Grammar Quirks: Shannon Price on 'Livid' and 'Smirk'

Shannon Price, author of "A Thousand Fires," on looking for a word for the feeling of locking eyes with someone as you both realize the same thing at the same time. 

Shannon Price, Writing for
3-minute read

Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?

Shannon Price: "Livid." I love words that sound like what they mean. The hard stop at the end makes it feel menacing, no matter how hard you try to overpower it with a cheery tone.

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GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?

SP: I could do without “smirk.” It’s one of those words that immediately takes me out of a book because I feel it’s almost never needed. It has a strong home in YA (the age group I write for), and it can be used expertly, but I’ve seen it a bit too much now. That said, I’m sure if I could Control+F in my first book, I’d find a smirk to two. It’s only started to really bother me more recently.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

SP: "Presence." There is always an extra “c” somewhere, or a missing “s,” or a surprise “s.” or all of the above. I never get it right on the first try.

I love words that sound like what they mean.

GG: What word (or semblance of a word) would you like to see added to the dictionary? Why?

SP: I would love for there to be a word that captures the particular feeling of two people locking eyes as they realize the same thing at the same moment—like that jolt of elation when you and your best friend react to an inside joke that no one else understands. Even my attempt to describe it is wordy, but I think most people would get what I’m referring to. We need a word for that!

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

SP: I am a stickler for the Oxford comma. A few years ago, I was looking for a phone case with a particular saying on it, and all the cheaper options had the phrase without the comma. I ended up spending the extra $10 because the nicer version had the comma—worth the money to not be bothered by it every time I picked up my phone.

GG: To what extent does grammar play a role in character development and voice?

SP: Oh, I love this question! Grammar can help convey a character’s mood without having to rely on facial expressions. Using short, staccato sentences in dialogue, for example, can show that a character is frustrated or upset without having to describe anything about how the character looks.

Grammar can also help convey characters’ relationships with each other. For instance, if one character begins speaking very formally or uses a full name where they usually use a nickname, that can cue a reaction from another character and the reader that something’s up.

GG: Do you have a favorite quote or passage from an author you’d like to share?

SP: I strongly recommend reading the whole thing in one sitting to get the full impact, but the last paragraph of Brian Doyle’s "Joyas Valadores" cuts the reader down with so much emotion in such simple language that every time I read it I’m left motionless, speechless, and inspired:

“You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.” –Brian Doyle

GG: What grammar, wording, or punctuation problem did you struggle with this week?

SP: (This is very timely as I’m on the last days of editing my second book, "The Endless Skies," so I’m really looking at the nitty gritty.) In the past days, I’ve been playing around whether I should make this one group of characters’ formal titles uppercase or lowercase. It was uppercase in early drafts, but my editor felt it was too distracting and we opted for lower. My critique partners who read the book after that change was added didn’t comment one way or another (which is good, because it means the lowercase didn’t bother them), but I still fight the urge to make it uppercase because that’s how I originally wrote it.