There is a commerical for a new television show. At the end it displays the word BELIEVE and all the letters fade out except for the word LIE.
That commerical got me thinking about THE MUSIC MAN, one of my favorite musicals. In it, is a song sung by a quartet, that says, "How can there be any SIN in sincere?", "Where is the GOOD in goodbye?", "How can there be any FAIR in farewell?" To that I'll also add, why is there HELL in hello? It makes me wonder about these words and their "hidden" meanings. Should we really read into the fact that these smaller words are opposite of what the actual word intends?
I wonder, too, why dieting always makes me feel like I'm going to DIE. And why there are always MEN involved in being menstrual and menopausal. Really, they should just make themselves useful by getting us chocolate and then staying far away (except maybe to do the dishes or something).
Have any of you ever noticed these hidden words? Does it make you pause? It definately does for me.
All of this made me think of our job as writers. Are we really saying what we want to say? Is our true intent coming across? Or are our readers seeing a hidden message?
Sometimes hidden meanings are good - our audience should "read between the lines" so to speak. But there are times that what we we've expressed is exactly as it is.
As an example, my middle-grade book, CINDERSKELLA starts like this:
"It all started when my mother died. I would say it sucked (because for most people it would, especially if they’re only 11 ¾ like me), but if I did, my dad would give me a look. You know the one. It says, 'If parents could still wash their children’s mouths out with soap, I’d scrub your tongue with a bar of Dial.' So, instead, I’ll just say it was awful."
When my MC says it sucked - there's absolutely no hidden meaning in that. I mean, it does suck when someone you love dies. There really isn't another word for it (at least not to a pre-teen). But when she goes on to describe what her father's reaction would be to her choice of words, there's a lot that could be read between the lines: He's strict, Cindy and her dad don't have a very good relationship, maybe you even think he's abusive (he's not). The next sentence has some hidden meaning, too: despite her relationship with her father, Cindy respects him. Either that or she doesn't like the taste of soap. Whatever the reason that you've chosen it has all given another meaning to the words. Perhaps it even gets you thinking about future events in the story.
All of these words, especially the ones with hidden meanings, propel our story. They hint at characterizations, plot, action and motivation. Isn't that what we want as writers? Some of the best writing I've seen doesn't tell the reader that their character is smart, sassy, witty or conflicted. It shows it between the lines.
So are you being careful? Are you skillfully selecting your words and sentences with hidden meaning?