What Does Catawampus Have to do with a Crime Thriller?

I’ve received many wonderful reviews for my latest crime thriller Dark Mind and a few comments about one of the scenes in the beginning of the book.  In Chapter Three, my heroine has a physical confrontation with a couple of slave traders that kidnapped a little girl.  There’s quite a bit of action and suspense to set the stage for the rest of the story.  To make a long story short, without any spoilers of course, I used the word catawampus to describe a decrepit and uneven porch.

One of the biggest challenges I’m faced with when I’m writing a book is the use of redundant words and describing the same types of the things in the same way.  How boring!  I know that’s what the Thesaurus is for, but many times the words found sound a bit contrived and don’t really describe exactly what I’m trying to say.  There are so many great words in our language.

Why not make better use of descriptive words? 

I pay attention to words and sayings spoken all around me, whether I’m in the grocery store or at a social engagement.  Sometimes you can pick out certain words from a particular generation of people: cool, epic, holy cow, awesome, shenanigan, spiffy, etc.  And sometimes, you’ll find that a certain word is back in style again.

As I wrote the action scene in Dark Mind, I had just heard someone use the words catawampus and wonky.  I mindfully filed these very descriptive words in the back of my mind when I heard them, so when I was writing about this dilapidated porch deep in the jungle of Kauai – catawampus just seemed to fit.

I think there are so many wonderful, descriptive words that rarely get used in novels.  That’s not to say that words like catawampus and shenanigans should always be used when creating a fiction novel, but it gives the writer something to think about when creating a story.

Fun, less used words are especially helpful if you’re creating an unusual character.  Try using some funny sayings that will make them stand out.

When using interesting, descriptive words not used on a regular basis, I follow these simple rules:

    1. Use a fun, descriptive word only if it really fits the scene and adds another level of description and enjoyment for the reader.
    2. Don’t use a particular word if it stops the reader dead in their tracks.  It can be distracting or even annoying if the word makes a reader go “huh?”
    3. Don’t bombard your book with these words, less is definitely more.  Be sure not to use the same word again, once is enough.

I found a list of some funny words.  Here’s a writer’s dozen words to ponder:

Abibliophobia                         The fear of running out of reading material.

Billingsgate                              Loud, raucous profanity.

Cockalorum                             A small, haughty man.

Cockamamie                            Absurd, outlandish.

Doozy                                          Something really great.

Eructation                                A burp, belch.

La-di-da                                    An interjection indicating that something is pretentious.

Malarkey                                   Nonsense, balderdash.

Namby-pamby                        Weak, with no backbone.

Ornery                                       Mean, nasty, grumpy.

Skedaddle                                To hurry somewhere.

Vomitory                                  An exit or outlet.

What are some funny words you’ve read or written?

* * *

Author Blog: https://authorjenniferchase.com/
Crime Watch Blog: http://emilystonecrimewatch.wordpress.com/
Book & Crime Talk:  http://blogtalkradio.com/jennifer-chase
Books: Compulsion  Dead Game  Dark Mind  Silent Partner  Screenwriting

About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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7 Responses to What Does Catawampus Have to do with a Crime Thriller?

  1. zencherry says:

    You had me at catawampus and eructation makes me giggle lol. Great post as always Jennifer! 😀


  2. J.C. Martin says:

    I liked vomitory. Wasn’t hat what the underground passages in the Collosseum called?


  3. claudenougat says:

    I’ve learned something, I never knew what Cockamamie meant! Love the sound of all those words, particularly your catawampus. Thanks Jennifer for putting all this together, great fun!

    For my part, when I write I always try to stay away from long words or high-sounding words (I fear them particularly because I’m not born into the English language – French is my mother tongue) but there are some long, bizarre words that are simply fascinating and not pretentious at all, like banboozle (there’s even a Banboozle Festival!)


  4. Abibliophobia – Thats me! I stumble on the same problem of word placing. I’ll ponder a scene for long periods until the sentance flows. It has to sound natural and comfortable.


  5. Thanks for all the comments! I just hope that I didn’t put a silly word in your head that you can’t get rid of… lol


  6. donnagalanti says:

    What fun Jennifer I actually use skedaddle and doozy – must be old fashioned! I read somewhere that “it’s a doozy” came from the luxury car of the early 20th cent. The Dusenberg…”What a doozy” meant it was something extraordinary. On another note, I like where the expression OK came from…(I read) that President Martin Van Buren was known as Old Kinderhook (he came fro this town near where I grew up in NY) and when he approved something he would sign the initials for this OK. 🙂 Thanks for a fun post and I think I will need to use Eructation on my 9 year old son daily.


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