This bothers me a lot. Like, A LOT. In my own writing, and occasionally in some books I've read. Which is rare. Because, of course. Books. BOOKS. Published books. They've been edited prior to being published. Wait, before they've been edited, they've been written by writers who possess some kind of a gargantuan wealth of language. Plus, they went through countless drafts. So. Back to my own writing. What I'm talking about is a certain stagnation of prose. Just this inability to break out of the repetitiveness of "She said" and "He said" or "She walked" and "He walked" or "The sky was blue" and "The grass was green" and whatever other traps you fall into, this scarcity of language that you can feel on your skin. The stupor. The torpor. The feeling inside you, that torturous emotion, that image that is so clear yet is SO FUCKING HARD TO WRITE IN COLORFUL DIFFERENT WAYS!!!
Well. Guess what. Variety comes with practice.
VARY YOUR LANGUAGE, VARY IT!
How exactly do you do it? Read a lot and write a lot (like I haven't told you this before?). But. Really. I will share with you some tricks I'm using, to fool you into thinking that I know how to write (I don't). To fool myself, rather, into this variety thing, to get over my fear and to lean on a crutch, of sorts. The things I do, you have no idea. Are you ready?
Ever came across a nice phrase, just a sweet delicious pairing of two (or three) words that somebody else said? Ever felt like you wanted to strange that somebody else, lovingly, but no, not lovingly at all, out of that zealous indescribable feeling of why-the-hell-didn't-I-come-up-with-this??? Yeah. I know you had. I'm reading A Confederacy of Dunces right now, and many times I thought, DRATS. I wish I could think of this. So here is what I do. I have a little TextEdit file (I'm a Mac girl) and I type said phrase into it. Like, "...she shot her an anxious look..." (Yes, I get into the trap of "she looked" and "he looked" often). Or, "...his face was suddenly a window made of pale clear glass..." (this is from Stephen King, not from John Kennedy Toole). Or, "...pressing her maternal breast against a glass case...". And many more. Then, while I write, I glance at them, occasionally, and I try to come up with my own twist of a phrase like that. So, instead of writing, "she looked", I might say, "she shot him an angry look". See what I did? I CHEATED. I took a turn of a phrase somebody used already, yet it's such a common thing (for me it's also hard because English is not my first language). Or, I might say, "...her face turned to a sheet of blank paper...". So, again, I'm thinking of that image of the window and the face, and it comes to me, in my own way, yet these phrases give me artistic permission to go crazy.
All artists steal, so don't look at me this way. I'm not plagiarizing, no. I steal words. Regurgitate them, reuse them in my own context. Breadth of vocabulary is one of my biggest setbacks as a writer whose first language is not English. Again, I have a little TextEdit file, the same one, in fact, and when I read and come across a word I don't know, I type it in, in the following fashion. Let me fetch a few of them: Underslung (jaw). Gigantomania (morbid). Switchback (of stairs). Yoke (gathered into). What you see here are the words I didn't know, and in parenthesis are the words they came with. They are not always modifiers, sometimes just words that help me remember in what context I saw them. Then, as I write, I try to use these new words in my own writing, thinking of how I could apply them, based on how the other writer has used them. Oh, one more thing. Next to each of these words I also have a Russian translation - it's for me to associate that new word with the word I know. Regardless of that, here is the important part. I keep the file fresh. As soon as I used a word from my list, I delete it. I read every day, add new words every day, write every day, delete used words every day. And you know what's happening? Some of them stick!
Oh God. What else will this girl confess to. Well, what I do, is I copy structure. Sentence structure. Again, I see a particular turn or twist of a sentence, and I copy it into my little file. Then, when writing, I glance at that same file, when frustrated, and sometimes by copying a turn of a phrase, the way it starts, the way the commas break it, helps me get unstuck. For example, this sentence, by Joyce Carol Oates, "This morning, an invasion of tiny black ants." has freed me to chop up a ton of my own sentences, to simple statements, like, "A collective gasp of air, a shriek." Without copying, well, not exactly copying, but without having read and noticed this sentence by Oates, I wouldn't have known that it's okay, OKAY, to drop the verb completely. Just state the image, period. Wow. Did I convince you? Copying is a good thing. It also helps me discover who I am as a writer, what's important to me.
I SIGH. I SCREAM. I CHEW ON MY HEAD.
Yeah, did you know? Screaming helps you vary your language. NOT. Okay, jokes aside. Here is the real thing.
I LISTEN TO MY WRITING LIKE TO MUSIC.
This is easy. You can do it. Read your writing aloud and listen for the rhythm. Vary it. If it sounds monotone, the inflections of your voice, the repeating sentence structures ("We went to the movie theater. We bought the tickets. We watched the movie. We ate the popcorn..."), the same words over and over again ("...as they left the theater, as Jenny looked to look at John, as John was putting on his jacket, as..." or "..suddenly, they defecated, and suddenly, the product of their..."), the cliches that have been used to death, ALL THAT STUFF. See how you can vary it. Cut out repetitions, replace them with synonymous words, or, drop them altogether, vary sentence lengths, rhythms. Find a way to make it sound fresh, tune into this unquenchable (is this a word? I guess it is) multifacetedness (okay, I'm pretty sure THIS is not a word). Fucking enrich it! You know what I mean? Spice it up. Season it. Because your reader will not forgive you a boring couple sentences. NOT chapters. NOT pages. Sentences! Do you hear me? Ever picked up a book, opened it, glanced at a random spot, and after skimming a few lines, put it back on the shelf and never bought it? Exactly like that.
That's it. I'm done. I want to sleep now. You go vary your language. I will snore into my pillow here. Till next time.