Thursday, October 04, 2007

Choosing Words with Care

I wasn't at the dentist office long yesterday when a technician called my name. Wow, I thought. I'll be done with my appointment in no time. Unfortunately, it turned out she wasn't calling me to start the cleaning but to update my file with a new set of X-rays.

"Your hygienist is running a little behind schedule," the tech said, fastening the lead apron around my neck, "so after we're done here, you can just go back to the waiting room." She shook her head. "I mean, the reception room. They've issued a new policy—we're supposed to call it that."

"Why?" I asked.

"So people don't think about waiting."

I started back to the reception room after the X-rays, and the tech called, a bit sardonically, "Wait in the living room."

When your mind visualizes your story's setting—in this case, a medical office—you easily see chairs, people, tables fanned with slippery magazines. But remember to look beyond that: what is that place to this character or to that one? A room in which to be received? A room in which to wait? The fretting room? The room out of the rain? The break-from-work room? The making-me-miss-my-bus room? Don't stop at the first word that comes to your mind—ask the character who's describing it to be honest.

As for me, I'll continue to wait in the dentist's waiting room—until, that is, the staff changes hard-backed chair to armchair, worn carpet to hardwood, and Muzak to music. And someone shows up with a tray of cookies and coffee. I mean, apples and lemon water.

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