When strewn together, words can create a masterpiece of pleasure, insight and escape. In some way or another, the power of words move us to a higher emotional level, whether it comes in a positive or negative form. It was Rudyard Kipling who said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” I agree with his statement. Words can persuade the most heinous of crimes by overturning government, annihilating people or a cause, and inflaming prejudices. They are dangerous and empowering.
“The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this.” – Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
The above quote is referring to Adolph Hitler. All Hitler used were words to coerce others to join in his personal crusade against the Jews, and inflict fear all around him. It’s a perfect example of Kipling’s quote.
Whether the story is fiction or non-fiction, life plays a vital role in weaving words into narrative. Life is a writer’s research. I believe writing is a way writers share their life with the world using dramatic flair and making the mundane spectacular. Words connect us. I picked some of my favorite author quotes to help show how writers benefit from life. We all have a story to tell. When we observe the smallest of details to a catastrophic event, these observations are what help us create. Writers absorb the fractures, triumphs, cynicism, shock, and compassion in humanity, and then drain the words onto paper as if experiencing it at that moment.
- “Childhood devotions make unfaithful and fickle lovers.” – Carlos Ruiz Zafon The Shadow of the Wind
- “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” – Carlos Ruiz Zafon The Shadow of the Wind
- “But time binds us to aging flesh.” – Don DeLillo Underworld
These quotes are from two different generation authors. Their words ring true to life. Very few things in childhood remain with us into adulthood. I agree with Carlos Ruiz Zafon regarding books are mirrors. Where we are in our lives, and how we feel when reading a book, are the components that make or break the reading experience.
Don DeLillo’s quote made me think of aging and how my body has changed over time. The words he uses are beautiful and sad. When I read Underworld, I finished feeling unsatisfied. I sometimes think I should read it again to see how it would affect me at this age.
- “Her name hung in the air for a bit like the loose strands of a cobweb.” – Dennis Lehane Mystic River
- “Heat rose from the streets with the intensity of a child’s fever.” – Erik Larson Devil in the White City
- “Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air-moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh.” – Tom Robbins The Jitterbug Perfume
All of these quotes show the reader the moment, character or setting. The beauty of writing is visualizing new people and worlds, and transferring that visualization onto the reader. In a sense, the ability to show is what the writer should gain from life. I have read many debates regarding show vs. tell. Some writers think show is overrated, and that telling is true to the idea of ‘storytelling.’ As a reader and writer, I don’t feel show is overrated or that telling is all you need. Like everything else in life, books need a balance between show vs. tell. Writers can’t show everything or it would bog down the story, and they shouldn’t just tell it because it robs the reader of imagination.
Show isn’t a guarantee the book will receive high praise, but I can assure you it will leave an impression. With the way Dennis Lehane describes her name, you can actually picture the delicate name hanging like a cobweb. I’ve watched smoke rise from the street, but I never thought to compare it to a child’s fever. It’s a new way of looking at it. What wonderful discoveries these writers shared with the world? The Jitterbug Perfume wasn’t a favorite of mine, but I remembered it by the way Robbins explored the simplest of things such as the atmosphere of a city. I’ve never been to Louisiana, but Tom Robbins warns me about the weather in September.
While I write and revise, I try to keep in mind that show gives characters and plot depth. Tell helps with backstory and keeps the story moving. There’s a time to tell and a time to show. The most obvious time I avoid telling is when my story mentions a character could “tell” something. After I reread it, a bell goes off in my head that asks, “How can they tell?” Chuck Palahniuk refers to these as thought verbs (thinks, knows, believe) that can be shown through sensory detail.
- “The difference between poets and novelists is this-that the former write for the life of the language-and the latter write for the betterment of the world.” – A.S. Byatt Possession
- “Life is war. An endless sequence of battles, conflicts, ambushes, skirmishes, with all too-brief interludes of peace.” – J.R. Moehringer The Tender Bar
Show also has a way of making the reader think about what the author has written. A.S. Byatt had me analyzing her words days after I read Possession. In a sense, poets do bring language to life by using specific words. As for the novelist, I still haven’t concluded that all write for the betterment of the world. J.R. Moehringer’s words stayed with me for a while, but not so much about life being war. I’d like to think that peace lasts in our lives with pauses for battles, conflicts and ambushes.
I hope my writing will resonate with readers and stay with them long after they finish the end. It’s important I remember to live so I can discover the details, which will help me string words together for a beautiful composition. Winston Churchill wrote, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it myself.” It’s not a bad way to make history. Even though I won’t be writing myself into history books, I can live life to the fullest and make it meaningful.
There’s one last thing I’d like to leave you with regarding my thoughts on writing. From Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, “I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” With this writing and others, I do hope that I have made the words right. Thanks for stopping by.
The power of words impacts each of us in different ways. What writer’s words have most made an impression on you? What impact do you hope your writing makes on readers?
Please consider reading my book review of her novel Net Switch and the review I posted of her poetry collection Sipping a Mix of Verse. In addition, an author interview with her has also appeared on this blog.
The images used in this post are for promotional purposes and comply with fair use guidelines.
Article by Denise Baer