There is an importance in the precision of words. I was recently reminded of this while reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. These books are about Karou, a blue-haired, artistic human girl who collects teeth for her chimaera “father.” When Akiva, a seraphim, descends into her life, the easy (albeit monster-filled) world that she has known becomes one of war and complication. Through both novels, Taylor’s words and descriptions are vibrant, passionate, and most importantly, precise. These words form clear, colorful, fresh images in the reader’s mind. As I was reading, some of the words and descriptions were so astounding that I paused to appreciate them, and made note of their location. Here are two such selections:
“The first time she’d come to Prague, she’d gotten so lost exploring these streets. She’d passed an art gallery and a few blocks later doubled back to find it, and… couldn’t. The city had swallowed it. In fact, she had never found it. There was a deceptive tangling of alleys that gave the impression of a map that shifted behind you, gargoyles tiptoeing away, stones like puzzle pieces rearranging themselves into new configurations while you weren’t looking. Prague entranced you, lured you in, like the mythic fey who trick travelers deep into forests until they’re lost beyond hope. But being lost here was a gentle adventure of marionette shops and absinthe, and the only creatures lurking around corners were Kaz and his cohorts in vampire makeup, ready with a silly thrill. Usually."
-Daughter of Smoke and Bone, page 183
“One world on its own is a strange enough seethe of coiling, unknowable veins of intention and change, but two? Where two worlds mingle breath through rips in the sky, the strange becomes stranger, and many things may come to pass that few imaginations could encompass.”
-Days of Blood & Starlight, page 491
When I read the first selection, I see a map of Prague that shifts around Karou like puzzle pieces. I see gargoyles shrinking away in the shadows and fairies with trickery in their eyes. These images form strongly in my mind. There is power in words like tangling, lure, cohorts, coiling and even absinthe. And when precise, pulsing words are strung together to form sentences and paragraphs, there is real magic in the imagery they create.
Word selection and usage can paint images within readers’ minds. They can bring an image to life, have it living and breathing and three-dimensional. This is why the precise selection of words is vital. Because there is a difference between anxious and nervous. There is a difference between blue and cerulean. There is a difference between happy, joyful, excited and ecstatic. And it’s not just a matter of using a thesaurus. Because some words, some descriptions are more innate. Maybe they come from a metaphor that no one has ever considered, and they pump life and heart into the story. They may come from a phrase of two or three hand-selected words that conjure something exact when put together in that fashion. Even if just one word is interchanged, the meaning may change and the image may fall.
Magic within words isn’t an everyday occurrence. It is unique, more so than the word ‘unique’ itself, which is why I am so appreciative of the precision of Taylor’s words within both of her novels. And why I strive for the same precision within my own work.