Language can be as flat and dry as a salt-free cracker. It can also be as luscious and nuanced as a fine wine. Sometimes the cracker is the right choice, but there’s also wine time.
A few years ago I took a wine tasting class. The instructor was a very funny woman with a deep understanding of wine. She didn’t put up with shyness and made us all speak up.
“What do you smell? What does the taste remind you of?”
She’d push us to find the words to describe our initial responses to each wine. Flowers, the forest floor, quartz on the beach, tobacco… It didn’t really matter what words you used to describe the aroma, as long as you found words and said them out loud to the class. She explained that one person’s raspberry might be another’s cherry coke. Our individual
perceptions drive our language choices.
What does this have to do with writing?
Everything. In dialog, a character’s word choices reveal a great deal. Where does he come from? What does she do for a living? Does he enjoy cooking? Does she wear perfume? The word choices of a man from New England who loves to cook will be different than a woman who plans weddings in Atlanta and wears a rose-based perfume every day.
The teacher had another, very useful, piece of advice for when you’re at a loss for words. She said, “When tasting a white wine — just say it tastes like green apples.” White wines always taste like green apples — to someone. I was thinking about that the other day when I was putting words in the mouth of a character. I needed to distinguish his style of speaking from another character, so a dug a little deeper into this minor character and found the vocabulary that matched his background and life.
How do you like them apples?