Saturday, July 28, 2012

Zombie nouns!

Despite my aversion to things zombie, this is one of the best grammar posts I've read in a long time. Leave it to the New York Times to present an article that tackles an often difficult language concept right to the ground.

image photo : Messy wordsNominalizations: nouns made from other parts of speech. For example, the word gruesome (speaking of zombies) added to the suffix -ization gives the new word gruesomization. Yeah, there's all kinds of uses for that, aren't there!

In my novel, I use bits of nominalization to express one of the differences between higher classes of society and lower. As Neal leaves behind his well-known Latino street gang world and tries to fit in with privileged Anglo (white) society, he struggles to understand the words some people use.

People speak English, and his English is certainly functional if not fluent, but he sometimes has no idea what's being said. When he first meets the rock band Sylvyr Star, one of them purposely uses pretty formal English to test Neal's grasp of the language. I need to make a bigger point out of how much that stings Neal.

Neal's early chapters contrast him with the band. For scenes in his POV, I work hard at simplying not just his dialogue, but the narrative that comes from his deep third POV. Gradually, Neal's use of English get closer to Sandy's more polished speech but keeps a rough edge to show that he accepts that his past will always be part of him.

Flexing the language as I have been, using it in very precise ways to tell Neal's story, reminds me how important it is to write coherently.

If I throw in pomposity and abstraction to Sandy's dialogue and narrative, it won't fit at all. I'd be knocking readers on the head with my intent and that's generally bad form. There are a couple scenes where grandiloquence is appropriate, but they're short so as not to make my readers run screaming.

image photo : Messy wordsChoose your style of language carefully and stay consistent. Not doing so is one of the things that makes writing choppy and stilted. Want to test your writing? In the NYT article, Helen Sword points us to The Writer's Diet. From their site: "The WritersDiet Test is a diagnostic tool that assesses whether your sentences are flabby or fit. Originally developed for academic writers, the test has also proven popular with students, technical writers, business analysts, journalists, and even fiction writers."

This blog post didn't fare so well :( But samples of my WIP did very well. I know I still have to watch for too many forms of "be". Give it a try! What's your biggest weakness and strength, according to the Writer's Diet gurus?


  1. Good post, Marcia. I have to go test the linked site, now. Should be sleeping,lol...

  2. Hi Teresa, and thanks. I'll bet your writing sample tested pretty lean. It's kind of a fun test, isn't it?

  3. It is a fun test! I posted the link on facebook. I had some passages that needed some work. But some were lean, some were fit and trim. Unlike some of the other sites I've seen, this one--I think, could actually help by pointing out target problems. So cool. I think I'll be using it a lot on my next editing pass. :-) Great find. Thanks :-)