Sunday, May 1, 2011

the right word

Okay, so I've used this quote before but I've never really tried to explain it on the sentence level, so I thought I'd give it a shot.VIA Mr. Mark Twain, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening."

So let's say you have a story and your character, late at night, hears the sound of a baby crying outside his house. He's falling asleep but it startles him awake. The crying continues and he jumps up and swings open the door and steps out into amoonless night.He finds a cat sitting on his front walk.

So we want a sentence about this.

The sound of a baby crying and a cat screeching were similar.

SIMILAR as used here is definitely lightening bug for me. Oh, it does the job, sure. But it drags the whole comparison down. Maybe, too, the writer is making some deeper observation about how easy it is to think one thing is another, so the weakness of the word "similar" weakens the whole comparison. So much on just one word? Well, yeah. Let me try again.

A baby crying and a cat screeching are strikingly alike.

STRIKINGLY as used here is still lightening bug to me. Again, does the job. Not bad. Better than the first. Almost?

A baby crying and a cat screeching are erily alike? ERILY? Lightening bug. I'm not sure why exactly. Maybe too predictable?

A baby crying and a cat screeching are unforgivably alike. UNFORGIVABLY? For me that's lightening. Of course that kind of sentence makes a point and so the scene should be following this sense of two things that shouldn't be alike being alike and this situation should somehow be an echo of what's happening in the story. But, for me anyway, this is the right word for this sentence.

So much on the right word? I think so. Certain words in certain sentences need to be right and not almost right.

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