One of the many joys I get from writing is in choosing words. To me, they all have shades, from the lightest ivory to the darkest black, and choosing just the right shade to portray the emotion that I’m going for is a hobby. Like a pastel painter, I play and blend until I have the exact meaning I want.
To explain how I do it, this is from a book I just turned in to my agent – It’s a woman, after her husband got an ALS diagnosis.
This was a key scene; the emotion had to be real and raw. So first, I closed my eyes and sat with it—imagined what I’d feel if I found out my husband had 3-6 months to live, and every moment of that time, he’d be suffering.
Obviously it’s distressing, but HOW? How would this change my life long term? Short term? Grief is there, of course, but what else? Fear, right? What does that feel like? I mean viscerally, inside my body? Inside my mind? There are a zillion ways to describe it, but I decided to use two things – being lost and not knowing what to do, and cold – the kind of cold inside that you can’t get away from.
Then I went to my go-to online tool, The One Look thesaurus (https://www.onelook.com/thesaurus/), and looked up ‘cold’. Here’s the list:
51. common cold
52. low temperature
A lot of them didn’t work, but I shortened the list to
Those weren’t the exact right shade either, but it got my brain moving in the right direction. I sorted through words in my mind until I found the exact one I was looking for.
Then, I wanted to describe what scrambled, panicky thoughts felt like. You know, when you’re so freaked that you can’t even follow one thought to the end until another takes it’s place. You end up nowhere but exhausted at the end.
This is what I eventually ended up with:
I won’t burden Roger with my anger, and the massive, below-the-surface iceberg of pain. And fear.
The fear is a live thing inside my chest, chewing and tearing, trying to get out. To keep my hands busy, I mindlessly clean while my mind runs mazes of scenarios, each ending in dark, blind alleys that turn my blood to an icy slurry. I back away, only to scurry down another.
Ah. So satisfying.