Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Walk It Like You Talk It: #fivewordfridays

a series of vocabulary-based prompts

by Ashley Strosnider

Tackled the exercise below? Come up with something brilliant or hilarious? Tweet us a favorite line or phrase @theSchooner!

My mom describes horrible things as “dreadful.” One of my friends calls excellent things “dynamite.” Neither of these feels quite right in my mouth, but I’m still charmed when they say them. Many of my favorite people to talk to have their own go-to vocabularies, their own distinctive ways of talking. (Of course, it’s entirely possible that everyone does, and I just don’t talk to everyone, so I wouldn’t know.) But it’s true on the page, too. Good writing, as the saying goes, just hits different. Some poems simply sound like “oh, of course she wrote this.” And when some characters open their mouths, I wouldn’t mind if the dialogue went on for pages and pages.

If you’re aware of your own go-to’s, you can use them to your advantage. But if you aren’t aware? You might be surprised to find that “arduous” crops up six times in one chapter. If you have a sneaking suspicion about words or phrases you’re always writing (or words your workshop group or beta readers are often teasing you about), go take inventory. Try to read a stack of poems, a handful of pages of prose, and see what’s creeping in. Sometimes this can show you something about your obsessions; this can reveal things you have more to say about, trains of thought you might expand on, subplots you might tease out, other poems you might write. Sometimes this can show you opportunities for invention; these might be places you’re porting over ideas you’ve already sorted and descriptions you’ve already used, and you might see an opening to go deeper or look at something from a fresher angle.

Today’s challenge asks you to think about your own signature words and consider where they’re hurting you and where they’re helping you. Think about the vocabularies of your favorite writers and your favorite people. And try out these five from one of our favorite people:

 

2 nouns: colostrum, rhododendron

2 verbs: spill, revolve

1 adjective: pomaceous 

 

Today’s words are brought to you by our poetry editor Jess Poli, founder and editor of Birdfeast, and author of the chapbook Canyons (Bat Cat Press).

 

As before, there are at least two ways to approach the exercise, though we welcome you—nay, we dare you!—to find more.

First approach: Generative prompt

Take these five words as a jumping-off point. Consider them together, and consider what they’re telling you and what you could use them to tell someone else. Go from there. Beginning is enough.

Level-two challenge: Some combinations may be obvious. Try to see connections or hear phrasings that wouldn’t occur to someone else. A single word can carry its own tone and connotations, but it’s the friction that comes from rubbing them together that truly delights. Do it distinctively.

Second approach: Revision tactic

Find a poem or a paragraph or a piece of flash fiction you’ve been working on that’s just not quite there yet, and revise it to make sure all five words appear in the new version.

Level-two challenge: Pick a piece you feel absolutely certain is a bad fit for this exercise and these words. The more horrified you feel about adding in V, W, X, Y, and Z, the better. Will your poem or story be better for it? No way to know, but you’ll have made your work weirder—at least temporarily—and even if these aren’t the exact five words you needed, this exercise may show you that your piece is a little more malleable than you thought, which is often just what you need to break it out of its rut.