Wrestling with words until we get them right.

Dictionaries are full of words. So is Google. But it’s what we do with those words that make the difference.

Hemingway was dead solid serious.

So was the interviewer.

Hemingway had the answer.

The interviewer wanted it.

He asked, “How much re-writing do you do?

Hemingway paused, thought it over a moment, then replied, “It depends. I re-wrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times.”

The interviewer raised an eyebrow.

One answer obviously led to the next question.

“Was there some technical problem there?” he wanted to know. “What was it that had stumped you?”

Hemingway didn’t hesitate.

“Getting the words right,” he said.

That’s the problem facing any writer.

We all have the same words in our basket.

We learn them.

We collect them.

We lock them away.

Need a new one?

Go to the dictionary.

Dictionaries are full of words.

So is Google.

But it’s what we do with those words that make the difference.

We never scatter them the same way.

Some of us pack a few words into compact sentences.

Others try to find out how many words they can string into a single sentence.

What’s best?

Here is the way I wrote a sequence in my historical thriller, Conspiracy of Lies:

The table in the corner, the one in the shadows, had three people.

Two men.

And a woman.

They were all looking at him.

Ambrose Lincoln began walking their way before the maître d’ had an opportunity to pick up a menu.

The older gentleman stood to shake his hand. “Thank you for coming, Ambrose,” he said.

The woman reached out and took his hand.

She was smiling.

The smile had reached her eyes.

“I’ve missed you, Ambrose,” she said softly.

She squeezed his hand.

Lincoln stared down at her. Long brown hair with curls dancing on her bare shoulders when she spoke.

Hazel eyes.

A face shaped like a heart with a beauty spot just below her left eye.

Her gown was red and velvet.

Her fingernails were long and a vivid red.

He had seen her once before. She was lying in a casket.

That works for me.

It might not work for you.

You may prefer for your prose to be more lyrical.

You may want to write the same scene in a sentence that borders on literary fiction.

He did not know what to expect when he walked into the room. He saw three people seated in the shadows of a corner table: two men and a woman. Their eyes had not left him. Who were they, he wondered. What did they want? Had they been waiting for him? If so, why? The woman smiled as she took his hand. She was smiling, but he ignored the smile. She had long brown hair with curls dancing on her bare shoulders. Hazel eyes. A face shaped like a heart with a beauty spot just below her left eye. Her gown was red and velvet, her fingernails long and a vivid red. He recognized her immediately. Her smile was as warm as her eyes. “I’ve missed you,” she said softly. He had only seen her once before. It had been too late to love her then as he loved her now. She had been lying in a casket.

That works for me, too.

Writers simply sit in the darkness of their own choosing.

At least I do.

And we’ve all been given a deck of words.

We shuffle them.

We deal them.

And we all play our hands differently.

As Hemingway said, we all have one responsibility.

We must get the words right.

And we keep dealing them until we do.

Sometimes we fold the hand and walk away.

Please click HERE to find Conspiracy of Lies on Amazon.

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  • Some of us acquired the add-on decks – all those books we’ve read, you know?

    If I had taken the SATs (I didn’t – I grew up in Mexico – no such thing), I wouldn’t have needed vocabulary cards. I’m sad for the kids that have to use the cheats because their reading life wsn’t rich enough. We still talk about the time (I wish I could remember the word) when the kids asked me about a word in Silas Marner, and after explaining what it meant, I suggested we check the dictionary – and the definition included the very use in Silas Marner I was describing. I must have learned it there – most of my early learning came from reading books, and figuring out (and skipping) some of the words through context, which I think is the best way.

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