I’m writing a multiple viewpoint thriller. One of the braids of narrative takes place in The Light, that place where Angels go when they’re not hanging around us humans, battling the dark and meddling in our world.
One of the tools I often use whether I’m writing an otherworldly novel or a literary short story is lexicon building.
A lexicon is an inventory of words you can draw from, either to use right in your copy, or to spark ideas for plot, backstory and description.
In this book – A Terrible Light, the first in my series: The Julia Set – I had to find a way to describe light in several different contexts. There’s the place called The Light where the angel dwell and there’s this energy angels give to humans and then of course there’s the everyday light that permeates the book – through shutters and into secrets and in all the cracks and crevices of the story.
I need as many words for Light as Inuits have for snow! Here is where lexicon building helps me tremendously. I take some of the key words from my story. In this case it’s light. But sometimes it’s words from what I consider the theme or the meaning of the story. Sometimes I make lexicons from the props I use in the stories. I can make a lexicon from any starting point. And lots of my lexicons, or word lists, are webs of words that surround whatever my nucleus word might be.
So the lexicon challenge at the moment is: how do I describe Light? What words can I use without saying the word light a million times in a 400-page book?
So get your friendly dictionary and thesaurus and a cup of coffee or tea. Keep your notebook and pen handy. Make yourself comfy and prepare to play.
- Decide on a nucleus word.
- Look it up in the dictionary
- Note its etymology (the derivation of the word) – sometimes this sparks ideas or other words to follow
- Understand your the definition of your word and how it’s used
- Pull out your thesaurus and start playing.
- Look at the synonyms and the antonyms
- Let yourself get sidetracked by other words – look them up and follow those for a while
- Do you have a visual dictionary? If so this is a great tool to use when you start from something concrete.
- My thesaurus is an old one my father used when he went to college in the late 1940s. At the bottom of every page are quotes that use the words displayed on that page – it’s a fantastic tool.
- I have encyclopedias from my grandfather – pub date 1926. Interesting to look up words in those. To see the archaic language – words I never heard of, but I can use those for my angels. After all they’ve been around a long, long time.
Getting the idea? I highly recommend it especially if you’ve never done it. It’s a lot of fun and has you mulching the world of your story. You’ll surprise yourself with the ideas that will come when you immerse into the words of your fictional world.
Here’s a tiny piece of my lexicon for the word Light:
as a verb: illuminate, brighten, cast, illume, illumine, radiate, shine
as a noun: aura, gleam, glimmer, glint, glitter, glow, illumination, incandescence, luminosity, radiance, ray, refulgence, sheen, shine, sparkle
following a word: refulgence
definition: luminescence from the sun or another source
noun: beacon, blaze, brilliance, scintillation
following a word: scintillation
definition: glitter (or animation or vigor)
noun: luster, sparkle, twinkle, zap; brio, dash, drive, eagerness, energy, fervor…
It goes on and on. What’s your nucleus word? Let me know how your lexicon goes.