Words, words, words: The Power of the Alphabet

“She tied her bonds herself.”
“Then what you were saying about how there are bonds only people can use…’words’?”
“Yes, they’re scary you know. These words. You can’t take them back once they’ve left your mouth. You can’t act as if they were never said. And without ever knowing how tightly they can bind, people continue to use these chains. ‘Words’ have life. And in time, they can even bind one’s right to live.”
– xxxHOLiC (CLAMP)

Dramatic and deep, Yuko once again speaks of the singular power that humans possess. Words form in the mind, and come out of the mouth. Like other animals, they can be the demand for food, a warning for danger, a mating call. But we humans step beyond that basic communication. “Words” can be honed to become our best asset, our greatest weapon, and as Yuko points out, our heaviest chain. For writers, words are our medium where we create an alternate world that others can enter.

I spoke last time on the importance of word choice. Let me reiterate that: WORD CHOICE IS IMPORTANT. Dialogue especially should be carefully crafted to reflect the character speaking. Sometimes (especially in short stories), dialogue is all we get to understand the character with. Why does he say that? Why would he say it that way? I feel that the villains that truly send chills down my side aren’t the ones with the biggest weapon, but the ones with the most frightening word choice. And they don’t have to be amazing words in themselves. Take the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey; the primary antagonist in the movie is not a person, but a machine who speaks in a monotone and it depicted mostly as a bright red camera lens. Not all that scary. But I remember watching it for the first time and become scared out of my wits when HAL spoke the line, “Hello, Dave.” The pacing, the setting, the music were just right to have me leery of red traffic lights for months afterwards. That phrase is now a byword in my house for creepy new technology.

There are writers out there who have tapped into the magic of words as the basis of their plots. While xxxHOLiC taps it with an arc about the power of words (the series mostly deals with people and their wishes), the manga Alice 19th deals with the power of communication via a series of 24 “magic” words that affect the human heart. A lot of series that involve magic will often have words as the basis for spells and whatnot. There are many cultures and religions that believe that certain words should not be spoken, or only spoken by specific people at certain times. So what does that make us writers? Magicians? We weave tales out of nothing, using only the 26 letters that currently reside in the english language, forming words. We have power of an intangible sort.

Just bear in mind what they say about power and responsibility.

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