Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Power of Words

This is the third time a death scene that I wrote made someone cry. Admittedly, two of those three times the people cried because they had either lost or were about to lose someone they loved and the death scene freed those emotions. Nevertheless, it's got me thinking about the power of words.

A while back, I went to see "Finding Neverland." If you've seen it you'll know it's a bit of a tear-jerker. By the time I had a chance to go and see it, it had already been in the theater for some while, so the audience that night was fairly small. At the end, most of us were wiping our eyes or sniffling, and someone made a laughing comment about how "we all had colds."

Writers and artists often have to cover emotional ground in our work that represents deep-seated issues for lots of people. In fact, that's exactly what we should be doing, because if we can't dig deep enough to get to those difficult places in the human psyche, then we haven't done the job right. That's part of what they mean when they say that writers "open a vein" to put our words to paper. Look at all the responses a well-written paragraph can evoke: laughter, sadness, despair, love, hope, exhilaration, or any number of others. It's amazing how a few carefully put-together words can wring such emotion from a reader, whether it's because we touched a chord in them or because they've formed such a deep emotional attachment to our characters. I can only hope that someday someone will tell me that my words touched them, made their day or made them see something in a different light. And if they tell me that they cried or that they were on the edge of their seat or that they laughed out loud--that's power. That's amazing, astonishing, exhilarating power. And you know what they say: with great power comes great responsibility. No wonder the ancient Celtic bards were so respected and so feared. The power to make people access their deepest, scariest emotions--think about that for a moment.

The same words can be either a blessing or a curse. It's all in the interaction between the delivery and the reception. We're the only beings on the planet that have a written language, with all its power and all its responsibility. Let's all use our words wisely.

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