users don’t mind scrolling on their phone through 2,000 words when they want in-depth info (though that’s 4 Word doc pages, and that’s a lot of scrolling).
What they certainly don’t want is a page filled with repetitive and synonymous variations of their desired information. That’s basically a Mad Libs approach to writing and way less fun because it’s written for machines, not humans. And it sucks. Readers will be unhappy they’ve found garbage content and they’ll bounce (bounce rate is a measure of how long a user is on a page, and a high rate suggests you’ve missed the mark).
Understanding your intended readers is more important than knowing the perfect number of words you need to write. The latter could get you visitors, but the former will ensure they stay. This is especially important if you want to establish a relationship with readers and entice them to return. They’re coming back for your style and quality, not your word count.
Point Three: Data in Context
Do some sites benefit from having a higher word count? Absolutely. Some sites need to be authoritative and exhaustive in the information they’re providing. Most don’t, and that’s what reporting sometimes misses. A broad data sample might have websites with vastly different purposes, or a report might be misconstrued as applicable to all industries.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been given a report on tactics that work for retailers or news agencies that just aren’t applicable to my customers’ websites. Something that works for one doesn’t necessarily work for all. Imagine every Amazon product having Wikipedia-style entries. They’d probably have lower sales and much higher writing expenses (though perhaps I’d be interested if they adopted a style like this: About J Peterman).
All of these sites have content of appropriate lengths because that is what their users desire. They’ve met the need, consumers reward that with return visits, and consequently, search engines are more likely to reward them, too.
My general philosophy goes something like this: If search engine companies are trying to get their machines to better understand human intent, why write webpages that cater to machine intent? It doesn’t matter how many times your content is presented if no one reads it, recommends it, or returns for more.
Finally, consider what a post would be like if you hit your target word count and stopped without–
Sometimes a piece of writing just hits me the right way, and I sit back, amazed. It makes me want to hold up the book and exclaim, “Look! Look at this right here. Now this is writing!”
I usually don’t literally do that, but I did this week.
I’m reading Get Shorty for, I dunno, maybe the tenth time. That puts it up there amongst my most-read books. It’s the first and only Elmore Leonard book I’ve read, a mistake I’ve been meaning to correct for something like fifteen years. My reward for finishing this post is checking out Rum Punch from the library.
I’ll be honest: I picked up the book because I adore the movie and the character Chili Palmer. I apologize to book purists in advance, but there are are some parts of the movie I prefer. However, there’s one thing it didn’t capture.
That Elmore Leonard frickin’ dialogue, man.
John Travolta is nice and smooth in the movie, Chil you might say, but his portrayal has that Hollywood polish. Chili Palmer in the book is tougher, rough around the edges. He thinks and talks like a person, which is to say, not like a written character obeying the rules of writing and language. He also doesn’t think much of the things people say.
Despite having read this book several times, it always takes me a few pages to regain my comfort with Leonard’s natural, if unusual style. I say that with all possible affection. As much as I appreciate grammar and the mechanics of writing, there are times when you break all the rules, and he is a master.
I’m coming to the end of the book and this passage knocks me out:
Getting up he seemed to notice Harry for the first time, Harry wanting to be recognized, Harry saying, “Buddy, how you doing?” The agent nodded, said yeah, great. Chili watched him glance this way now—like, what, another one? Where’d these guys come from? Michael didn’t tell him. He said one more time he wanted that book. Buddy told him it was his, and left.
I read this paragraph, which as I mentioned above, wasn’t for the first time. But I immediately re-read it, thinking about the writing decisions made here, my brain telling me, this shouldn’t work, but it does!
Quick side note about me: I loved high school English, studied writing in college, and have been a professional writer for twenty years. Heck, I even married and English teacher. If any of us turned in something like that for anything but a creative writing class – and even then! – well, there’d be some serious head-shaking going on by the person grading or paying you. “By all the rules of the venerated English language, every piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten, this was not the way you write, good sir!” Punctuated by a slammed fist upon the desk, which is followed by the adjusting of a powdered wig.
Back to Elmore Leonard. Here are three things I took away as I considered his style.
Mechanics: it’s basically a middle finger raised to all the rules you’ve been taught. From run-ons to unattributed dialogue to multiple people saying things in the same paragraph. Put in the hands of a less capable, and perhaps less imaginative writer, this might have been six short paragraphs, mostly dialogue, and would have lost the impact that Leonard delivers here.
I like to imagine an editor reading the manuscript, red pen twitching in anticipation, much like a parent at the playground who’s watching someone else’s child misbehaving, and they’re doing that stop-start thing where they keep reconsidering whether they should say something.
Point-of-view: this passage is representative of much of the book, which is told from the POV of a few main characters. But there’s no “I did this” or “I’m going there” sentences. Additionally, dialogue and the conveying of information, emotion, etc. is all subject to a character’s interpretation of what’s being said or expressed nonverbally in some other manner.
A lack of quotes speaks to the importance of some of the dialogue, too. Only Harry’s initial greeting sits in quotes – the rest is throw-away chit-chat – because it’s what Chili believes is important. Overall, Leonard’s style reduces the the need for traditional dialogue, which many writers, myself included, are hesitant to do. Speaking of which….
Dialogue: You’ve got SIX different things communicated by the characters in that paragraph, seven, if you count Chili’s perspective of the scene. You’ve got the verbal stuff from Harry in quotes, but the agent’s response isn’t. Then you’ve got Chili’s interpretation of the agent’s look, and Michael’s neglect to answer an unspoken question. It ends with another exchange between Michael and Buddy. In the hands of a less competent writer, the reader might get whiplash from the transitions or become confused. Neither happens to us here, especially since we’re already comfortable with Leonard’s style by this point in the book.
Reading through those three things, you might be thinking that it’s a lot of analysis for a single paragraph. Yep. But here’s the thing. It’s just me typing out all the unconscious processes and interpretations going through a person’s head while they read. Because Leonard is so skilled, we don’t have to consciously consider them as we enjoy his book.
He’s teaching us how to adapt to his style and we didn’t even know it. And that is perhaps one of the highest compliments I can give a writer.
We’ve grown up hearing about the importance of reading. Professional writers reinforce its importance to their process, too. And this post is an example of why. Reading gives us myriad opportunities to learn other ways to write beyond the mechanics and rules. Whether you’d write like Elmore Leonard is irrelevant. Deciding you’d never use that style is also a valid choice. But at the very least, I think that looking at options and making a conscious choice is a critical step toward developing a writer’s style. Imagine how boring we’d be if we never progressed past the grammatically correct, “See Dick and Jane run.”
The latest collection of typos for which I’ve invented humorous definitions.
We all make mistakes in our writing that cause us to shake our heads when we discover them later. Why not have some fun with them? Here are a few of mine, which must have been spawned by some level of intoxication on my part…
converstation – synonym for talk radio
reboob – When you take another look at, well, you know.
expenseive – colloquialism for pouring money down the drain
transformance – used to describe superb acting that takes the craft to another level
belibubble – the delicate membrane that separates the possible and the unbelievable
mispellebtion – describes hwo you type afder a few cocktalis
seasonaling – the magical tinkling of bells at Christmastime
strengthing – that, you know, whatever-it-is at the gym that you lift and it’s heavy
destainement – instead of taking you into custody, they just cover you with so much filth that you’re afraid to move
trainsformation – locomotives lined up on the parade grounds
??? – I’m as confused by “mispellebtion” as you are
Hoo boy, there were some doozies in there. I share this to remind you that no matter how much you write, tpyos will always plague you. Good luck with your writing!
Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!
I didn’t want to admit it. I figured if I kept these parts in the book, eventually I’d find a way to make the passages work.
But the writer knows. You know when it’s not going to work long before you concede the reality.
And then about a week ago, I wrote this note which sealed their fate: “Repurposing these words to the Elf would move the Dragon to Samor Book 2; at which point all the other Dragon stuff could be moved out. I’ve been struggling with their purpose for a while.”
Even then, it took a few more days before I started yanking stuff from the manuscript. I once again followed the advice of Stephen King, who was borrowing from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch:
It wasn’t the first time I’d removed an important character. In Tildy’s book, I removed a knight when I saw that he was undermining Tildy and the witch before I’d established just how capable these women were. I also talked about another difficult decision here: Tearing down one of your primary set pieces. In this second example, I was able to rework the text to overcome my concerns. As for the first, I moved the knight into Tildy’s Book Two, and I like him better there.
My Dragons followed the knight’s example and departed for a future book. It’s the best of both worlds. I improve the book I’m writing, but still get to return to characters I’m invested in.
Now, 6,000 words lighter, Samor’s first adventure no longer features them, aside from acknowledging their place in the world of Malthreare. But here’s the thing: “features” is too strong a word. Their passages were on the page, but they weren’t incorporated in the story. Samor’s adventure, which meandered and morphed considerably over the last year, didn’t see those Dragons anywhere along the way. Even the sections where they appeared, and there were three, were loosely connected at best. I’d previously tried to force an appearance with a new section, but rejected it almost as soon as I wrote it.
I was like a seamstress making a coat, but one with more pockets than was practical.
In hindsight, it reminds me of the Eagles in Lord of the Rings. They’re introduced, but not used again until the end, though they would have been very helpful shortening Frodo’s journey. In my draft, the Dragons didn’t drop from the sky to join a battle or save Samor. One showed up near the end of his adventure, said some vague things, and then she disappeared.
It wasn’t satisfying. I wasn’t doing them justice.
Being completely honest with myself, and therefore you the Reader, the Dragons were in the book for nostalgia. I’ve wanted to write a book with Dragons since I was a kid reading Dungeons and Dragons Endless Quest books and playing the Dungeon board game. When I started writing Samor’s story 20+ years ago, the scene introducing Dragons was among the first I wrote. When I returned to him and started his story largely over from scratch, that scene was one of the ones I transferred.
What my writer’s brain had come to realize was this: the Dragons were important to me, but not to the book. To quote another writer, Alfred Bester is known to have said, “The book is the boss.” The book wasn’t accommodating or accepting their presence.
That’s OK. As much as I want to write a book with Dragons, my primary goal is to write a good story. They weren’t contributing to that, so they had to go. Simple as that. The book is the boss.
Don’t be afraid to murder your darlings. It’s very likely your writer’s brain will have accepted their loss long before the rest of you does. And if you’re writing more than one book, perhaps there’s a way to have your cake and eat it, too.
Like what you just read? Here’s another short post about a difficult decision in a manuscript.
Writing inspiration comes from everywhere. Looking out a window or considering how a person might react to a situation or watching your kids play. In this example, it came from the song “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls.
“You bleed just to know you’re alive.”
When I wondered what might cause a man to literally, not metaphorically, do such a thing, the story erupted from me. It was the writing experience I’d always imagined, though rarely had. And it came from questions that followed one after the other, piling up until I couldn’t type quickly enough.
More than fifteen years later, I still recall the first scene. A man in a cheap apartment staring at himself in a grimy mirror and hating what he saw. He picked up the razor blade, as he had many times before, and cut his wrist. A single droplet of blood fell into a claw-footed bathtub. As he watched, his cut healed and he screamed in helpless rage. He slashed again and again, healing again and again…until he didn’t. He breathed a sigh of relief. Soon, it would finally be over.
While there’s a violence and hopelessness to the scene, I believed the book would be a beautiful take on the unrequited love story: A man who heals others and himself, and the nurse searching for the person performing miracles in the streets. He falls in love, but will never tell her, never end his self-imposed exile, because his body is too scarred, his psyche too damaged. He’s unworthy of redemption. To further quote the song, “I don’t want the world to see me ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand.”
A few months later, I had the draft of a 30,000-word novella.
Fast-forward to sometime in 2006. Goo Goo Dolls were promoting their latest album, Let Love In. I worked in the Best Buy Music department, and we were often a stop for such junkets. Artists would talk about the album, maybe spin some tracks or perform, and then we’d often get a chance for handshakes and pix. It was the coolest job perk I ever had.
It’s key to understand that “meet and greet” is a brief encounter. Obviously, no one’s making friends, but it is a chance to say a few kinds words or ask a question before quickly moving on. Sometimes, it’s idle chitchat; other times, you get to thank someone for a meaningful impact they had on your life.
I had an opportunity to thank a band for inspiring me to write a book.
At this point in my career, I’d met dozens of famous artists including David Bowie, Duran Duran, Ice Cube, and Jewel. I didn’t get starstruck as a general rule, but this was going to be different because I had a different kind of connection. I practiced what I would say, over and again in my head. I’ve always had challenges speaking aloud, so this kind of rehearsal is typical anyway.
The band did their promotional bit, though I don’t recall any of it. I was still mentally reciting my spiel. Suddenly, it seems, it was time to meet them.
Robby Takac was first in line. We shook hands, and then I shared my story. I was eloquent, passionate, entertaining, and succinct. I beautifully recounted how they had inspired me and made a meaningful difference to my writing.
He seemed thrilled. “You should tell Johnny. He wrote the lyrics,” he said enthusiastically. “It would mean a lot to him.”
Suddenly, this encounter was different. At least that’s what my fevered brain suggested: a band putting together a song was not the same as a lyricist sitting down and pouring his soul into the words. This was now going to be one writer talking to another (i.e. having a “writer talk”) and thanking them for the inspiration in their words. How often does a person get a chance to do that?
It’s cool. I’m cool. It’s going to be cool. I’ve already got my speech planned and practiced. I’ve literally just recited it to someone else in the band. It’s cool. It’s going to be cool.
It wasn’t cool.
I shook hands with John Rzeznik, and immediately blurted out some disorganized version of my tale that focused waaaaay too much on a man in a bathroom cutting his wrist with a razor blade. I might have continued to shake his hand like you see in movies where the fan doesn’t let go. I don’t remember.
Of all the things John expected to hear in a meet-n-greet line, this interaction certainly wasn’t on the list. With typical rock star grace, he listened to my story, though I picture him having the face of someone being presented with a severed limb. A few minutes later, we had our photo taken.
I’m not saying that John’s posture or my distance from him are the result of this interaction, though that tiny insecure voice in my head still suggests it.
Then it was over. I probably shared a laugh with some colleagues as I described the disaster in hyperbolic detail. John went on with the promotional tour, probably never encountering another writing weirdo again.
I share this cautionary tale because it’s funny, but also as a reminder to writers to practice their pitches (even if it didn’t work so well here). As much as we’re probably more comfortable typing up a quick 10,000 words of “summary”, sooner or later you’re going to have to talk about the project aloud. The spiel is a critical step in finding an agent or someone willing to pay you. It’s probably going to be uncomfortable because you’re trying to sell your work, not yourself, but both are being judged (fortunately, your friends and family are helping every time they ask “What’s it about?”). Your performance, so to speak, could be the difference between a request to see more and a polite rejection of the severed limb you’ve presented.
Good luck with your writing and your pitch!
Postscript: As for the book, Healed, I shelved the project for reasons unrelated to this encounter. However, writing this post has inspired me to take another look at the ending. It might be changing.
Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this from Michael!
Another collection of typos for which I’ve invented humorous definitions. Today’s list is from a horror writer I was editing a couple years ago. Like other renowned works of horror, it’s filled with despair and hilarity, which are two great tastes that taste great together.
drakenss – male duck butts
damnotion – a new idea that a person has, but does not like
ensalved – a victim covered with a soothing ointment.
Santanic – 1) describing the rituals used to bring about the return of jolly ol’ St. Nick. 2) describing the rites used to conjure a Mexican-American guitar legend.
inferal – a wild, rabid conclusion
maleviolent – ferocious attacks by men
inquickity – doing evil things at a rapid pace
revolvting – used to describe something hideous and disgusting that slowly turns
sarrow – the sadness of pirates, me hearties
Drafts are drafts because they’re imperfect, and we shouldn’t sweat too much about tpyos. Enjoy your writing while it’s flowing from your fingers and fix the errors later!
Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!
Words have power. It’s a simple enough concept, though perhaps underappreciated or downplayed when compared to fists or guns. That said, each of us has emotional reactions to words, whether a Shakespearean play, a political speech, or the handwritten note in a birthday card. And therein lies the control they have over us.
Many of us have heard as children, or said as adults, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s a comforting lie that both parties believe because it makes the problem go away. At least for a little while.
If you’ve ever been the victim of slurs, whether racial, sexual, or gender-based, you already know the power of a single word. For those of us who haven’t, we can appreciate the impact of a good F-bomb, though that doesn’t tend have the same power as the examples of above.
Additionally, as I recall important events of my lifetime, there is considerable power in certain words, such as “marriage”, “Black”, “abortion”, “conservative”, and “liberal”. Just post a social media update that includes one of these to remind yourself of that.
I’m of the belief, however, that there is power in any single word – important or not – depending on the context. Which is why I’ve chosen “also” as my topic for today.
The aforementioned subjects are of great consequence to our world, and I am not suggesting that a linguistic discussion about a common adverb is of equal concern. Rather, I hope to demonstrate how something insignificant can change the tone and intent of any conversation.
I mean, come on, we probably give it no extra thought in writing, reading, or speech. In many cases, we could rewrite it out of a sentence and the reader wouldn’t know the difference.
We should get groceries and also pick up vacuum bags.
We should buy groceries and vacuum bags.
But that’s a minor application compared to its role in the following examples.
I would also like the right to vote.
I am his parent, so I also need custody of my child.
I would like my culture’s history also studied
I would like my child’s gender identity to also be respected
I would also like to practice my religion
In those examples, “also” plays a more powerful part. It leaves no doubt that a person is requesting an addition to an established practice or point of view. It speaks to inclusion and acceptance. Said another way, it suggests that we have room to grow: Here is where we are today, and this is where I’d like to go so we can be equal or have a mutual understanding.
And it has power not just for the person saying those things. When it comes to arguments against these concepts, “also” seems to have been mistaken as an outrageous synonym for “instead of”.
You want your history studied instead of mine.
You want your holiday celebrated instead of mine.
You want your culture featured instead of ours.
“Also”, as seen from this viewpoint, is taken as a criticism of something that works just fine today. How dare you ask us to also include you when we already have? a person might ask, failing to recognize the irony.
It could be argued that even if such requests for equality didn’t include “also”, they would be met with similar venom. And that’s likely true, but it misses the point. “Also” was deliberately used in each request to add clarity: an addition was being asked for, not a replacement.
Still, the counterargument ignores the word, and deliberately so. Why? Some people are feeling attacked, perhaps forgetting the “sticks and stones” adage they taught their children. And while validating feelings are important, the deliberate twisting of the requester’s intent is bullshit. A desire for equality or a place at the metaphorical table doesn’t mean someone else loses a physical chair. We all know it, even those who have chosen to believe in some ulterior motive or negative intent. Maybe, just maybe, that insignificant adverb has more power than we believed.
Could that be considered an awful lot of thought applied to a simple word? Perhaps. But imagine how little thought went into the belief that your culture was being destroyed because someone asked you to also consider theirs.
Thanks for reading a post about human equality that also discussed linguistics. Good luck with your writing!
Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this from Michael!