Unleash the Power of Words!

Reader feedback time: a recent fan letter dictionaryloved the Laws of Magic partly because it ‘has me looking up words very page? (which is what I absolutely love about your books)’.

Finding the right language level is a crucial aspect of writing for young people, but I maintain that this doesn’t have to mean dumbing down. In fact, as my young reader pointed out, encountering an extended vocabulary can be part of the joy of reading.

Writing in a quasi-Edwardian mode, as in the Laws of Magic and The Extraordinaires series has given me licence to indulge one of my great loves – words. The old fashioned settings allow me to use words that simply wouldn’t be appropriate if I were writing in the here and now – and it encourages me to use the subjunctive, as I just did in this sentence.

To pick one book as an example, in Moment of Truth, the fifth book of The Laws of Magic series, includes ‘upbraid’, ‘ophidian’, ‘froward’, and ‘nugatory’ (trivial, worthless). In other books in the series, I’ve managed to use ‘salmagundi’, ‘Parthian’ and ‘snood’. I love these sorts of words for their exotic, resonant tones, and the mood they help create. They’re redolent of other times and other places and this sort of usage is important in creating the texture of the stories.

Other good stuff I can use to add to the verisimilitude of the setting and characters includes making sure to use the possessive before the gerund, something that looks like an affectation if it’s used today.

While writing like this I’m fully aware that many of my readers are teenagers and the language I’m using could be unfamiliar or, even, challenging. I don’t shy away from this and more often than not, my readers respond.

I don’t think we have to be afraid of using unusual language, as long as it’s not overdone. It’s part of the joy of reading, encountering language used in a different way. It alerts us to the possibilities of expression and communication and it alerts us to language being a subtle and flexible thing.

And it’s fun.