Tuesday, February 16, 2010
A word or two
I've been on hundreds of panels during my years as mystery writer, and after a while the questions from the audience become fairly routine. Still, I love interacting with readers and try to find a way to give a fresh answer to queries like do you write every day? (more like every night); do you outline? (not if I can help it); and where do you get your ideas? (where don't I get ideas?)
A new question came up at the Benicia CA library last week. Ann Parker moderated a panel with Penny Warner, Claire Johnson, and me. The last question of the evening was: What do the four of you have in common?
It wasn't obvious since we all write different subgenres and have different writing styles and processes.
The answer came quickly, however: A love of words. Not in the abstract, but words themselves with their various nuances and their ability to heal or to start flame wars.
I remember a critique group meeting with my group when one of us was trying to nail down a title for her book. The question: whether to use a, the, or no article at all. We took almost an hour to talk about the differences. A City of Sorrows vs. The City of Sorrows vs. City of Sorrows. (That's not the exact phrase, protecting the innocent here, but the title had the same pattern.) A implies there are many of them; the, just this one we're focusing on; and none at all gives a more universal tone. And that was just the start of it.
Not only words themselves, but where you place them makes a difference.
One of my pet peeves is how writers often misplace the word only. Consider the different meanings, depending on where it's placed:
Only he sold me the house (not his real estate firm or his cousin, just him)
He only sold me the house (he didn't paint it or fix the roof)
He sold only me the house (not my husband or partner, just me)
He sold me only the house (he didn't include the tools in the garage)
What's your pet word peeve? Or your favorite word?