So we’ve just reviewed what connotation is and how it can be used, but let’s look at what happens when the word with the wrong connotation is used. Enter our bad guy:
His lip curled into a leer as he towered over her. She shuddered every time he moved, at every flex of his fist, at every step that brought him closer. He pushed his fuzzy black hair away from his stone-cold eyes, and said…
Queue the sound of a record scratch…Huh? Fuzzy hair? Bunnies are fuzzy, chicks are fuzzy, our childhood teddy bears are fuzzy. Clowns have fuzzy hair, your BFF has fuzzy hair on bad hair days, newborns have fuzzy heads…Do you see the commonality? All of these things are nonthreatening.
Threatening things are not fuzzy: Wild boars bristle; hissing cats raise their hackles; and gorillas thump their chests as their hair stands on end. While you might stretch the denotation of fuzzy to cover a boar, hissing cat, or angry gorilla, the connotation just screams out against it. So here, the villain has got himself a comic do. Read it again, only this time substitute the word wild for fuzzy. Same tangle-haired look, different feel. One builds your tension, one ruins it.
The title example is one of my favorites and really underlines the point well. In it, the scene is dire and the pain all but unendurable. Note how the end undermines a lot of work to portray a desperate situation. In this example, our fantasy hero is being tortured by magic:
Every time the witch curled her finger or touched him, Gerrick felt another muscle convulse. She brushed Gerrick’s leg and his calves curled in pain. She traced her finger lightly up his thigh and blazed a fiery trail of knots up to his groin. She curled her lips in her knife-edged smile and leaned over to kiss his naked stomach. The muscled clamped so hard he choked on a mouthful of vomit. She worked her way up to his chest. His diaphragm snapped tight, knocking his breath from his laboring lungs. His heart clenched, shooting pain down his arm. By the time he threw his head back under the ratcheting of his neck muscles, he was in agony; the Charlie horse all over his body was the worst pain he’d ever felt.
A Charlie horse? A Charlie Horse is what Hubby gets in the middle of the your favorite show, and he goes hopping around holding his leg going, “Ow-ow-ow! Charlie horse, Charlie horse!” It’s a funny pain when you see someone with it. It’s a mundane pain, one I would say most would not associated with the worst pain they ever had. And frankly, the words Charlie horse just plain sounds light weight, even humorous.
So you see, real heroes don’t get Charlie horses.