Why ‘something’ is my favourite word.
Writing can be a choosy business – choosing which direction to take with the plot, choosing the settings, atmosphere and time of day, and (my favourite) choosing who to kill off, push down the stairs or throw into bed with the leading lady. But choosing which word to use is always the one that gets me going.
Okay, so what I mean is this:
When I’m in mid flow, banging out the adjectives like there’s no tomorrow, trying to avoid clichés (see what I did there?) and striving to find that perfect word or phrase to make my prose sing, I get stuck. I get stuck because there’s always a ton of stuff that doesn’t quite make it onto the page at the first draft stage. But if I stop writing and try to figure out what the missing word or phrase is, I could easily spend half an hour searching through a thesaurus, on the Internet or just wracking my literary brain. But I don’t want to do that – I want to continue the flow, press on, get down what I can while the ol’ muse is a-workin’.
Usually, the difficulty is in describing things. Here’s an example from my first Christie McKinnon Adventure ‘The Hounds of Hellerby Hall’:
Georgie turns away and stares at the mirror on the far wall. It reflects the scene through the window outside. Two men are doing something with something. After they’ve passed, he continues to stare at the reflection.
I knew I wanted the boy to notice what was happening outside but I wasn’t sure what it was going to be or why he needed to notice it. At the re-writing stage, what I eventually ended up with was this:
Georgie turns away and stares at the mirror on the far wall. It reflects the scene through the window outside. Two men push a cartload of timber over the gravel drive towards the walled garden at the side of the house. He watches them struggle with the heavy cart. After they’ve passed, he continues to stare at the reflection.
The timber becomes important later on, so it’s essential that the reader gets a clue about it at this early stage.
Here’s another example when I couldn’t quite work out how to describe the mechanism of a pub-like counter-top:
‘Come away in, then, the pair of yous,’ says Miss Watt, her face almost giving in to an actual smile. ‘I’ll see whit I can do.’ She does something with the something that lets them into the office.
The final version goes like this:
‘Come away in, then, the pair of yous,’ says Miss Watt, her face almost giving in to an actual smile. ‘I’ll see whit I can do.’ She unfastens a catch on the counter, swings the top half up and pulls the half-door towards her, allowing them to pass through.
Most times, though, it’s only the odd word that I’m not sure about, so I’ll often have sentences like this:
The silence is thick enough to something he observes, with a grim smile.
In true Chandleresque style, the sentence ended up as:
The silence is thick enough to slice with a cheese grater, he observes, with a grim smile.
So there is it – something has got me out of a lot of holes over the years and it’s still doing a pretty good job. In book 2 of The Christie McKinnon Adventures, ‘The House That Wasn’t There’, there were lots of ‘somethings’ that needed attention. Here’s one that’s a straightforward matter of geography, since I used the names of several real streets in the story:
Deadman’s Lane is a rough, winding track that begins near the top of SOMETHING Road.
I sorted that one out with the help of an 1890s map of Edinburgh:
Deadman’s Lane is a narrow, winding road that runs off Cramond Road at an acute angle.
And of course, something is a fine word by itself:
Later, he’ll wonder if he knew there was something wrong, something not quite right, something odd, different.
I love ‘something’ – it’s a great word. As George Harrison didn’t say – ‘There’s something in the way he writes those novels…’