Mister is at the point in his life where he’s learning new words every day. Deciduous, awry, yield, gigantic, and stupendous are all familiar to him. The most impressive part is that he knows how to use these words. Learning what it means is one thing, but using it correctly is another. And he does both. And he’s only two. I’m going to need a dictionary and thesaurus to keep up with this kid.
But sometimes not even Mister’s gigantic vocabulary can describe what is going on just perfectly. Take parenting, for example. One minute it is the best thing ever, being a mother is a gem. The next minute, I’m hoping for a jury duty summons in the mail. I want to skedaddle. Maybe gemdaddlious would be the right word for parenting.
And my writing process? One day or week or sometimes even month I’ll be super prolific. Then, almost as if my tank needs to refill itself, ideas and writing will only come out in a trickle. Fruitricklessness.
Sometimes writing fiction, or about fiction, is the same way. It is hard to find just the right word. For example, I’ve been working on my elevator pitch a lot lately for the Western Pennsylvania Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (WPASCBWI) conference (tonight!). After about 17 gazillion drafts, I took a version to my critique group. I had:
My chapter book is about Mabel, a spirited tomboy, who wants to go camping so badly that she’s even looking forward to the itchy mosquito bites. All she has to do is stay in the Blossoms troop long enough to go. But she screws up. Twice. She knocks out the troop leader while saving a spider. Then she eats all the cookies for the cookie sale. Sure, she gets kicked out, but she’s not about to let that stop her. She crashes the campsite and rescues the Blossoms from a stinky situation.
The group had a problem with using “screws up,” citing that screws has other connotations. They brought up something to consider for sure. But I didn’t like the alternatives either. “Goofs” makes me think silly, “messes” is a little tough to say with nervous mouth, and “makes a mistake” isn’t true to my character’s voice. I couldn’t find the word that fit just right (and I actually ended up changing the sentence completely).
The same thing happened in the book that belongs to the pitch above. The antagonist, Lacy, has brown curly hair that Mabel snipped off in kindergarten because she wanted to see if it still bounced when it wasn’t attached to her head. I wanted to describe the springyness of her curls. Curly didn’t cut it (ha! get it? because Mabel snipped…oh nevermind). Bouncy reminded me of a super ball. So I settled on sproingy.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a neologist. I like making up new words. But, the good news is, so do kids. Sometimes they are accidental, pronunciation or rule-application mistakes. But sometimes they are for fun. And I think words should be fun. We, even those of us who aren’t writers, spend far too much time with them not to have a little hooplamusement.
Other links about words: