Nouns Need to be Concrete and Appear More than Once


Part two in this series of notes from the Highlights Foundation Workshop, Books that Rise Above, features points made by Patricia Lee Gauch and Linda Sue Park on the use of nouns.

Patricia Lee Gauch: Concrete Nouns

Patti says we want to write in profound simplicity to keep our writing unclogged, such as the opening paragraph in chapter 11 of Linda Sue Park's, A Single Shard:

         The path to the Rock of the Falling Flowers was steep, and Tree-ear leaned forward,
         sometimes on all fours, as he climbed. Just before he reached the top, he stopped by the
         side of the path and took the jiggeh off his back. He drank from the gourd and poured a
         little water on his hands to splash on his sweaty face.
         Thus refreshed, he felt ready to give his full attention to the sight of the rock.

To write with simplicity we must use concrete words; concrete nouns. In Patti's own Easy Reader Tanya series, she showcases lovely French dance terms, such as pas de chat, arabesque, and sur pointes. She points out the embellished concrete nouns and beautiful verbs in Karen Cushman's The Midwife's Apprentice: . . . the cat lay still in the dung heap, The merchant's booth . . . filled with other wares for wondering at . . . shiny brass needles, ribbons of red and lavender, copper spoons and brass knives . . ., she insulted and encouraged, pushed and poked, brewed and stewed and remedied.

Linda Sue Park: Nouns Need to Appear More than Once

Linda stresses the importance of analyzing each and every word. Every word has to work hard. Toward this end, she contends that in order to create wholeness of the world you have created, in order to buttress that world, all nouns have to appear more than once. Nouns that appear only once don't serve the story. A noun that appears in the first part of the book is not a force unless it is repeated at the end. Especially look at the nouns in the last chapter. Especially.

Repeated words refer to the subject, the container, in this excerpt from Chapter 1 of Linda's book, A Long Walk to Water, which is based on a true story, on the long, lone trek Nya must make every day in 2008 to a pond in southern Sudan to fetch water:

     Going was easy.
     Going, the big plastic container held only air. Tall for her eleven years, Nya could switch
     the handle from one hand to the other, swing the container by her side, or cradle it in both
     arms. She could even drag it behind her, bumping it against the ground . . .
     There was little weight, going . . .  

Repeated references to Nya's quest for water a year later in 2009 appear in the last chapter:

      Then [Nya's uncle] began moving the mouth of the pump.
      Nya held her bottle underneath the pump mouth. The bottle filled up quickly.
      She stepped aside to the let the next person fill a bottle. Then she drank.
      The water was delicious. It wasn't warm or muddy, like the water from the pond. It was
      cool and clear.
      Nya stopped drinking and held up the bottle . . .
      She drank a few more sips . . .
      Everyone had a bottle or a cup. They were drinking that lovely water . . .

Parting thoughts: Patti: Be specific. Use words wisely. Understand what particular means. Objects have great value, such as a woman wearing the same hat.  Linda: Be intimate. Write for personal therapy. Try writing in first person then switch it. Me: Before this workshop I edited the sentence. Now I edit every word.


Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six stories for children, and is in the final editing stages of her first book, a mystery story for 7-10 year olds. Follow Linda on Facebook. 

For past posts in this series, please visit:

Part One: Two Ways to Hook and Keep Your Reader

Next month: Tent Pole Construction

In future posts: Watch for workshop presenters' biosketches. A link to the complete list of "Books that Rise Above" will appear at the end.















Shirley Corder said...

Interesting post, Linda. That's quite a challenge, to make EVERY word count. Thank you for this.

Magdalena Ball said...

Good tips Linda, and particularly pertinent for editing.

Linda Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda Wilson said...

Thanks, Shirley and Maggie. I agree. I've been repeating more words now which is a new focus for me.

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, great information on nouns. As Maggie mentioned, it's helpful when editing your work - every word should count. And, it does make sense, especially when writing for children, to repeat words.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great tips Linda. Picture book writers know every word must count, but I think it is true know matter what a person writes.

Linda Wilson said...

Thanks Karen and Mary Jo, I was surprised when I looked for an example from Linda Sue's book how many times the words were repeated and how effective the technique is in bringing home the story's meaning.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

I find this particularly interesting since as an editor, I often find myself waging war or word echoes. Better think some more about their value...thanks for a very interesting post.

Linda Wilson said...

I'm glad the post was helpful, Annie. I'm looking forward to sharing more of what I learned and hope the posts will help others as much as learning the material helped me.

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