Collocation is fascinating to me, as a writer. For those who don’t know (and I’ll use my own simplistic explanation, which might be all wrong but it’s how I see it) collocation is when certain words are grouped together to make a ‘usual sentence’. So, if someone says, ‘I’ll make a nice cup of…’ most people would finish that sentence with tea/coffee. If you’re of a certain age, you might remember a TV show called Blankety Blank – where a celebrity panel would try to guess what the missing words were, and then the contestants would try to guess what the celebrities had written. Well, that’s collocation for ya!
As writers, we can REALLY use this to shake up our work. By being aware of collocation, and deliberately going against it, we make our work more interesting. For example, if I was writing a piece and I started with this:
‘I made a mistake.’ He fidgeted and avoided looking at her.
Pretty generic opening. A reader might wonder what sort of mistake he made, but probably not going to think any deeper than that. However, if I start the work with this sentence:
‘I did a mistake.’ He fidgeted and avoided looking at her.
Well, that’s a whole new ball game for the reader. They’re going to want to know more. ‘Why he is saying it like that?’ It’s clearly wrong, so it opens up more questions in their mind. ‘Is this a child?’ Because a child may say something like this. ‘Is this a colloquialism? If so, where is this guy from?’
You see what I’m saying here? Plus, I personally find it much easer to write the next words when I am aware of collocation. For example, if I was writing this:
‘It was a reluctant city’, then I have to explain why it was a reluctant city, so might write something like this. ‘It was a reluctant city, far happier with town status than anything more cosmopolitan.’ It’s so much more interesting than the generic ‘it was a vibrant city‘ or something equally as cliché.
Try it for yourself – and feel free to pop your efforts into the chat for discussions, if you’re comfortable with that.
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