Choosing the Perfect Word

dictionaryI love it when my characters use words I’m not certain of, and then when I go to check the definition, it’s precisely the right word to use! Ah, the cleverness of them.

For example, in the latest scene I was writing, Arianna was walking through the castle with her bow and arrows, feeling stupid. She said of passersby, “To their credit, none of them openly stared at her strange accoutrements.” Now, I don’t use that word. It’s too stuffy. And it didn’t sound like the right word for the situation, so I looked it up. The definition is “the equipment needed for a particular activity or way of life” — turns out Arianna had chosen the perfect word.

Eustace does this all the time, unsurprisingly. I mean, he’s not the Scholar for nothing. (Of course, when I go back to look for examples to show him off, I can’t find any of them. Alas.)

In a somewhat related vein, the most obnoxious feeling is when you’re thinking of a word — the perfect word — it’s on the tip of your tongue, but…nothing. No idea what it is. You can think of every almost-good-enough word there is, but not that perfect one. I turn to the thesaurus at that point and encounter every single word I’d already thought of (and then some) but I still can’t find it. Maybe it never existed, I don’t know.

It’s been several weeks now, but I’m still trying to find a word that means “soul” or “spirit” but isn’t either of those. Nothing seems right. Seriously, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment with options for a word I can use, because I’m running out of ideas.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

From The Narrator, Chapter Twelve

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“What are you doing?” she hissed through her smile. She refused to allow the court see how upset she was with him. “Why did you challenge Brindon of all people?”

“Because Tarell doesn’t use a sword when he fights.” Endar snatched up his waterskin and guzzled half the contents.

“But Brindon is lame,” she reminded him. “You can’t humiliate him in front of the entire court like this.”

“Why not?” he demanded. He dragged his hand across his mouth. “You think he’s going to start his war because I hurt his pride?”

“Certainly won’t help matters.” She glanced back at the crowd, easily spotting Pennington where he leaned on the yard fence’s top rail. Her stomach lurched and she turned her back on him. She didn’t have time to deal with that right now. “This is a mistake.”

“Mine,” he said. “Not yours.” He tossed the waterskin on the ground and picked up a small leather-bound book.

Arianna eyed it warily while he turned it over in his hands. “What are you doing with that?”

He idly flipped through the pages. “I need a second wind. I’ve already had two duels, Brindon’s had none.”

“For good reason!” She moved to his shoulder, blocking the book from the court’s view. “If I can’t talk you out of stopping the duel, at least promise me that you won’t use magic.”

Endar met her determined stare. He wore an easy smile, but she noticed faint lines of strain along his jaw and around his eyes.

Slowly, he ran a finger down the page. As it passed each line, the sharp handwriting billowed and curled in its wake. His back straightened, the lines on his face disappeared, he seemed to thrum with new energy.

He snapped the book shut and handed it to Arianna with a smirk before striding back into the middle of the yard.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

From The Narrator, Chapter 5

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By the time she reached the main courtyard, most of the court had turned out to greet their new king. All eyes were trained on where the road emerged from the forest two hundred yards away. Ladies were caught up in last minute primping for their bachelor king, while lords were placing bets on the exact moment he would appear. Arianna stifled a laugh. The multitude of frills and flounces reminded her of an exotic aviary.

With a few smiles and nods in the right direction, she was able to maneuver to the front of the flock. Unfortunately, she ended up at Brindon’s elbow.

At least, unfortunately for him.

Arianna pasted on her sweetest, sickliest smile — the one Father had said made her look like a feral horse. “Good morning, brother.”

He merely nodded in greeting. His lips were a thin, disapproving line, and his eyes seemed to have sunk into his skull. Not a morning person, then.

Good.

“Don’t tell me I missed the reception,” she cried, pitching her voice in an unattractive whine.

Brindon winced, and she nearly laughed in his face. Her game wasn’t much, and it certainly wasn’t useful, but it was oh-so-very satisfying.

“I was so looking forward to it,” she continued, digging in the vocal screws. “He promised to bring me all sorts of presents.”

“Is that so?” Brindon seemed to be trying his best to tune her out. Impatience rolled off his shoulders like rain. But his gaze never left the spot where the road left the forest.

He looked…nervous.

And why shouldn’t he be? He probably expected Endar and Quin to be rotting on the southern road, not trotting up it.

“Don’t worry,” she said gently.

The switch in her manner caught Brindon’s attention. He looked down at her and raised an eyebrow in silent question.

As dismissively as possible, Arianna turned back to her own vigil and said, “I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten about you.”


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

From The Narrator, Chapter 8

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Arianna took a deep breath, as if she were about to plunge underwater. She took one cautious step into the forest.

Nothing happened.

Berating herself as the silliest girl in the Three Kingdoms, she continued at a normal pace. She brushed away her queasiness as unfounded anxiety. She would be fine. She wouldn’t be going far enough into the woods to trigger the magic.

She would be fine.

Her gaze scanned the underbrush for tell-tale white feathers. The hard-packed earth was a good sign. Back in Arendelle, the boggy soil liked to swallow arrows whole.

A flicker of white caught her eye, and she groaned. Her arrow wasn’t in the ground after all. It was in a tree. She’d split a sapling in two. The smaller strip of trunk bowed out around the arrow like a warped basket.

With a sigh, she grabbed the arrow and pulled —

— and then the vision pulled her in.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Book Magic Series: The Chamber of Secrets

Harry_Potter_and_the_Chamber_of_Secrets_(US_cover)

If you’re one of the few people who has neither read nor seen the Harry Potter series, let me briefly sum up the mystery of Tom Riddle’s diary, as featured in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. After all of his books are doused with ink, Harry notices that Riddle’s diary is spotless. He tests this phenomenon by writing “My name is Harry Potter” — and the diary absorbs the ink and writes in reply, “Hello Harry Potter. My name is Tom Riddle. How did you come by my diary?”

Naturally, Harry continues talking with Tom Riddle, and asks if Riddle knew anything about the Chamber of Secrets opening before. Riddle offers to show him what he knows, and sucks Harry into the diary. Harry is able to observe Riddle’s memories as if he were a ghost — no one can see or hear him, and he can’t affect anything.

Spoiler alert: this is all possible because the book contains a piece of Voldemort’s soul.

Now, the books in Narrator don’t contain people’s souls. Don’t get me wrong, souls are involved. It’s just not a requirement for the book magic to exist.

Arianna’s conversation with the Author is similar to Harry’s with Tom Riddle, with a few key differences. Riddle is able to write his own words, but the Author must use Arianna. He is able to compel her to write his half of the conversation, and in such a way that she cannot stop mid-sentence, even if she wanted to. The Author could communicate with her through any written method, but he has his reasons for choosing to use her diary.

This is different from earlier drafts, where I had her talk to him in person. There was a point in the forest where the world just sort of…stopped, like a cliff’s edge. And when the book was open she could speak to the Author. But I wasn’t thrilled with that dynamic, so I came up with the idea that the Author is able to communicate with Arianna through her diary, similar to how an author’s characters can surprise her as she writes by saying things she never would have expected.

That might sound weird to non-authors, but trust me. That sort of thing happens all the time.

As for traveling into books, when my characters get pulled into a book, they become part of the “story.” It doesn’t matter if the book is fiction, non-fiction, or a diary. They can interact with the book characters, and even change the course of the story — to a certain extent.

For example, if Calder went into Chamber of Secrets he would no doubt help Harry solve the mystery of the Chamber. The final battle might even go differently. But it would still be Harry who killed the basilisk and destroyed the horcrux.

Fate can be defied, but at a heavy price.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.