The Power of Mysterious Words

Some words come out of the fog, live in the darkness, hide in corners, ooze evil, and tempt storytellers. They are the words that resonate around a campfire and create the backdrop for mysteries, suspense thrillers, and tales of horror.

These words fuel a spark that becomes a story.

Late last year my conversation partner in an English as a second language program and I were pushing at the limits of her English vocabulary. We were talking about mysterious words. I picked a few, including SUSPENSE and FOREBODING, and as a lark, I suggested that we both write a few paragraphs of a mysterious story.

The following week we read and discussed our story openings. In mine, the protagonist is set up on a date with a chef who may or may not turn out to be a werewolf. I laid a few seeds in the opening paragraphs that would allow the story to go in a variety of directions—including comic and cosmic.

While my Hungarian speaking conversation partner created a gloomy atmosphere in which a man ponders the apparent disappearance of a woman, who may or may not be dead, with intimations of mental instability dropped like breadcrumbs. It was a brilliant start!

Could writing mysterious fiction help her improve her English language conversation skills? Yes! It’s a circuitous route, but it is certainly giving us unusual topics for conversation and opportunities to expand her vocabulary. It’s also turning out to be fun.

Mysterious words…



  1. I’m impressed. I don’t think I could write a story of any kind in a foreign language, not even Hungarian. Or maybe especially in Hungarian. Since Dad died I haven’t spoken anything but English. I sometimes wonder if I still know how. Bravo to both of you.

    • Candy Korman

      It’s been so much fun! I’m exhausted ordering breakfast in any language other than English, so I’m very impressed by her efforts.

  2. Good for you for taking such a creative approach. One thing I’ve done with EFL and also native speakers is to have them describe pictures either orally or in writing. Sometimes it’s just straight description, and other times, I’ll encourage more of a fictional story to accompany the picture.

    • Candy Korman

      I’ve done the “describe the picture” with previous conversation partners in this program. My current partner is a creative personality with a willingness to go out on a limb. Great characteristics for a writer! I think I may try the picture game with her, too. But bring some pretty mysterious images and see what happens.