Sunday, March 18, 2007

What a Difference a Word Makes

Mark Twain was so right when he made the analogy (and I'm paraphrasing here) that the difference between the right word and the wrong one was the difference between lighting and a lightning bug. The right word can change everything.

An illustration of this point occurred yesterday, when I looked out my back door and saw my elder son holding a garbage can lid and my younger son smacking the lid with a baseball bat. I sighed and went about my business, but soon they were clustering around the door, telling me that Graham had been injured and as a result had lost his memory.

"Who's that?" asked Ian, pointing at me.

"Mom," said Graham, memory intact.

That issue settled, I asked how he came to put his memory in jeopardy.

"It happened while we were jousting," he said. "I struck Ian's shield, and my sword missed and I smacked into it with my head."

This got my attention, not because he almost brained himself, but because of his noble choice of words. I hadn't realized they'd been jousting. I thought they were just playing with bats and garbage can lids. Now the whole thing had a much more Arthurian flavor, a gallant struggle on a legendary battlefield (rather than our muddy yard).

Not only did I realize, in that moment, the power of a well-chosen word to win over an audience, but I saw the world through the eyes of childhood, which I sometimes, as a mother, have the privilege to do. For a child at play, anything is possible, and the worlds he creates are as real as he'd like them to be. It's a beautiful reminder of limitless imagination.

A few minutes later Graham approached me wearing giant ski goggles. He was metamorphosing now from a knight into something else--a superhero or a giant bug, I wasn't sure which. He did it with such enthusiasm, though, that I knew I'd buy into it.

I hope I can remember that the next time I'm writing fiction.

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