|"What’s in a name? that which we call a rose|
|By any other name would smell as sweet;"|
If you're like me, you read William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" somewhere in high school. I had to read it as a freshman and our teacher insisted that we memorize the balcony scene and act it out for the rest of the class. Now, this might be hard to believe, but back then I was not quite the cool, outgoing, awesome person I am today. I was quirky, but shy with people I didn't know. So my best friend, Rachel, and I memorized the scene. She was Romeo, I was Juliet...mostly because she was taller than I was. (There was an inequality of boys to girls in that class...in the girls' favor, and yet, Rachel and I weren't all the keen, at the ripe age of 14, to act out literature's greatest love scene with some guy.)
Those words have stuck in my head all these years, mostly because my husband is a big Shakespeare fan so we see a lot of Shakespeare plays and movies. A lot.
But after crafting my own tales of love lost and what not, I have to say, I think I disagree with Shakespeare, a tiny bit. I think the name we give things plays a gigantic part in how we feel about things. I think names, words, are very important. A rose by any other name might not be something I'm interested in sniffing. If we called a rose, let's say, a dung blossom instead, who's going to sniff that? Sure, the flower still smells nice, but the beauty of the flower is lost because the name is all wrong.
Look at how parents agonize over naming their children. (Well, some parents. I get the feeling these days that some parents just spew out the first word that comes to their head and then the kid is stuck being called "Apple...") We study names and meanings of names and we think about how the kids on the playground are going to twist that name into something horrible (a big reason why our son isn't named "Amos.")
Words, names, are important. You are going to treat someone you call James with more respect than someone you call Jimmy. Jimmy is your buddy from down the street who can be counted on to bring beer and try to balance a spoon on his nose. James will wear a tie to pretty much everything and can do your taxes.
And yet...it's the same name. Right?
It's how we as authors have to approach writing. We have to think about the words we're using. Language is a big, broad, ever changing landscape. (Unless you're writing in Latin, of course.) We want to use words and images that put the reader in a place or time by using words and images that are timeless. We don't want to get too caught up in current pop culture because that culture will fade and if our books and stories are going to be read beyond our lifetime, the words, the images, have to be timeless. Sure, we have to use fewer words than our author forefathers did. (I can't even imagine a 1200 page tome like "Les Miserables" getting a look from an editor now. And "Moby Dick?" That would be pared down about 400 pages before anyone would even blink.) We live in a faster world. We have to get to the point faster.
We still have to use the right words.
People like Shakespeare movies because the stories are timeless, even if the language bugs us, the visuals are always good. Reading Shakespeare is difficult, true, but once you get an ear for it, you realize he used the words he meant to use and said the things he meant to say in a way that even we, how many hundreds of years later, can figure out. Four hundred years from now, I'm hoping someone will read my novels, Fresh Ice, Dream in Color, and Lies in Chance and feel the stories the way I wrote them because I worked so use themes and words the exact way I meant to.
My mother always grumbles because I have adult language in my books. Well, let's see: One hero is a rock star. One is a hockey player. One is a sort of a cowboy. I don't see any of those guys saying something like, "Oh shucky darn."
You have to use the right words to set the mood, reveal the character, and say what you mean.
Otherwise, a rose by any other name might smell sweet, but no one is going to give it a look.