Why people should use stranger words in normal contexts
On Twitter there is a bot named “Expressionism Bot”. It makes weird sounding fragments such as:
- A man who gleams in the trembling chestnut tree; the autumnal cemeteries wail, thorny
- A light is collapsing in the decaying maple
- Ahead a bramble blessed through the garden, filling me with midnight
- Vast and red, the grove was rosy with rye-fields
While the fragments themselves may not make much sense, they provide either vivid imagery or sound great rolling off the tongue.
Strange words can make or break a piece of writing, yet we constantly forget about them. There’s something about the nature of speech that alters the way that we write. Instead of using precise diction when talking with friends, we’ll use a common word. “Look at the blue sky!” “Your apple pie tasted sweet” “The cat was soft” Where you could say the sky is viridian, the apple pie tasted saccharine and crumbly, and the cat’s fur was gentle and ticklish. It’s a shame, because everything sounds so much more interesting when you put a bit more detail into your words.
And people love when others use descriptive adjectives instead of bland and common ones. I’ve noticed this same idea arise in my writing when I only allow myself to write one sentence at a time. Usually, I’ll write a few sentences, and then edit it down to be precise and succinct. However, in creative writing, this does not work, and my writing becomes as tasteless as sand.
A few months ago, I started a project. Every day in math class, I’d write one sentence to a story. I could only write one sentence, however. It could be anything, as long or short as I wanted, and it didn’t even have to make sense or be grammatically correct. The product I have now is full of vibrant and colorful descriptions, fast-paced cuts, and only important information. Although the process took a really long time, I genuinely feel as though this is the most surreal and genuine writing I’ve done in a while. I’ll share it when it’s finished.
One of my favorite sentences I’ve written thus far is this:
“The glowing orange sun swept color over the sandy, grass hill and a ringing warm bath of sunlight graced the land upon which he now rested.”
In that one sentence, I was trying to capture the feeling of resting one’s bare back on a warm, orange desert dune. I wanted to capture how pleasant the experience was. It was like a bath, and the character was resting. The sentence has become interesting and impactful.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof uses strange words to immerse the audience into the world of the play, although Tennessee Williams probably intended for the words to be commonplace for his audience. Sitting here in 2017, the words intriguing, beckoning us into the dramatic world of lies and tragedy.
Even further than words are actions and feelings. One of the reasons we find someone or something quite fascinating is frankly because of the strangeness or mysteriousness of its characteristics. A man who owns a lizard instead of a cat, a girl who only wears a red dress on Thursdays out of tradition, a book discussing secrets anonymously shared, a hidden door beneath a carpet. Their uniqueness molds intriguing identity.
In Math — where I have the majority of my revelations — I came across a fun, peculiar website:
Here are some of my favorite suggestions on how to make a boring class interesting:
- Pretend you’re flying a jet fighter in the Gulf War.
- Answer the teachers in gangsta slang.
- Rhyme the last words of everybody’s sentences.
- Chew on your arm until someone notices.
- Change seats every three minutes.
- Answer the teachers questions very fast.
- Start laughing really hard and say, “Oh, now I get it.”
- Make a sundial.
- Give yourself a new identity.
Firstly, my new favorite adjective is officially debonair. I have discovered it while looking through I random adjective generator online for ideas for this article, and I thoroughly enjoy both its graceful spelling and its definition: “(of a man) confident, stylish, and charming.” I feel as though it is a quality word.
Secondly, since we’ve established that just as words such as “twisted” and “jumping” and “cathartic” and “bumbly” make a noun charged and striking, and the quirks in a person can make them seem intriguing, we can look at entire concept of culture with the same perspective of unusualness. A long sentence meaning “culture/storytelling is just the choice of usual adjectives”. Looking specifically at cultural anthropology of cultures (development of folklore, storytelling, culture in general) we see that there are profound differences in cultures: their own little quirks. Some are made from differences in environments, histories, economies, and socio-political whatevers, but the general idea thing is that culture is just us amalgamated together into a string of strange beings interacting in a world where everyone — children, adults, governments and nations — is just winging it and hoping for the best.
Sandman told the story of Dream and Nada in the form of ancient traditional storytelling. The plot was that a village had a ritual where when a man of the village turned of age, they’d be sent out into the desert to find something to which they’d know when they’d find it. The object was a heart-shaped glass crystal — a remnant from a city long ago. There the man would sit and listen to the story of the city of long ago, and hear the story only once in his entire life. The way Neil Gaiman captures the power of storytelling is enchanting. It’s like watching a pivotal moment of a stranger’s life but with the added benefit of trying to grasp human nature or something.
Without strangeness or uniqueness identity is scarce. There’s an Albert Camus quote that The School of Life quoted on their Twitter the other day. it is this.
NOBODY REALIZES THAT SOME PEOPLE EXPEND TREMENDOUS ENERGY MERELY TO BE NORMAL
— ALBERT CAMUS
It takes little effort to be interesting, as long as you’re a curious being — a cute dog, a confused ant, a human. It takes a lot of effort to learn how to fit into a culture, and trying to compare everyone’s quirks together and collectively decide upon which ones are preferable is often hard. I have the same distrust in democracy as Socrates, with the added frightening knowledge of how group psychologies work. Not well. They do not work well. I guess there’s some humor in understanding that humans evolved into such social animals, yet often so terrible at making executive decisions as a group. hmm, it seems as though the article has gone off-track. Use stranger words! [End]
Originally published at www.cmbwritingportfolio.com.