Finding the Words (and Not Using Them Twice in Two Sentences)

My partner and I got into a playful argument last night about the merit of mnemonics to remember how to spell ‘because’.

I was taught in primary school that ‘Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants’ and because I was a terrible speller until about the age of thirteen, when everything somehow slotted into place, I relied on the mnemonic often.

My other half told me I was categorically wrong. It’s ‘Big Elephants Can’t Always Use Small Exits’.

Because we were in a playful mood, we spent about ten minutes discussing which was the better mnemonic. I won.

The reason I won is this: the Exits mnemonic doesn’t make sense. It’s illogical. Big elephants can’t use small exits. Ever. They are big. The exits are small. Unfortunately, ‘Big Elephants Can’t Use Small Exits’ spells ‘Becuse’.

But, pedantic argument aside, it reminded me of an important element of writing. The most important element of writing, I would say: words. Specifically, choosing the right ones.

I’ve nearly finished chapter four of my current project. A busy couple of weeks at work have seen the project somewhat neglected of late, but I now have a week off (yay) and aside from a bit of preparation for the next few weeks, I have very little I have to do. Finishing chapters four and five is top of my priority list.

But I can’t blame work entirely for my lack of progress. Chapter four is proving difficult. The story so far has been set up, introduction to the world, the characters. A little has happened to progress the plot, but mostly in small ways that won’t become evident until later events. Chapter four is pivotal.

In it, three characters meet together for the first time to discuss the crux of the plot – the problem. Two of the characters, main character Keira and her new friend, are by and large concerned about the problem. The other, Keira’s old friend, is more concerned about the others looking a bit too cosy together.

The two male characters are both strong, dominant personalities. In totally opposite ways. The old friend is brash, edging on cocky. The new friend is more reserved, seething with hidden power. As soon as I walked them into a clearing together on page I knew there would be clashes between them.

The problem was, neither were going to be overt enough in their battle for alpha-male dominance to actually throw punches. Where the old friend is definitely impetuous enough to exchange punches if he thought one was coming his way, the new friend is far more sophisticated than that. Most of their face off occurred with glances and a sharply spoken statement.

Trying to make the tension palpable, while also trying to throw in a bit of tension of a different kind between Keira and the new friend wasn’t easy. There are only a limited amount of ways you can say someone gives you a challenging look. Hence why I ended up using the word ‘challenge’ twice in two sentences.

I have since been over and over the scene, deliberating about the words. I’ve managed to correct the awkward, clumsy error and I’m happy with the result. I’m not normally one for the minutiae of word by word writing – preferring to deal in the overarching story, the bigger picture – but the challenge (haha) of finding the word that absolutely evoked what I wanted it to was an interesting and rewarding one.

I’m still waiting for my trusty proof reader to finish chapter three (it’s still sat exactly where I left it in her house over a week ago!) and I know she’ll be reading this so NOT VERY SUBTLE HINT!!! I’ll be finished with chapter four soon. When I am, I’ll be in need of someone to check my word choices and make sure I’m not trying to force big elephants through small exits.

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