There’s a word in the English language for the smell of fresh rain on dry ground, and that word is petrichor. Imagine there being a word for that – isn’t English a remarkable thing?
I love a good word me – but the richness of the language can make it a heady brew – and often the trick with writing is not what you put in but what you leave out.
I remember in my most recent book The Pick Up Artist – which I aim to have published after Song of the Sea God, at one point in the narrative I used the word melisma.
Melisma, as you may know, is the singing style, much beloved by the late Whitney Houston, in which there is much quavering and warbling around each syllable. Turn on any of the search for a star shows like X Factor or The Voice and you’ll be treated to a whole basinful of melisma. I’d used the word for comic effect to describe someone’s distraught wail and was very pleased with myself.
But both friends who I had asked to read the book and advise me on it struck a firm red line through melisma and then each of them stuck a grumpy note in the margin saying it would not do at all.
The problem wasn’t the word itself but the context in which it was used. The book’s about a young man’s inept search for love. It’s told in the third person – but it’s what’s technically known as a close third – so the narrative voice quite closely matches the moods and attitudes of our hero – and to some extent, gets into his head.
And he’s not the sort of character to be tossing words like melisma around. So it had to go.
What’s more – within a few pages I was at it again. Threnody this time – which is a hymn for the dead. Again I was pleased with myself – again I got a red line and a bollocking – and again my readers were quite correct. Nice word – but in the context quite wrong.
So sometimes the best word isn’t the most elaborate – but the most apt.
Still, I’m sold on the beauty of words for their own sake and can’t get enough of them. What’s your favourite word?