I like words.
They let me say stuff or even write stuff down so I can explain things without having to resort to interpretive dance all the time. Yes, words are damn useful things.
I also enjoy dictionaries, especially old ones like the, 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. In this case, vulgar, means common and the 1811 dictionary contains the vocabulary of the common man and woman of the street. Street slang, to put it simply. I think it’s one of the most useful and fun books I own.
The 1811 dictionary is available as a free download along with other similar volumes, from places like Amazon and the Guttenberg Project, but I much prefer the paperback version as you can flick through it in those idle moments when you’re waiting for stuff to happen.
I thought of my love for old dictionaries recently when Writers & Artists tweeted the list of, Words to use More Often, shown above. You can click the image for a better look. It reminded me of something I like to do when planning a story and I thought you might find it useful too.
I find certain words fit certain themes or characters particularly well. In much the same way that just the right name can instantly set a character right in your mind, the same can happen with the vocabulary.
So when I’m reading through dictionaries I like to make notes of words that I think should appear in my story. Obviously, I can’t make a large list or it would be just an entire new dictionary and impossible to look through quickly but a short-ish list of reminders similar to the one at the top of this piece can really come in handy.
For example, my Septimus Jaggs circus tales are set in 1889 so there are certain words that I feel are suited to that era that I might forget to use such as: apothecary or phantasmagoria or canting crew or hat.
All these words go on the list, not to be used incessantly throughout the story, but as reminders to myself to sprinkle them here and there when needed. I also have lists of circus/traveller palari that I like to look through now and then.
It helps if your characters speak in a manner suited to their standing in life. Remember, not everyone speaks like you so watch your dialog. But don’t overuse slang or other forms of palari , you’ll be in danger of alienating the reader which is bad.
On a related note, check your idioms are consistent with your story’s era. Having a Victorian character say that “…a light bulb went on in his head..” just won’t do. But you could have fun twisting it to make it make sense.
Anyway, just thought some of you might find that useful. I hope you did and if you have anything to add please leave a comment below. Writers like to learn so share your methods people.