A preacher's son, a father in hiding, a guilty heart filled with secrets: When Jesse Barlow escaped to Hollywood, he hungered for fame--but eleven years of failure result in a drug-induced suicide attempt. Revived at death's doorstep, Jesse returns to his Ohio hometown to make amends with his preacher father, a former love, and Jesse's own secret son. But Jesse's renewed commitment becomes a baptism by fire when his son's advanced illness calls for a sacrifice--one that could cost Jesse the very life he regained. A story of mercy, hope, and second chances, From The Dead captures the human spirit with tragedy and joy.
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Flame or Fire?
Should a character yell or roar? Consider or muse? Ask or plead?
As you read a novel, have you noticed one word can change the entire tone of a sentence?
Word precision has proven one of my most valuable tools as a writer. After all, a story is a collection of words which set the tone for the reader’s experience. The words an author uses hint at where readers should set their expectations. The right word can transform a sentence into an art form.
If you think about it, word selection reflects how we live our lives. How many times have we chosen a word in conversation to avoid offending someone? For that matter, how many conversations have turned ugly because we picked a word we later regretted?
I must credit my brother for introducing me to word selection. I spent years as a songwriter by hobby. As a teenager, I’d written a love song and used the word “fire” in one of its verses. My brother read the lyrics and pointed out, “Actually, if you’re writing a love song, you probably want to use ‘flame’ instead. ‘Fire’ sounds aggressive, but ‘flame’ sounds more romantic.”
My brother thought he’d pointed out a detail. But his observation revolutionized my world as a writer. Never again did I view words—or their effect—in the same light. I’ve incorporated this concept into every project since.
What’s the context of the chapter? Does it highlight the main character’s first kiss? Or does it follow the character as he escapes a crazed murderer?
This can apply to individual letters as well. On a comical note, I put this to the test in college. When writing a term paper for a political science class, I tried using alliteration—a string of words that begin with the same letter—to try to make the reading experience more pleasant for the instructor. If I recall correctly, I struck together several “s” words to make the sentence soft and pleasant, and several “t” words to make the corners of her mouth turn up in a smile. (“Why do I enjoy reading this paper so much?” J) Did the word selection help? No idea. I did receive an A on the paper!
In all sincerity, though, I gave similar consideration to the words in my novel From The Dead.
In chapter 19 of From The Dead, the scene of Jesse’s suicide attempt, I opted for words that contain harsh consonants or invoke harsh imagery: ink blackness, agony, blade, agitate, writhe, streak.
But in chapter 47, a gentle love scene lent itself to softer words and romantic imagery: aural glow, nuances, embrace, palm, balmy, swathe, gasp for breath.
Have you discovered a particular author with a keen instinct for the right word? Let us know in a comment below.
Thank you for letting me stop by! I’d love to hear from you at my website, www.johnherrick.net, and invite you to follow my blog at johnherricknet.blogspot.com.
For more about this author, please visit:
While he worked behind a desk at a nonprofit organization, John Herrick struggled with the need to write. Armed with a concept that had burned within him for three years, he chipped away for an hour or two each evening until he completed the manuscript for his first novel, The Landing. The novel became a semifinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Publication plans for The Landing are currently in progress.
For his second novel-his first novel to hit the shelves-Herrick crafted From The Dead, where he weaves together themes of life, romance, and spiritual journey. In From The Dead, Herrick examines a character who rediscovers his true destiny, acquires a fatherhood role-and discovers how far a father would go to spare the life of his son.
From the author's website.
Many thanks to John for this great post! I completely agree - the word choice has a profound effect on the tone of a passage and the emotions it evokes. It was great to read such an insightful piece.