Monday, October 25, 2010

Just the Right Word

As a writer, it is important to supply just the right word at the right time to carry a paragraph, a page, a scene. There have been times I've studied a Thesaurus, called friends, debated with critique members, and rewritten a scene ten times before I realized it was one word, one lousy, detestable word snarling the scene.

I just got back from an extended weekend at the coast with my parents and my sister from Vermont. We went to a Mexican restaurant while in Rockaway Beach and I was wise enough to sit next to my mother. My father tends to elbow the person next to him continually, to gain their attention. My sister was suffering the blows while helping him understand the menu.

"Now, Dad, with this one you can get guacamole. Do you like guacamole? "

"What is that?" he asked.

She explained and so did my mother. He grunted. My sister went on, suggesting some other items she thought he might enjoy. We ordered and when the waitress brought the steaming meals, my mother looked across the table at my father's plate. "Where is his guacamole?"

My sister, little tufts of hair falling from her chignon, and her hand rubbing her arm closest to my father, said, "Oh, that was a different...a different...that was a different..."

Since I've sat next to my father for an entire five hour flight from Massachusetts to Portland, I recognized the signs of distress from the elbow treatment. Certain she was looking for words such as "menu item" or delicious entree" or "burrito supreme," I couldn't come up with anything. I finally asked, "Thing?"

"Thing. Yes, that was a different thing," she said. Her glance reached mine. "Thank you, Melanie, for supplying just the right word."

I curled my fingers over, blew on my fingernails and polished them on my shirt. With an arrogant tilt of my head, I said, "Yeah, I'm a writer."

Thing. Geeez.


  1. For me sometimes the right word comes along, and sometimes the wrong one does. Usually the wrong word comes when I'm speaking, not writing, because I don't always have time to think before I speak. With writing, at least there's revision and time to select the right word.

    Great post!

  2. Thanks, Jeffrey, for being so understanding. It made me feel better.

  3. But, did he get his guacamole? You can't leave your readers hanging like that, unless you intend on writing a sequel.

  4. Great post! I was struggling to find the right word and my 12-year-old daughter said: "Mom, choose your words wisely or something might get lost in the context."
    Yes... right word indeed!

  5. Kathy,

    It was a different "thing" that came with guacamole. The "thing" he ordered didn't come with it. But I noticed he eyed mine. I had my fork ready to defend it.


    HAAAAAaaa. Your daughter needs to start writing. How does she do at Scrabble? My mind reverts back to the days of "da da" and "ma ma" the moment someone lifts the cover off the Scrabble game.

  6. This post cuts close the bone...but...I just can't think of what to say. It's sort of...well...

    I CAN think of something to say about the photograph: That sloshy place right in front is where I've been dreaming of soaking my feet. It's the exact picture I've had in my mind--and there you went and posted it. Even in November and December I've bundled up in sweaters and windbreaker and waded in the ocean at Myrtle Beach,NC. If I squint I can almost see Spain...

  7. Jewell,

    It is inviting, isn't it? Until you realize the water is about 50 degrees and the outside temperature is about the same. (Summer it probably gets up to 65 degrees. It is what makes the Pacific so envigorating.)


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