The Round Robin topic for today is: How does wording choice develop a story’s character? How do you use and select your words? This topic was suggested by Dr. Bob: She had to be the sexiest-looking 42-year-old on the planet, the best that money could buy.
I believe that word choice is extremely important, especially when trying to establish a character. Whenever someone writes a book, they can’t help but infuse a little bit of themselves in it. That’s to be expected, but no two people are exactly alike. Their phrasing, word choice, their thoughts, and even how they view the world will be different than mine. It can be particularly challenging when writing a book that’s set in a culture far removed from what I know.
My current WIP (temporarily titled Red Dawn) is one of those. It’s why I’ve struggled with it. My personality wants to come out, but this character is far removed from who I am. She lives under a communist regime, was raised by strict parents in a household that shows little emotion or affection, and believes women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex. She struggles with the fact that she’s half animal and half human. It has made her an outcast and a fugitive. On top of this, her animal is snow leopard. They are reclusive and shy animals. They freeze when confront by humans. In short, she’s the exact opposite of me. (By the way, I’m not an animal shifter. grin)
When I write about certain situations, I want to do it from my experience. My inner voice wants to run right over this character’s natural inclinations. It has made for an inner battle.
Here is an excerpt:
“We have intruders coming to the mountains looking for food. The numbers of wild p’an yang have decreased. I try to take only as much as we need and no more.”
“We are lucky, living deeper in the mountains. They find it harder to reach our area.”
“Yes, you are.”
To live somewhere without fear of starving hunters appealed to Xué. Leaving behind days of gnawing hunger did, too. But it meant leaving her parents behind. Uncertainty clawed at her. The cold bit at her fingers, and they threatened to cramp. Without a word, she increased her pace, careful to step in the path they’d created on their way out to conserve energy.
In the silence that had fallen between them, she said, “I worry that, if I leave, my parents will die.”
“They will insist I go with you. They have already done so. I cannot stay, but—” She bent her head, focusing on each footstep unable to finish her sentence.
The stretcher jolted to a halt, nearly pulling her off her feet and forcing her to stop. She turned to look at him. He bent and set the stretcher down, and she followed suit lest the ram slip off. Stepping around the dead animal, he walked over to her and gently grabbed her shoulders. Warmth shot through his hands and into her arms. Tingling spread through her body. A yearning to press herself against him burgeoned inside of her. She suppressed it.
“You don’t have to marry me right now. I understand. I can return when this famine has passed.”
She searched his earnest face. Did he truly mean it? Did it matter? No. Her parents insisted they marry now. Staying would bring them dishonor. She shook her head. “No. We can visit them, though, and bring them food, if that is okay with you.”
“Of course. We will visit at least once a month.”
The tension that had built inside of her released, and her shoulders sagged in relief. She stared at his chest and nodded. The trek would be difficult, but she would be able to take care of her parents and the village.
Their gazes met. Her breath caught in her throat at the intensity and tenderness in his eyes.
“I only want this if you do. Do you?”
Did she? She didn’t know. Given a choice, would she marry him? Or not? He understood her, or, at least, her condition, and accepted it. Even the men who’d watched her grow up hadn’t fully accepted her, and his touch… His touch intoxicated her, like the rice liquor baijiu she’d sipped once as a child during a time of plenty. It had tickled her nose, burned her throat, and heated her insides. Except she wanted more of his touch.
My inner voice wanted me to write, “No, I don’t want to marry you right now. My parents can stuff it. I’m staying here, so go blankety-blank yourself.” My character, of course, would never do this.
When my publishing houses were accepting submissions, we specifically stated in our guidelines that we didn’t want any profanity, senseless violence, or sex in them unless it was germane to the character and story line. Profanity and senseless violence speak to the person’s character, how they view life, where/how they grew up, and what makes them tick. Even how they describe people sets the stage for the reader. It shows them who these people are, how they are most likely to react to a situation, and how the story is likely to carry on. All of this is important for continuity and the atmosphere of what you are trying to create for your readers as an author.
I have another shifter story Some Place to Belong, this one set in Argentina. It was originally part of Freya’s Bower’s charity anthology Dreams & Desires: Volume 3. Perhaps after the first of the year, I will release it again. Once again, the character is not remotely like me at all. Adelheid is a young woman of 18, who has just discovered who and what she is.
Two days later
Before dawn broke that morning, she woke to find herself nude in human form not far from the village. In the predawn light, she crept to her parents’ house and slipped inside, the red brick floor cool against her bare feet. Her papa dozed in his chair. Mama lay on the sofa. Both looked worn, older. The lines had deepened around Papa’s mouth; his shoulders slumped. Even in his sleep, he had never done that; his military training prevented it. Her mother’s hair, usually contained in a bun, escaped its pins, and faint lines traced the edges of her eyes. Adelheid had aged, too, but for different reasons. Two days wandering the jungle in wolf form, scavenging on whatever she could find pushed her to her limits, but she’d survived.
Adelheid’s heart clenched. Her breath caught. Her parents, yet not her parents. She bit back a sob and breathed through her nose in an attempt to calm her emotions.
“Herr Schneider.” The words broken, Adelheid managed to address the man she had considered her father for as long as she could remember.
His eyes popped open. The bright blue gaze pierced through her, the customary twinkle missing. “Papa, Schatzi. I am still your papa. I raised you as my daughter. You are my daughter in my heart.”
Adelheid nodded, but said nothing. She couldn’t. The emotions she’d kept in check the past two days overwhelmed her. From relief that she’d made it home alive to anger at her parents, at her uncle, and at the unfairness of her situation to sadness that she had to leave her parents and the only home she’d known. Again, she breathed through her nose. And again. But when her mama opened her arms, Adelheid ran to her and collapsed into them.
“Cry, Liebling. You will feel better for it.” Her mother’s arms wrapped tight around her, Adelheid’s dam burst. Her mother rocked her back and forth, whispering in her hair. The words overpowered by Adelheid’s weeping.
A blanket draped over her shoulders. The tears continued to pour out of her. She sobbed, gasping in big gulps of air. Her throat and nose burned. Her lungs labored. Slowly, the agony of fear, anger, and sorrow subsided. Spent, she leaned against her mother’s legs. Her mother stroked her long, blond hair.
“Ach, you’re beautiful hair is full of tangles.” She lifted Adelheid’s face to look her in the face. Her soft smile brightened Adelheid’s spirits a little. Her mother’s face beamed love. It warmed her, soothed her aching soul. “Komm. I will wake Alma to heat water for you. You need a bath.” Her nose crinkled. “You stink.”
For the first time in two days, Adelheid smiled.
Honestly, how I choose words is dependent on the character. I do my best to listen to the character and let them speak through me. Sometimes, I am successful. Other times, I feel I’m not as successful. LOL I guess, that’s part of being an author.
I hope you have enjoyed this post and will follow the links to find out how everyone else creates their characters through word choices.