Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tips for Word Thieves




I have a new habit I'd like to share with you. Maybe it's lame, and maybe it's short-lived, but I'm loving it. It started with the nonfiction book FIRE LOVER, and now I'm doing it with WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. I've become a bona fide word thief. Here's my looting strategy:
  1. When reading a book, I keep a slip of blank paper tucked between the pages, and a pencil close by.
  2. When I come across an amazing word, one I would've ignored in a thesaurus, I jot it down on the slip of paper.
  3. I struggle with adding sound, so when I come across a great "sound" word, I add it to the list.
  4. If the word is used in an unusual context, I write down the entire phrase.
  5. When my slip of paper is full, or when I've finished my reading session, I transfer the words to a computer document. I've given them easy peasy file names, such as NOTES FOR FIRE LOVER.
  6. I type the words in alphabetical order, avoiding duplicates.
The pro of doing this is that I've unearthed amazing words that I'd normally ignore, and I've sprinkled them in my manuscript. As we all know, certain words evoke a specific mood, and if you're writing a scene with the same mood, you've got a supply of relevant words to work with. The con of doing this is slower reading time.

So tell me, are you a partner in crime? Do you steal words from amazing books, and if you do, what's your system?

(Funny side note...when I was searching for a photo for this post, I discovered there was a game called Word Thief. I had no idea! It sounds like fun, though.)

41 comments:

  1. I'm going to have to give it a try. Sounds like a great way to use words that I might not otherwise use. Thanks for sharing this, Julie.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, yeah, forgot to mention. That game Word Thief sounds interesting. I'm going to have to see if I can find that one in the stores.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a fantastic idea! I can definitely see the benefit of this and it sounds so much more fun that reading through the thesaurus! Count me as your new partner in crime. Word thief, I love it!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I do a similar thing with amazing similes or metaphors. I don't steal them, but I like to jot them down to remember the brilliance!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I do this too! An old Bible is a great source for old timey words.

    I also do it when I watch TV/movies too. I write historical fiction so when I watch something such as the Pride and Prejudice series,(or any PBS/Masterpiece Theater/A & E/BBC series) I keep my pen and paper near. The British certainly have an interesting way of speaking and executing English conversation...Old World style.

    Great post!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ha, you little thief!! :)

    I love finding great action words. I always underline them when I read them -- but maybe I should just start STEALING them too.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great idea… I’ll have to use that one. I do collect words, but I just try and remember them in my head… I should have thought to write them down (stupid me) but I always think I’ll remember them when I’m done (which I never do) so thx for that great tip.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Love this idea. I do it mentally, but I never remember all the great finds. I'll use the MSS, Musil Stealing System from now on.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I love this post. Typing the words into your computer is a great idea. I wish I'd thought to do that, too. I've been keeping journals of every book I read for the past seven years or so, so I've got quite a collection of gems. It's funny because every so often I'll go through an old journal and see a book that I read and don't remember a thing about it! Obviously not one that left an impression on me. Recently I started writing down the short summary of the book, which is found on the copyright page.
    I'm hoping this will help me become proficient at the one-sentence pitch! Haha!

    This would make a good blog post sometime.

    You're right about it slowing you down while reading, but I'm a slow reader anyway and like to take my time, so it works for me.

    So glad to hear we're partners in crime!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I am reading The Book Thief right now. Here is an example of not just amazing words, but unique and interesting ways of using metaphors, adjectives, and entire descriptive phrases in ways I would never have considered or have seen in any other work of fiction. Really gives me something to think about. I should take your suggestion and mark them down.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I love this idea! I'm terrible at keeping slips of paper, but if it's my book, I'll never loose it :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm the same as Jessica for similes etc, though I rarely find the bits of paper, not that organised! I'm not sure I need to do what you're doing for picture books though. Great idea for novelists.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Yes, I've done that! I usually just keep a stack of notes nearby (I've actually got a small box for sticky notes/paper scraps/etc.) and jot down words and phrases I like.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I love this idea - haven't ever tried it.... thanks for a mightily cunning plan!
    Lx

    ReplyDelete
  15. I often come across words and think "Wow, you clever writer, you" and I might scribble them on a piece of paper or commit them to memory (ie they disappear into that soggy sponge I call a brain). I don't know what happens to all the pieces of paper I write on - they disappear too. So you've given me a wonderful, workable strategy - thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  16. IDK Julie! Admitting your thievery online.. LOL It's a nice idea. I think we kind of automatically do it to some extent by reading. That's how we grow our vocabulary, right? So this is just focusing that and putting it to good use. :D I may have to try it. We'll see.

    ReplyDelete
  17. So weird, I've done this since my 7th grade reading teacher encouraged it, so almost half my life. My husband calls me a word snob, only writers understand!

    ReplyDelete
  18. As long as readers know what it is and it doesn't sound like you're using a dime word when a penny word would do.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Love this! I've written interesting words down in my tiny journal I carry around.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I love this idea! I love words and learning new ones. Great idea to keep a paper handy and write them down- not sure why I haven't before.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I've been doing this for awhile now too. "Mordant" was my last great find.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I make a mental note when I find words that show a certain emotion well or descriptive phrases that set the tone for a scene.

    I love your idea of keeping track of them in a word file. I will start doing this. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Awesome. It's a great idea. I haven't done it. But I do take note of how writers produce the emotion and create the conflict and I write that down. But I usually end up sharing it on my blog.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I do the same thing, but I'm not nearly as organized about it! I think I'll try it your way. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I do this too and it makes reading even more interesting :)

    ReplyDelete
  26. If I see a word I don't know, I'll look it up and then I usually remember it while writing, so yes, in a way. :)

    ReplyDelete
  27. I do this, too! Words are meant to be stolen, I guess. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  28. This is a very cool idea...I should start doing it!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Years ago, I did this a LOT when I was first learning English. With my little pen and a notebook that I carried along with the books I was reading. It was really helpful, and I learned like 200 new words a month or so! But I've stopped doing it, and I think maybe it would be nice to do it again! Thx for reminding me! :D

    ReplyDelete
  30. ooo... I don't, but now I'm thinking I just might start! What a great idea, and you'll take the words and make them work for you. Too cool~ :o) <3

    ReplyDelete
  31. Hi Julie, I too do the same thing, write down new words, even sentences that appeal to me on a piece of paper. I like the idea of copying them into a word document. Thanks for sharing this wonderful idea.

    ReplyDelete
  32. This is a great system. I do a version of it with words I'm not familiar with. Jot them down for future use and because I can't resist them. Example: 'sward' (from Independence Day by Richard Ford) A sward is not the weapon of a befuddled knight, it's an expanse of short grass!

    ReplyDelete
  33. There have been a few times recently when I'll be reading and come across a synonym to a repetition word used throughout my current WIP - so yes, I have "stolen" a couple words. Keeping a notepad around is a great idea, though. I may have to steal this idea as well. =)

    ReplyDelete
  34. I have files on my computer for each story with words that would work. I haven't taken notes while I'm reading, but I'm going to steal that idea. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  35. I haven't thought about doing this before, but what a great idea!! I just might have to steal it from you ~ :)

    ReplyDelete
  36. I love the rhythem of words and the sing song way they can sound when fit together perfectly. I don't have a system...except my memory which may not be the best. I love your file 'notes for fire lovers.'

    ReplyDelete
  37. That's a great idea, I do sometimes read something and think 'love that word' but then forget all about it. Time to start taking notes!

    ReplyDelete
  38. Cool idea! What do/did you think of Water for Elephants? I loved it!

    ReplyDelete
  39. I love this idea. I'll often come across some fresh description and try to cement it into memory so it will inspire me, but I like your idea better!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

    ReplyDelete