I don’t know about all writers, but some writers — including me — periodically fall in love with WORDS. When I “discover” a charming or inspiring word, I’ve been known to post it on the corkboard above my desk or tape it to the mirror in the bathroom.
Sometimes the words grow into entire stories. A conversation about Krampus with a German friend introduced me to the truly nightmarish creature “Nachtgrap” (night grab) which led directly to a modern fairy tale in which the old woman in a cottage in the woods assures a small girl that monsters do indeed live under beds and come out to grab you in the night.
More often, the words simply linger — along with articles from newspapers and bookmarked website addresses — in a limbo of idea stew until the right opportunity pops or until the word simmers long enough to naturally appear in a sentence.
I knew my dad also collected words. He’d often call or email me words he’d found in a book. They were usually old-fashioned words from histories or biographies, but sometimes they were simply magnificent words used by a fiction author to evoke a response that was vivid and singular. After he died, I found lists of words on his desk, a notebook of homonyms and a folder of stray words that he found intriguing or simply fun.
The weird thing is that in my dad’s writing he used a deceptively simple vocabulary. His memoir, published when he was 76 and still available via Amazon and in a few bookstores, uses peculiarly simple words and sentence constructions to create accessibility without sounding simplistic or “dumbed-down.” This style came naturally to him. As a freshman at NYU in 1944, he was placed in a “remedial” English class because his tested vocabulary was below the school’s standard. The first essay he wrote for that class was published in a University journal when the professor recognized his “limited vocabulary” as a writing style.
Words, words, words… sometimes the small ones are better than the tricky ones in the final round of the spelling bee. I’ve always focused on the RIGHT word — small, large, borrowed from another language or made-up — but that’s my style and since I write with a great deal more dialog than dad, I have to be aware of the words that make sense to a particular character.
Words, words, words…. I love ‘em.
My Father’s Bakery, by Marvin Korman