Contemplate Word Choice With Alice Walker

In our October issue, legendary writer Alice Walker discusses the craft of writing—including this great insight about the power that words can hold:

You’ve said that heaven should be a verb. What other words are underutilized?
“Bliss, ecstasy, joy. I live in Mexico part of the time, and my friend Yolanda always says that something is maravilloso. The word marvelous—especially when she says it about almost everything—reminds me that yes, indeed, that’s the truth of it. Even with all of the things that are so awful, if you walk into your yard and stay there looking at almost anything for five minutes, you will be stunned by how marvelous life is and how incredibly lucky we are to have it.”

With that in mind, consider this prompt:

Underutilized Words
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. (If you’re having trouble with the captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll make sure it gets up.)

Choose five words that you feel are underrated, underappreciated or underused, and write a short piece in which you challenge yourself to use them as much as possible.

And for more inspiration from Alice Walker, don’t miss Jessica Strawser’s WD Interview in our October issue, on newsstands now or available here or for instant digital download here.


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4 thoughts on “Contemplate Word Choice With Alice Walker

  1. C.L. Ross

    serendipity, curmudgeon, veranda, chivalry, quaint

    Sitting on my veranda enjoying a freshly rolled Dominican and a single malt, I watched as the people floated by; fans femininely waving, men acting as gentlemen in wrinkled clothes from the card game the night before. The women glanced up at me from behind their fans incredulous that a southern woman should be smoking a cigar and drinking in public. I suppose I had become a curmudgeon among society; I simply had done my time as the good wife and southern belle and now it was my time. I didn’t HAVE to be nice.

    I was in the process of looking at the blue smoke that twisted up into the evening sky when a man suddenly appeared in front of me and took a seat across from where I sat on the wicker settee. I raised an eyebrow and offered scotch. He politely refused, but looked at my cigar with such an eye that I had no choice but to offer him one. He took it with ease, rolled it near his ear, smiled, smelled the length of it, then took out a silver lighter and lit it.

    "Interesting lighter you have there," I had to comment. It was an old fuel type with a rounded strike.

    "A gift from my father at graduation. I’m a P.h.D in Anthropology."

    "Ah, that explains why you appeared on my porch. Examining an old lady. Makes sense."

    The gentleman laughed and smoothed his trousers. Actually, it was the smell of a fine cigar. That and the oddity of an obviously well appointed southern woman sitting on the veranda of a beautiful Victorian drinking in the middle of the afternoon. In Charleston. Such a quaint part of town, one doesn’t expect this sort of scene."

    "Exactly," I responded with a smile. "Yet one would expect some chivalry from a gentleman such as yourself that he should introduce himself if he is so inclined as to just walk up the steps and take a seat on an old lady’s porch."

    The man got up and extended his hand, "Josiah Davis, at your service Madam," he quipped.

    I nearly fainted. Davis was my maiden name. I come from an old southern family line. My father had chased my younger brother away from the family home just as he was in his teens, for reasons known only between my father and him. Josiah. Did he know who I was? Surely not. My name had changed forty years ago when I married. Had he searched me out? Or was it serendipity that brought my younger brother so long lost and terribly missed at such a time when companionship was becoming a lightly regarded thing?

    "Josiah, I think you’ll want that scotch after all, my dear…"

  2. Dare Gaither

    Fortitude exquisite wonder inscrutable myriad

    I looked with wonder as the myriad aspects of nature
    displayed themselves with exquisite splendor. The sky
    was an inscrutable expanse of blue, dotted with myriad
    wonderful clouds. I wondered if I had the fortitude to
    make the long hike up the inscrutable face of
    Mount Pisgah to the exquisite look-off which offered
    myriad views of the Appalachian mountains.
    Admiring my exquisite resolve, I decided to test
    the limits of that fortitude.

    The wonder of nature’s beauty sustained my fortitude
    as I climbed over the myriad rocks to reach the summit.
    The wonderful clouds had turned dark and presented
    an inscrutable omen of woe to come. An exquisite
    flash of myriad-fingered lightening broke the inscrutable
    bank of clouds, filling me again with wonder as my
    fortitude collapsed in an impotent pile of dust.

    Myriad drops of rain pelted me with exquisite force
    as I collected what remained of my fortitude. I now
    wondered if I would ever see the exquisite outline
    of my front door in the inscrutable future that lay
    ahead of me. Plumbing the inscrutable depths of
    my ravaged fortitude, I tripped and stumbled over
    the myriad snares that wonderful Mother Nature
    had generously provided. I fell to my knees in wonder
    and gratitude as my car emerged at last from the
    inscrutable wall formed by the myriad raindrops.

    Struck with wonder at my exquisite repertoire of four-letter
    words, I uttered them all in myriad expressions of my
    displeasure. With my last drop of fortitude, I managed to
    salvage a scrap of wonder at the inscrutable force of nature
    and find exquisite joy in the fact that at least it wasn’t hail.

    Fortitude, wonder and joy evaporated with exquisite
    haste as the inscrutable dark clouds pelted my car with
    myriad hailstones.

  3. Mark James

    Zac, this was fun, and mind-twisting. It made me think about how we tend to use the same words over. . and over. . and over. . .

    Thanks to friends at Visual Thesaurus for these five words:
    forswear, saga, haven, wrath, transgression

    My knife was up my sleeve, quick death or slow torture. A tattoo ran down the middle of his chest, a black snake twined around a gold leaf. In the firelight, he didn’t look more than nineteen, or like he knew how to survive to twenty. “What are you doing in my house?”

    “Seeking haven,” he said.

    “I don’t see any angels here, do you?”

    His blue eyes darted around the cabin, seemed to find something familiar in the crackling fireplace. “I see I’ve fallen into a dark chapter of my eternal saga.”

    “How come you look like a kid and talk like a professor?”

    He looked down at himself, ran his hands over his smooth chest, his flat belly, stopped when he got to the waist of his jeans. “He’s sent me with a younger body this time.”

    I was on him before he could move, slammed him up against the door, pressed my knife to his throat. “Who sent you?”

    He didn’t panic the way most people do when there’s a blade at their neck. “My transgression was mild,” he said. “But the Dark One’s wrath was unspeakable. I was sure he wouldn’t allow me to walk the Earth again.” He licked his soft lips. “But here I am. Aerin. Your servant.”

    “My what?” After two weeks in August in Houston, waiting on a target, I didn’t need this. “You know it’s easier for me to bury you in the woods out back than to keep listening to you, right?”

    “Of course.” His blue eyes wavered a second, then they changed to something I recognized: crazy calm. It was the look a man got in his eyes when he knew he was seconds from dying, and he still had prayers to say. “I forswear any claim to this life,” he said.

    His lips were trembling. I wanted to make them stop, so I stabbed my knife into the door over his head, leaned in and kissed him. He ran light fingers down the back of my neck, sent shivers through me.

    I kissed his naked shoulders. “What are you doing in my house, looking like something I dreamed?”

    “Anything it is your pleasure I do, my Lord.” His tongue trailed down my chest until his lips went low enough to drive me crazy.

    I yanked him up, held him against the door, and clenched my jaw so I wouldn’t cover his mouth with mine. “What did you call me?”

    His fingers traced down my bare arms. “You would prefer another form of address?”

    I saw where my knife had nicked his smooth skin. It was healed. “What are you, Aerin?” I grabbed his wrists, pulled his arms behind him, looked down at him. “And don’t start in with that you’re my servant talk.”

    “An imp, my Lord. Sent for you in tribute.” A light blush rushed to his cheeks. “Payment,” he said. “For deeds done.”

    Now it made sense. “Upstairs.” I turned him loose, let him go past me. “It’s the door with the death’s head on it.”

    He went up the steps slowly, giving me a good show. I watched and thought about making deals with the devil. Working for Lucifer definitely had its up side.

  4. Nathan Honore

    betwixt, incredulous, dynamic, vigilant, rugged

    Betwixt Bethelridge and Athenry lay a vigilant poet. She seldom speaks, but when she does her dynamic words ring in the incredulous ears of the rugged commoners. Their eyes perk with the imagination that has been dragged out of them from years of hard labor. Like a witch that seduces the most incredulous of children, her words enchant those without enchantment. Though their tools and roads are rugged enough, the dynamics of her voice pierce their hearts like butter. Starting soft, crescendoing till she almost shouts betwixt stanzas, only to return to soft again. The vigilant pub patrons gather as well, abandoning their drunken routine. Her words summon tears from all, but she sheds not a drop. Like a dashing German man with rugged good looks, her face remains calm, cool, collected. Not a word wasted. Though it only lasts for a minute or two, the townspeople stare incredulously as she returns to her usual squatting position. Betwixt her dynamic recitations, she remains vigilant, as if watching over the rugged world before her.


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