Friday, January 18, 2013

The Secret to Powerful Word-Usage

You know those times when you come across a sentence, a phrase, even a word, that just makes you pause? When the writing and the prose just make you: "OH MY GOSH THIS IS SO AMAZING!!"?
I recently had one of those moments by listenting to a song in Les Misérables the musical, and now, movie.
Here is the background so you can experience the true awesomeness of the following line from the song.
Basically, Javert, a policeman, is singing about the 1832 Paris Rebellion, where a bunch of students rose against the monarchy. Javert is dedicated to the law, and he plans on bringing these ruffians down. Plus, he's very confident.
Here is the line.
"One day more to revolution, we will nip it in the bud. We'll be ready for these schoolboys, they will wet themselves..."

My reaction at the first part of the line (I don't own this gif)

"...with blood."

My reaction at the rest of the line (I don't own this pic)

ISN'T THAT FREAKING AMAZING? When we think 'wet themselves' we think of scared little toddlers. BUT, it is morbid and dark, because instead of, well, pee, these students will be covered with blood.
It is an amazing, remarkable piece of dialogue (if lyrics can be called such). If you want to hear the actual lyrics, go to 1:35 of the video below.

I think that's where the power of language rests: in the ability to use words in a new and different way to reveal the truth.

The line I just showed you guys incorporates Javert's mood towards the revolutionaries: he thinks they are childish and does not like them at all (to say the least).

What can you learn from all this?

The Secrets to Powerful Word-Usage
  1. Don't rely on clichés or the first thing that pops into your head. Push the simile or metaphor. Do more. Be original.
  2. Turn the phrase or twist the words to your own benefit. Be new. 
  3. Reveal the truth. Don't write an awesomely-fantastic simile if the simile is not true. Don't force in beautiful sentences just for the sake of beauty (I need to learn this too). Let it be natural, and make sure it has a purpose. Case in point: Javert's line reveals his character, which is a big reason the line is just so darn powerful. (Now please, someone teach me to do this!)
  4. Read/Listen. You can't hit the target if you don't know what to shoot for. Read books and listen to movies, people, etc. You will find the sentences you fall in love with, and those sentences (if you analyze and understand them) will teach you more about beautiful sentence-level writing than I will ever be able to.
I REALLY need to see this movie now. Hopefully, I will over the weekend. Sigh.

Happy Friday everyone!

What do you feel is necessary for powerful writing and language?


  1. That's a good example. Now it's got me thinking...

  2. lol When I read the first bit, I was like, "Is that all?" Then I scrolled down and thought, "Oh my." lol

    Careful with putting up pics you don't own. A blogger got mondo sued for it by a jerk photographer.