I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, May 11, 2012

Of Cocoa and Garlic: Combining Just the Right Words to Create Storyworld

By Delores Topliff

A recent spring health advisory advised foods warding off flu:  “Cocoa in dark chocolate helps immune systems, and garlic fight infections.” 

Good to know! I like short cuts and improved health so maybe I’ll add minced garlic to my next batch of fudge for the benefits of both? 


Newly married and owning just one sauce pan, when my Canadian husband asked for boiled cod, I prepared, he enjoyed, and then requested chocolate fudge. Same pan, but scrubbed in hot sudsy water—so no problem. But have you tasted cod-flavored fudge? Ghastly—like a romance novel where hero and  heroine are deep sea divers grappling for true love’s first kiss between air hoses when a giant octopus arrives entangling them further—but that’s another story . . . (I see that red pen—not worth writing, huh?)

Some writing word blends are equally disastrous as chocolate and garlic, cod and fudge, or kisses and an octopus.

Match word sounds to actions

English vocabulary doubled after the Norman Conquest when our short-quick Anglo-Saxon based English words like, “He stabbed his foe,” were augmented by longer flowery French words: “The jousting cavalier defended his virtuous damsel (demoiselle) by unseating the challenging villain.”  We may say twelve or dozen, beef or veal, depending on our purpose—both are correct. 
I love this intentional bad example from Russell Thornberry’s “Adjective Wars”: 

“A twig snapped behind me…. Then a raking of giant antlers against tree bark sent a flood of adrenaline through my veins…. I reached down slowly until my fingers rested on the slightly abrasive finish on my new Feather-Master, fiberglass/graphite, composite rifle stock. I eased my hand around the pistol grip and slowly lifted the Slobovian made, pre-1940, .337 Mauser with its sleek, fast-tapered, octagon, multi-grooved, over-bore double-compensated barrel . . .” 

I know . . . Worse than cod-flavored fudge.

Perfectly-chosen words establish storyworld and action. With his dramatist’s eye, Charles Dickens matched weather to mood, creating masterful scene backdrops. In Great Expectations, a black sky with whistling-winds blowing between cemetery tombstones precedes disaster as frightening convict Magwitch rises and nabs young Pip. Later when Pip’s unattainable, unrequited love, Estella, finally recognizes Pip’s virtues, returning his long-suffering devotion, we enjoy sunny blue skies, warm breezes, sweet spring flowers and singing birds.

Today my grocery store check-out line displayed chocolate-covered potato chips—I declined . . .

How do you choose just the right words in just the right combination to create storyworld?  


  1. Love your examples, Dee -- both the literary ones, the "are you kidding me?" ones -- and the outrageous, overly-wordy ones.
    The next time I'm working on Storyworld, I just may sit a clove of garlic on my desk to remind me to choose my words wisely.

  2. Wow. Cod-flavored fudge. That's an image I won't soon forget. ;-)

    To create a vivid Storyworld, I need to really get into deep POV and see the scene through the character's eyes. Then, I focus a few specific images and really work to find just the right words to describe them.

    Really fun post. Thanks!

  3. What a fun post! Cod-flavored fudge makes my stomach churn.

    Drawing on the character's mood and matching senses makes for a Storyworld that shows instead of tells.

    Chocolate-covered potato chips...interesting combo of sweet and salty, but I don't think it's something I care to add to my diet.

  4. Beth, I can just picture garlic on your desk. When small, my granddtr., Brittney, wouldn't eat onions or garlic, but now she's got me using garlic successfully in things I never would have considered--except chocolate.
    Roxanne, deep POV. Yes, I hope to get back to that today--really immersed. These last 3 days I'm deeply in the world of 6 & 7-yr.-olds.
    Lisa, I'm proud of your writing & the schedule you maintain. I won't be doing chocolate potato chips either--but slightly sweet salty kettle corn--that's another matter.

  5. Dee, what a great post. Your examples . . . wow. :) Garlic and chocolate. I think even my husband would take a pass on that one. I could almost picture you, a new bride making "cod infused brownies." We all do those kinds of things when we're learning, don't we?

    For me, I like to picture my scene through my POV's eyes. I'm also trying to figure out how to draw in the emotion to make that part of my word choices.

    Thanks, Dee!

  6. I'll never forget the example Susie gave when she was teaching word-smithing at a DT retreat: Never say something like "He was blanketed with dread." Aside from the annoying "was," "blanketed" doesn't fit at all! Blankets are comforting and cozy. You shouldn't be "blanketed" with dread...you should be shrouded or suffocated or maybe even chained. But not blanketed. :)

    Cod-flavored chocolate? Eek!

  7. Ew! Chocolate covered potato chips? Doesn't quite grab me like chocolate covered peanuts. But then, in my first ever cake I added 2 teaspoons of sage.
    Love this post, Dee, and the examples of storyworld. And Melissa's example was great!

  8. Melissa, that is such a good example.
    And Pat, hmmm, that must have been a Texas spice cake :)

  9. Dee, this post combines three of my favorite things: Fudge, Garlic, and Great Expectations. I can see where a combination of the three could be disastrous! Fudge is my favorite chocolate, Garlic is my favorite ingredient in savory dishes, and Great Expectations is my favorite Dickens. And Dickens is my favorite author from the 19th century. All of this to say, your example of how absolutely foul our writing can go when we mix the wrong ingredients (no matter how much we love each on its own) is forever implanted in my sometimes faulty memory. I appreciate it!

    I don't know about chocolate covered potato chips on their own, but I've had Ben & Jerry's "Late Night Snack" which is vanilla ice cream swirled with caramel and dotted with chocolate covered potato chips, and it's delicious! Also, I really love chocolate covered pretzels!!

  10. What a delightful post. Hmmm... choosing the right words. It's tough sometimes, a major headache weighing the merits, effects of one on the other.

  11. DEE, lived this post. You are right, choosing your words makes such a difference! Great analogies, I'll not soon forget!