Today we present to you another Dave Smith piece.
Soul. Some words have one.
Most people call it connotation, but I like soul; sounds more … intriguing.
Lately I’ve become obsessed you might say (or you might not say) with word souls. It’s all because of a how-to book that crossed my path recently. The author admonished me about using certain words too often, and presented a list of vexatious words which, if over-used, would turn my writing into dung.
One word on her/his list was look.
Okay, got it; I don’t want my writing to be boring, so finding alternatives is always good (except for the word said, which apparently has escaped the most-wanted list.) Said somehow disappears off the page and out of the mind, so a writer can use it with abandon, knowing with certainty it won’t bore the reader. I know that because that’s what they say in those how-to books.
Not so look. It apparently doesn’t disappear.
And yet that word has so many uses.
Look, according to that author, should be replaced as often as possible, because it’s not appropriate to disturb the writing rules. That’s the law. And the word does have numerous alternatives. See for yourself—look it up in your dictionary and your thesaurus. Oh, dang, I mean observe it in your dictionary and thesaurus—or do I?
See? Your mind hesitated on the word observe, didn’t it? Why?
It’s all about soul, my friends. Replacing words to satisfy the rules should be done with caution, me thinks.
Imagine my surprise shock when I read a section of a novel by this author—who is making money trying to improve my writing—in which she/he wrote, “The detective walked out of the building and his gaze shifted to the far end of the street.” Or something like that. The author certainly walks the walk. Technically correct? Yup. Many readers might not even hiccup at it.
Me, I came to a full stop, because like I told you, I’m obsessed. According to Dave, the soul of gaze is wistfulness, longing, mental numbness, and time. One gazes at the stars, or a Thomas Kinkade painting, or an unanswerable question on the DMV driving test. A detective does not walk out of a building and gaze down the street; a detective walks out of a building and looks down the street. He could stare (gaze, if you have to use the word) once he saw something of interest.
I always look for (darn it, I said it again) alternatives when writing, of course, but I believe it is my authorial duty to consider the soul of my replacement, because I mustn’t annoy the astute reader (you), who understands that sweet-sounding yet appropriate French word nuance.
And please, never gaze at me. (Unless you mean it.)
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Love this idea of the soul of words. Great piece, Dave. I wish I’d read it before I turned in the fnal version of my sixth novel yesterday. Now I’m afraid to go back and search for “look.”
Thanks for the kind review. Don’t worry about look; search for gaze. As for word souls, poets like our own Linda B are most likely more in touch with them than I.