Untowords

No, they’re not real words. Not according to any dictionary I know, anyway. I just thought them up while pondering one of the driving concepts behind my efforts to stay darkly creative in my writing. I like to think I can take almost any piece of information and find its underbelly; the most innocuous subject can be made nocuous with a bit of treacherous tweaking. While I’m not a huge fan of excessive elaboration, the right word, or group of words, collected in the right way and presented in the right context, can pinpoint the right nerve with laserlike precision.

And that’s the rub that abrades my rawest scare button. It’s like the use of atmosphere in film: a gothic castle in the middle of nowhere surrounded by glowing eyes in the underbrush sets a frightening mood. But the gradual revelation of something wicked beneath the most banal of settings strikes an even deeper chord: something is very, very wrong and whatever is behind it is intelligent enough to blend into one’s sense of security. And like a perfect trap, you only know you’ve been caught when you finally see the closed door not as something to keep evil out, but as something to keep you in with it.

Transforming disease, the suffocation of secret societies, the slow turn of madness – story elements that settle onto our internal organs like a foreign malaise eat you from the inside out, just like certain words don’t so much hit you as “find you where you live”. They’re often familiar terms, but delivered with such measured cadence and furtive finesse as to be impossible to deflect. The fear is absorbed, completely. The decision to fight or flee is immaterial. You’re surrounded. It’s over.

As a screenwriter, you have tools at your disposal to create such a fear, and even though we’re best served to speak directly, with punch and an ear towards expedition, without a liberal understanding of vocabulary, one may not know how to use them to best effect. The novelist can weave flowery and depth-sounding phrases in order to penetrate our defenses, but the screenwriter relies on imagery and dialog with the right word here and there to help the reader – someone who is trained to understand visual information – gist the appropriate tone. With screenplays being not the thing but the blueprint, screenwriters have to convince a reader without losing them. So it’s best, I find, to conjure magic with timing and juxtaposition rather than hyper-literacy. As someone in love with language, I miss infusing my work with treasures procured in my literary travels. But I realize that over the years I’ve yearned to make an emotional impact, not take a reader up into the rarified air of polysyllabic heaven where they become distanced from the viscera. I want to comfort them with a taut familiarity by using just the right words, in the right places, and keep them suitably grounded, infectiously close. And I can do that in my blueprints using a sort of shorthand to madness.

That said, conveyed, articulated, phonatedclick on the demonic rice field below, stretch your vocabuligaments and feed a few folks, won’t you?

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About S. Norton

Writer, marketer, musician.
This entry was posted in Screenwriting, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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