What was an experience where you learned that language had power?

What comes to mind for me with this question is a discovery in early stages of my fiction writing. As I got past the messy and confusing first months of working on my first novel, I became aware that at times a single word added to a sentence could change the entire trajectory of the plot, or shift the mood, or suddenly raise an angle that hadn’t occurred to me. It was as though magic were speaking back to me out of the abyss.

Sometimes an object slipped into my writing, seemingly out of nowhere. At first I’d think, “What’s important about this hammer on the table?” or “What’s it doing there?” Details can be too trivial and only slow the movement of the story. But other times a seemingly trivial or even inappropriate detail builds its own purpose. It’s up to the author to discern if it has that potential, and then craft it. The innocuous hammer may have become essential by the time you circle around through the next revision.

This is true also of characters. A woman in line at the library may become a sounding board needed for deepening inner dialogue, revealing motivation, understanding attitude. I usually trust it when an apparently incidental character comes strolling into one of my books, and find purpose as I develop them.

This is what comes to me when I think of the power of language. It’s also the soul’s role in creativity, the word, phrase, object or character that emerges unbidden.

Of course, the turn of phrase and eloquence of prose can evoke emotion, beauty, atmosphere; those are surely powerful. But the surprising power of a single word, in the midst of writing larger works of fiction, has at times taken my breath away.

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2 thoughts on “What was an experience where you learned that language had power?

  1. I learned language had power as a child. Books were the gateway–with those wonderful adventures into the world I didn’t know existed.

    Mom and my siblings and I would walk the three miles (one way) to the local library and I’d choose all the books I could carry. I devoured the classic fairy tales, classic children’s tales, and Nancy Drew mysteries. Books were treasures to be savored, explored, and returned the next week or two before beginning a grand new adventure.

    As I grew older, I learned to research how to do things or how to make things. The library became my preferred outing.

    Mom always knew where she’d find me when she needed me to do something. I’d be curled in a corner or on my bed reading a book.

  2. That’s another power that words have, isn’t it? In books, power to carry us to another place, to form a sense of new possibility, to stretch us and truly expand our horizons. Thank you for commenting, Carolyn!

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