Magic Words

Long time friend and flash fiction writing buddy, Jamie Henshaw is on the blog today to tell you all about the pursuit of the “right” words and his fresh take on them. Enjoy!

Sometimes I feel like I’m chasing after magic words, the right words, THE words.  It’s not just me, I should think.  After all, doesn’t a painter aim for the perfect blend of purple, indigo, red, and yellow to capture the beauty of a lilac as the sun sets?  Doesn’t a musician tinker over the same bars for hours until it sounds like the trill in their soul?  I mean, maybe it’s the old part of me – the one that used to write poems with a Petrarchan rhyme scheme, with Shakespeare’s well-known Iambic Pentameter, or with the recycling of words in a Sestina.  Or even free verse where all bets are off… but it still needs to be just so.

I’ve smiled at the wit of a sentence, hit Ctrl+S after a tremendous idea, and whooped out loud after a great twist.  I’ve also gone and deleted the whole lot because it didn’t help the story.  I’ve  Googled words that seem in my head to be the right one to write, a subtle unconscious voice whispering things buried deep in my memory, but worry that it’s not right word to read.  I’m the guy that sits there with a massive road block in my brain trying to figure out a character’s name.  Nothing can move forward without finding the name.  The perfect name.  The magic name.

I try to chase words.  Sometimes it’s successful.  But that’s not how it works.  The color is in the artist’s eye.  The notes are in the musician’s ear.  The words are in the writer’s fingertips.  Our mission is to unearth the thoughts and feelings that dance within, or plague, us.  After all is said and done, our minds resemble an excavation site; sometimes unearthing ancient ruins, sometimes hitting a water main.

And so here’s what works for me.  Sitting with my eyes closed, people watching the characters I’ve created, eavesdropping on their secrets, setting up obstacles and watching them wend their way through the Minotaur’s Labyrinth.   (Really, I did that once.)  Because the truth is, they know better than I do.  They’ve taught me things I haven’t experienced myself.  They’ve given me advice that I needed to hear.  They’ve gone through the challenges in life that I’m not strong enough for.  When all is said and done, it’s my privilege to share all of these things with others.

It’s not a search for “Magic Words.”  I don’t think there is such a thing; no, not really.  The words find us.  They find us when we write and read,  fail and thrive, love and lose – everything in between and without a moment’s notice.

The truth is, it’s not the power of magic words.

The truth is, it’s the power of words that is magic.


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