Open Book Blog Hop – Amazing word usages in books

Discuss: It never fails to amaze me that ALL the books ever written are made up of just twenty six letters.

When I saw this prompt, my first thought was how amazing the word usage is in some books and how some authors are so extraordinarily talented at weaving the 26 letters available to all of us into the most vivid and memorable descriptions, concepts, and thoughts.

We all have the same tools for writing, 26 letters, its how we string those letters together that makes all the difference. We add other writing tools to these basic building blocks and focus on showing and not telling, dialogue, avoiding filter words, and other learned techniques, but at the end of the day, the quality of our stories boils down to the words on the page.

Some examples of great writing that have remained with me long after I finished reading a particular book are as follows:

A short extract from The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

“But this morning was different. Disturbingly because mysteriously different. No wheels rumbled, no buses roared, no sound of a car of any kind, in fact was to be heard. No brakes, no horns, not even the clopping of the few rare horses that still occasionally passed. Nor, as there should be at such an hour, the composite tramp of work-bound feet.

The more I listened, the queerer it seemed – and the less I cared for it. In what I reckoned to be ten minutes of careful listening I heard five sets of shuffling, hesitating footsteps, three voices bawling unintelligibly in the distance, and the hysterical sobs of a woman. There was not the cooing of a pigeon, not the chirp of a sparrow. Nothing but the humming of wires in the wind …”

Opening paragraph of War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.”

Passage from The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

“She was very dead, must have died within minutes of retiring, a good fifteen hours earlier. The windows were closed fast, and the room humid from the great flat pans of water she insisted be put in every inconspicuous corner to keep her skin youthful. There was a peculiar noise in the air; after a stupid moment of wondering he realized what he heard were flies, hordes of flies buzzing, insanely clamouring as they feasted on her, mated on her, laid there eggs on her.”

Extract from A Ghost and His Gold

I have tried hard to mimic some of the great writing I have read during the course of my life to date.

The following is an extract from one of the battle scenes in my book, A Ghost and His Gold, that I was pleased with:

“I ran, legs pumping and bayonet held at the ready, to the discordant notes of the supporting artillery guns and the Maxim which intensified the din and swirled around me like an insane orchestra. I was conscious of the men of my squadron around me, as well as those of C Squadron about three hundred yards ahead of me.

A great surge of comradery surged through me as these men, my brotherhood, charged forward through the smoke, directly into a hail of bullets from the Boer musketry. Death seemed certain, but, at this precise moment, this did not matter to me; a cloud of red anger and lust for blood having descended over my mind.

The anger prevented fear and grew in its intensity as the occasional figure, including that of Captain Fitzclarence, dropped around me in small explosions of red.

C Squadron reached the fort, which was hidden by bushes, and the guns roared; the sound of the discordant orchestra growing and swelling. My men and I slowed our forward momentum as we watched more ghostly forms falling, to lie in ghastly bleeding piles on the ground.

The few men still standing started to fall back, shouting at my squadron to follow suit.

“The walls are too high … Impossible to mount without scaling ladders.”

Their shouts filled the air, mingling with the gunfire and moans, groans and cries of the wounded.

One of my men, William, and I picked up Captain Fitzclarence as we slowly and deliberately retraced our steps. The blood lust had faded from the men’s eyes and their moods had turned sullen. Expressions of dejection had settled on some faces.”

You can see what other writers think about this topic here:

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44 thoughts on “Open Book Blog Hop – Amazing word usages in books

  1. A very smart observation and one that was staring us all in the face yet you were the one to bring it to our notice. So simple. Twenty-six letters, available to us all.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. HI LIz, it really is quite amazing isn’t it. 26 letters in the alphabet created books with such profound messages like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. Of course, both Danny and you have also put these few letters to excellent use.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mae. I could have included so many amazing passages, but these are extracts that really impacted me. When I think of a dead body, the vision of Mary Carson’s death in The Thorn Birds. It makes me shudder.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Priscilla, thank you. I labour over trying to make certain scenes vivid and impactful. I’ve always wanted to create word pictures that are memorable for others. I’ve said it here before that trying to write something powerful and impactful is my main writing goal. I love and hate those letters.

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    1. Hi Jacqui, I just love War of the Worlds. I am using the overarching concept of a war between humanity and a far more powerful enemy in my latest novel. It is a cli fi that has just marched into my head and forced me to write it. Jolly cheeky really, as I’ve had to put my WW1 radium girl story aside because this one won’t leave my head [smile].

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      1. Hi Jacqui, that is marvelous. I never write that fast, even when I’m totally in the zone. I always have to do a lot of research. This time its on global warming, anticipated impacts on the planet and populations, the fourth industrial revolution and its effect on employment and jobs, and genetic engineering.

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  2. Terrific excerpt from you novel as well as the other Writers. Can I offer this short snipped from the brilliant “Noir” Writer Raymond Chandler, from his series of legendary novels about Detective Philip Marlowe:
    “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.”

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    1. This is a wonderful snippet, John. I have found Red Wind on Amazon and bought it. It’s a pity there isn’t an audible audio book of it. The overview says this theme of the desert wind blowing runs throughout the novella.

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      1. I posted it before and when you were doing excerpts it seemed worth sharing, because “noir” writing, when done right, captures a mood and tone that is unique…

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  3. It is utterly amazing to think of all the stories that have come out of those simple twenty-six letters. I love all the excerpts you chose, Robbie, but especially from your own book, A Ghost and His Gold! Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Hi Jan, I find it quite incredible when I think about it. I’m glad you enjoyed the extracts. As for me, I seem to do well with writing scenes of death and destruction – quite strange as I am such a positive person.

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  4. Great point writing starts with 26 letters, Robbie. All great examples, including yours. I can’t wait to read it.

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  5. You have a way of engaging the reader, Robbie, that allows them to sense the emotions of the characters.

    For example, on the first page of “A Ghost and His Gold,” you wrote this, “There is something strange about this house, she thinks. I’ve seen such weird things since we moved in; shadows of people who aren’t there, flickering movements with no apparent cause, and that hair. Yuck! A shiver ripples up her spine, causing her hands to tremble slightly.” Excerpt From A Ghost and His Gold

    I was there with Michelle and have the goosebumps to prove it!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rebecca, thank you, I work hard at getting the words right. I try to learn from everyone, including the famous authors like H.G. Wells. That is why editing is the best part of writing for me. I love to get feedback and work to make my stories better.

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  6. What an interesting and enlightening post, Robbie. I never did think about how all this is done with 26 letters. Wow. Language is such a beautiful and evocative thing. I love the snippets from each book. I haven’t read any of them yet, but I mean to, especially that one at the end that I’ve heard so much good stuff about. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Diana, you are very kind. I love the Day of the Triffids. I have read it a few times. I have read most of John Wyndham’s books. I also love H.G. Wells. Actually, I love millions of writers. Your writing is also amazing and I loved your reading on Rebecca’s show. It’s always great to listen to an author read their own work.

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  7. Another aspect of language I find to be fascinating is the large number of synonyms many words have. I find it amazing that I can retrieve some word that I may not have used in a decade because it seems to be the exact fit.

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  8. Wyndham’s description sounds eerily like the first pandemic months in NYC. All the excerpts give a vivid rendering of time and place, important for any story. (K)

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