Tuesday, November 29, 2011
As my Reading Buddies advance, we've been tackling more non-fiction books, with Tables of Contents, and glossaries, and bold-faced words. My kids often struggle with the bold-faced words because they're usually tricky, and not the sorts of words eight-year-olds regularly encounter (sonar, nocturnal, carnivores, etc). But of course there's an art to bold-faced words. A good author uses the word, immediately defines it for the reader, then uses it frequently afterwards. So even though my kids may struggle with "sonar" the first time, and the second, by the fifth time they know exactly how to pronounce it.
I don't exactly regularly encounter bold-faced words in my daily reading. I probably haven't read a text with bold-faced words since college, maybe even high school. But while working with my Reading Buddies, I've been thinking about bold-faced words and how authors use them. And not just in non-fiction ways.
For example, take Sarah Dessen's beautiful young adult novel, The Truth about Forever. No, she doesn't literally have any bold-faced words. But she treats the word "forever" very carefully within her text. The story is about how long forever is, and how decisions we make, even seemingly responsible ones, can affect us for the rest of our lives. Instead of making the forever decisions we're expected to make, we should make the forever decisions we want to make. So Sarah Dessen doesn't just throw around the word "forever." She introduces it carefully, then uses it judiciously, deliberately, adding layers of meaning to it each time, just as my kids' non-fiction books define and repeat "sonar."
Or take Stephen King's The Tommyknockers. The word Tommyknocker is used to describe the aliens. But at one point, the narrator explains that Tommyknockers is just another word for fear, for others, for outsiders. King uses Tommyknockers as a bold-faced word, introducing it first as a snatch of remembered childhood poetry, then returning to it again and again. It's a neat trick, as King doesn't have to waste time carefully using common words like "fear" and "others," but can use a single, unique word to convey meaning.
Used in this way, bold-faced words are like magic words, sprinkled judiciously, working as metaphors for ideas and emotions. They frequently become titles (as in both of my examples).
When I'm doing final revisions for a novel, I highlight my magic words, and then comb the text to make sure I've used them carefully, precisely. After all, if one of Sarah Dessen's characters in The Truth about Forever happened to say, "OMG, this car trip is lasting FOREVER," the word's effect could be totally ruined. I bet she kept a list of synonyms for "forever" close at hand while writing!
Do you make use of magic words? What's the magic word in your work in progress? Mine is "beautiful." Yes, a totally common word, like forever, but thankfully it has a lot of synonyms!