On the Power of Language

Words have power.

There is a reason why in fantasy narratives (and in many actual cultures), words are believed to have the ability to shape and change the world – words can become spells. Yet, we, as authors, already know this. They shape the worlds we create in our heads, those realms of the imagination that can have the power to shape the minds of others. 

Words are in the perpetual act of becoming.

We add meaning to words as we speak them, as we use them. Words shift and change and take on new contexts and associations. They grow. Words are not flat, stable things, but rather they are chimerical, transformative creatures, changing over time and in new contexts. Words are perpetually on the cusp of becoming something, and that process of becoming is shaped by they history and experience (just like a character).

Words are acts as well, evocations to that history, that chimerical process that shaped them. When we use words, we call up the ghosts of their past and apply them to new settings, to new ideas, and they absorb and consume these new ideas. Yet words are also things that are felt, that have bodily resonance – when we speak them, our mouths shape them, resonate with them; when we sign them (for sign language users), our bodies move with them, shaping them through our dance; even when we read them, we shape the words with our eyes. 

One of the activities that I do with my writing students is to introduce them to words that they aren’t familiar with, words that are new to them, and then invite them to explore the resonance of words in their bodies, examine how the words make them feel, what they are associated with in their minds. I use English words that are no longer used, words from other languages that don’t have adequate English translations, and ASL signed words to get them to feel words in different ways and to see the narratives that can come from word play. I then ask them to look at English words in a way that defamiliarizes them, looking at their sounds, their interplay, and the feel of them. 

Words become stories.

My writing students quickly discover that there are whole stories within words and that stories can spring from a particular word. Certain words can be touchstones for a character, aptly describing them in a single utterance. Certain words can be environmental, shaping a setting by their resonance with place. Certain words can contain an entire narrative because words have entire worlds inside of them. 

I frequently ask students to explore how words can create a character, looking at the meaning in a word and how it shapes a personality, a thought pattern, or way of being. 

Words have the power to shape the way we think – language patterns shape our process of thinking and the way we codify information. Words can be played with to inspire new ways of thinking, new ways of viewing and understanding the world around us. I often suggest that people play with words, play with their sounds and the ideas that they evoke in order to create narrative, to build new ideas. 

Consider the words that you use every day. Think about what ideas they embed in your consciousness, how they reflect you. Think about the way that the language you use shapes certain codes of thinking and understanding. Think about how words create you. 

When we write and when we read, words bounce around inside, bringing up images, patterns. Words change us. Consider the extra dimension a consideration of words brings to your reading process and think about how words can inspire a new way of writing. Consider the poetry of words and the magic that they evoke in us.

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