Ramblings 1 - Vocabulary and Description: the dos and dont's

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Ramblings 1 - Vocabulary and Description: the dos and dont's

Tips: 0.00 INK Postby .Kyrian on Tue Sep 17, 2013 8:37 pm

One of the most common problems that I have seen around the net is that of stilted prose - or a lack of proper balance within the written text - that inevitably leads to a lack of emotional connection with the reader. More often than not RPists look to the ideas of Detail, Vocabulary, and Emotion as the key factors that block the way to better writing, and many use the sheer scope of such stumbling blocks as excuses to wallow in literary stagnation. The truth, however, is that these three concepts are all essentially one in the same. Each is a single piece of the idea of a personal voice or style that you attempt to convey through any writing not just that which has been called RP. Authors struggle with similar issues, and often find the same things useful in their search for some sort of 'cure' if you will.

That being said this single problem that many forum frequenters are facing is by far the most complicated to overcome, and the most difficult to explain away. The reality of the situation is that this is that imaginary line where hard work just isn't enough.

Vocabulary can be learned, metaphor can be taught... all the devices and 'by the book' applications can be force fed down your throat but only you can (prevent forest fires)... er, only you can find the ability to understand the proper time and the proper place. Big words, and heavy metaphor only serve part of the purpose, smaller words were created for a reason, and not simply to satisfy the jocks who can't be bothered to speaking in complete sentences, let alone use words any bigger than their straps. Every word is given a connotation, an annotation... and a taboo, each plays into the way in which that word affects a reader and the message that it conveys.

Connotation is easy, a book definition, for example; phantasm, eidolon, ghost, demon, shade, illusion... all mean the same thing when only looked at from the connotative side of things. They describe a phenomenon that is otherwise inexplicable. They refer to an image, a feeling, a fleeting sensation that touches upon the magic or supernatural... but that is as far as connotation can bring us.

Annotative meanings are more difficult to understand, not only must you get a feel for the emotional weight of a word but you must also understand that as words are woven together the annotative qualities they posses are also mixed. Words like eidolon and phantasm, less common in their usage, come out as heavy, almost unwieldy in the weight that they posses because a reader does not understand them and is forced to ponder them (often times using a reference book to find better words will leave you with far too many such words and destroy any impact that your writing may once have had). It is best to keep such words locked away, flinging them out into the ether only when you must draw particular attention to a single area or thought. Even then such words grow tired quickly and after only a few short uses the weight that they had because of their uniqueness vanishes into the drab and dull.

Likewise words such as ghost and illusion play upon the opposite extreme of the spectrum. They hold so little weight when left to fend for themselves that they are often overlooked by one still struggling to master the annotative qualities of words. And yet they have a subtle quality that something like eidolon could never hope to match. They are nouns, yes, but use them as adjectives... spins tales of cool wind as 'the chilled fingers of unseen ghosts whispering through the broken trees to brush against the loose strands of brown hair as your character pulls a cloak a bit tighter about themselves and hurries along their way towards the inviting lights of a distant town' and you are left with a powerful line that weaves together both detail and feel without loosing anything to the weakened vocabulary. Sure there were larger words that could have been used, ones that might have stopped to make the reader pause... but was a pause what you were aiming for, or was it better that it flowed, almost without any words at all, from the lips of those whose eyes scan across the glowing screen of text. Just as eidolon can be used to force a pause, a second look, something as simple as ghost can weave the sentence about the reader, pulling it off of the page and tying it more directly to their thoughts and emotions. There is a beauty in simplicity... and when it is linked with a level of complexity you can begin to paint your master piece.

'The wind howled through the darkness, ghost fingers whispering through the broken trees to brush, frigid, yet soft, against her pale cheek as she staggered on to the symphony of snapping twigs and rustling leaves. Thin shadows danced through the failing light of the distant town, its warm glow retreating behind her as she stumbled aimlessly into the forest depths beneath the muted laughter of the hard eyed phantasms of the night. The smell of death, of demons pressed against her, clinging to her like the faded perfumes that she had once known, but it was the cold, the burning frost fast held to her legs, that pressed her ever onward. It filled her, seeping through her moonlit skin to wrap her heart in icy embrace, chilled fingers turning the flickering embers of her inner fir to twisting plums of steam.'

And yet there is another part of this process, an aspect of the word that dictates where each word should appear and which words ought surround it. Every language is filled with taboos, with meanings and associations that have linked words to meanings other then their own. Words like ghost conjure up thoughts of phantoms and white sheeted demons of the night while illusions, eidolons, and phantasms seem more airy, more free spirited. They share a common meaning and yet things like demons and ghosts convey a sense of fear or foreboding for either the characters or the setting, they convince the reader that there is a darkness here that must be avoided because it is unknown... and in the same breath such things as phantasms (though these can cross the bridge between the two) and illusions, if used correctly, can be almost alluring in nature. An illusive gem or a the faint flicker of light dancing across the glittering phantasms of the dawn, all draw the reader to a more lighthearted conclusion than had different words been employed.

The taboo is the most difficult aspect of a language to master because it plays upon personal association as well. Each person sees a word differently, and yet they all see certain things the same. You, as the writer (even of an RP post) must come to understand such things, play upon the controllable and prepare for all that is not. There is no way to easily teach such things, no easy guide to understanding the concepts of usage because just as you come to understand the intended uses you begin to realize that by violating such rules, by linking foreboding with lighthearted you create an entirely new feel to the conveyed message. You have to play around with the language and develop a sense of sorts that guides you through the process.

The majority of writing is done by feel, it is the process of employing that which you have been taught in ways that no one else has every yet thought of. Of following the norm, and abiding by the rules only long enough to build a sense of complacency to make that first divergence all the more powerful. Writing about the blunt shock of shattering the mold and the subtle sensuality of merely bending it enough to fit your will.

That being said, you can at least clean up your details (and remove needless info dumping) by understanding on less complicated trick of writing. Actions, regardless of how small, build a mental picture far more quickly that any string of adjectives could. If you vault off of a table, listening to the sound of splintering wood echo from below you as you catch upon the lip of a loft, the hay biting at your fingers as you pull yourself up atop the whining boards you have built an entire room for your readers. Instantly they know that there was a table, far enough from the wall to provide a running start from one side and a jump-able distance from the other, they know that the table was old, but probably not rotting as damp moldy wood does not splinter so it is more likely eaten away by termites or years of neglect, they know that there is a loft above, which means a barn of some sort, or maybe an old style shop (which would depend upon the initial setting of the RP), they have been told that there is hay, meaning that the shop or the barn is still in use as hay would be out of place in an abandoned building. Though conjecture they know that the people who own the building are likely busy, the table was coming apart but the loft still has a good bit of hay... business oriented or so it would seem (this would be helped into existence by the setting of the RP and an understanding of the other characters... or reinforced by past or future posts), they even know that the building itself is old, the boards whined beneath the weight of a character still able to vault himself up to the loft and pull himself over the edge.

Obviously they do not know everything... but in that simple action, wholly devoid of complex structuring or big, uncommon words... you have already set so much of the scene. Obviously there is no way that you can have your character bounce around the entire building to outline every little detail that might be important... but you can certainly have him scan about the area, commenting through thoughts or speech about the things that you deem important enough to warrant mentioning.

You have to understand that while writing is all about guiding the reader through the world that you created you are hardly expected to detail every little crack that runs through the crumbling stone of the castle walls. Merely noting the poor condition and moving on is enough. Details are only important when they directly impact a character or a plot... beyond that they distract the reader, leading them down plot trails that you probably hadn't meant to lay. You have to find a balance between direct description and description through action... but as I said before such things are beyond being able to be taught... you have to understand the why and then make that understanding your own by including it within your own personal style.
It is often said that writing is a lonely life, and for the most part such is true. Other jobs are just that, jobs, they start and they end at the same time each day, spinning onward in a cycle that is so monotonously cyclical. But writing, writing is a lifestyle, it is not merely a job but a passion, an occupation. Writing is not from 9 to 5, but from dawn to dawn, it spans that day and often spills over into the silent night, and it is a task that demands isolation, silence, and reflection.

- Kyrian

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This is some good stuff, I was rather surprised by the title, and the location of this particular post. This looks like something that should go in the Role Play Academy.

I don't know if you knew this, maybe you did, and you put it here for a reason. If that was the case, then I want to ask if you'd like to have this moved to the RP Academy.
Like a stranger on a grate, or a skylark, or a taper, flying ever upward and knowing of love's satiety. Our dreams beyond the Sun and into the expanse of Night doth sound a quiet hymn.

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Re: Ramblings 1 - Vocabulary and Description: the dos and do

Tips: 0.00 INK Postby .Kyrian on Tue Sep 17, 2013 9:38 pm

You can but I thought people might see it as a Rant, so I left it here.

Thank you.

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