by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist
“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
― Henry James
Regardless of tastes, preferences or trends, I believe the beautiful calls to us.
There is something inside of us that longs for symmetry, for rhythm, for thoughtful curves, for delicacy, for images that spurn our emotions, that bring out in us the good and noble. We all enjoy art for a variety for reasons, but no one can deny how beautiful art serves a purpose.
Beautiful art points us to the good in humanity.
As we write, we can organize our words in such a way that their patterns, their meaning, their rhythm, their structure, and their message all sing together. Finely crafted words come with discipline and practice. Beautiful sentences do not lay on the page passively waiting for an optic nerve to come by and give them life. Beautiful sentences dance — they vary in their length, in their structure, in the vivacity of their verbs and in the nuances of their nouns. Beautiful words paint a picture — they don’t slap it together. Beautiful words point to the strongest emotions on the human spectrum. Beautiful words can enflame anger. Beautiful words can render jealously hotter. Beautiful words can pour out pain like a trickle or an avalanche. Beautiful words can sum up joy, can skip and staccato with each laugh and giggle. Beautiful words are for Hallmark cards and tweets, fortune cookies and voicemails. Beautiful words are for poets and teenagers, novelists and children, literati and pedestrian. Beautiful words pair together like friends to create a private party of emotion and delight.
Beautiful words, in prose, cannot be accidents.
Beautiful words play dress up when they are metaphor,simile or allegory. They toy with their meaning, putting on disguise, like a fake moustache or a floppy hat to be to the reader something they’re not. Oh, coy words tease and taunt the meanings and the similarities and the comparisons and the reader watches the burlesque stimulated to read more.
“I don’t know what it means and I don’t care because it’s Shakespeare and it’s like having jewels in my mouth when I say the words.”
― Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
Beautiful art exalts mankind’s creativity.
Beautiful words hide meaning like a treasure, daring the reader to look for clues to the mystery. Beautiful words leave ellipses like bread crumbs that tempt the reader to go deeper into the woods. Is the reader escaping the real world or rushing to danger? Beautiful words will never tell, they’ll just keep looking behind them as they run over limb and log to keep the chase going.
Beautiful art echoes ancient truths.
Beautiful words march together in alliteration. Bearing the beat together as brothers in a band, blaring their business to any reader who claps along in the parade. Beautiful words are not democratic. Some words get the short end of the stick. They are the low feeders in the phonetic and entymological gene pool. Those words are edited and beaten and mocked and their superior sisters are given chances to go to the ball.
Beautiful art feeds our souls.
Beautiful words are parts of a whole, the vowels and consonants are like toddlers in a playground, picking their favorites for the swings or the ball game, holding hands or playing tag. Poor silent e can’t object. Poor insecure Q can’t go anywhere without U. Poor Z finds himself picked last for the game. Bossy A tells them all to line up. The words are acrobats, flipping and flying in their palindromes and anagrams. The suffixes and prefixes fly like lost feathers as up they go to the highest of heights.
“The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘cheque enclosed.”
― Dorothy Parker
The beautiful words are our medium.
They are crisp and wide like a crayon or pastel. They are precise like a fine pen. They are bold like charcoal and pool in the crevasses of meaning like a dab of watercolor. The words are gold and crimson and emerald and cobalt. They are rich with facets and carats and sparkle. They dazzle and enchant and when they are put together like beads on a chain, we can wear them around our neck like jewels.
How can we make words more beautiful?
How can we sculpt our sentences in such a way that the true essence of our meaning shines through? How can we enhance truth through a well-crafted sentence?
Try these suggestions:
1. Eliminate the adverbs and adjectives. Stick in a metaphor if you want the reader to appreciate the nuances and features of the noun. Or pick a better noun. Need inspiration? The 50 Most Quotes Lines of Poetry. Here’s another one I just want to sit and savor.
2. Read it out loud. Listen for rhythms and cadence. Add in phrases or clauses to slow things down, add description or amp up emotion. Need inspiration? Try reading Buzzfeed’s Beautiful Words: 51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences in literature. I found them very inspiring.
3. Don’t let it start with “There was” or “There were.” Look at these quotes for the structure or how they begin the sentence. This may give you a good idea how to improve. The website calls it, “These 33 One-Sentence Quotes Will Blow Your Mind Every Time. Especially The 8th One.” That’s a bit of an overstatement, but they are nice and noble and short! (That can’t be said about the ads!)
4. Rearrange where the verb and noun are in the sentence, but don’t make it passive. Poets and songwriters have to tinker with word arrangement to make sentences work better rhythmically. Need examples? This fascinating article from The Guardian admires the beauty of the lyrics in Stephen Sondheim musicals. I loved this!
5. Add an element of emotion, especially in the verb choice you make. Here’s a list of 317 “power words” that you can sprinkle in your prose. The context of this article is blogging, but any of these words will do for your fiction too!
6. Use Anglo Saxon words rather than Latin words. Don’t know the difference? Check out this excellent blog post that explains the difference!
“Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.”
― Edgar Allan Poe
7. Substitute any “be” verb for a verb that’s specific and vivacious. You know you’ve got a good one when you can see exactly what is happening. You can be more expressive with a little work and imagination. Need inspiration? This is a beautiful collection of words from other cultures that can’t be translated into English. I love the illustrations and I also like thinking of the imagination that came up for the need for these words. I also want to put them in my every day use right now. And then I found the same list even MORE beautifully illustrated!
8. Substitute every word for a synonym just to see what you can come up with. But don’t get fancy. Big, multi syllable words may muddy your meaning. Just for fun, check out these multi-syllable words that can add a bit of flavor.
9. Combine two short sentences or separate a long sentence into shorter ones. Sentences should be varying lengths. In a similar vein, this is a fascinating article from NPR about loving sentences. I want to sit and read this forever.
“He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.”
― James Joyce
10. Look for weak modifiers like “very” or “some”. If a word in a sentence doesn’t have a precise purpose, take it out. In fact, read the sentence the omit the first word. Read it again omitting the second, then the third. If you don’t miss the word, or the meaning is unchanged, omit the word altogether. In this point, I can safely omit the words, “weak”, “precise”, “in fact”, and “altogether.” See? My friend Jude Knight has a list of “filter words” that are dull, uninteresting and serve little purpose. Use this list to weed out the ugly and make room for the beautiful.
Beautiful words are our powerful medium.
We have control over them. We have them lined up in little drawers of our mind and dig through our thesaurus if we can’t find the right one. If we are good at what we do, they are chosen with care and precision. They are picked gingerly from the box and pressed into place with our fingertips. There they do not rest. They are to be re-read and deleted, edited and proofread, taken out and put back in.