Janet here. A walk through Seekerville archives proves there are oodles of craft tips for helping writers tell a great story. Today I’m zooming in on the smallest block of story, the word. The word we authors choose is important. The way we string words together is important.
Well-chosen words paint a picture. Words awake the senses. Words set the tone. Words evoke emotion. Words impact the pace. Words reveal characterization. Words reveal conflict. Words stay with us.
Let's look at some word choices that resonated with me and I hope will with you. Most examples are from my January release The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption in stores now and some are from LaVyrle Spencer’s historical romances.
Well chosen verbs
Strong verbs enable readers to see the action like a movie in their heads. Note LaVyrle Spencer’s verbs in the following sentence:
The door flapped open, a crowd of rowdies burst from inside and stumbled down the steps into the street.
Flapped, burst and stumbled not only show the action and pace but, also, hint at trouble. Anyone else imagining that door is attached to a saloon and a fistfight is looming?
Well chosen nouns
In the sentence above, Spencer’s use of “a crowd of rowdies” enables us to see and hear these guys and form judgments about them. They’re certainly unruly but not villains.
Well chosen adjectives
Every character that walks onstage merits a description. The less important they are, the briefer the description. Even when describing major characters, you might choose to sprinkle descriptions in.
The grand dame of Gnaw Bone, all three of her stacked chins quivering with intensity, leaned toward Carly.
Strong analogies and/or sensory words—sight, sound, touch, taste, smell.
From LaVyrle Spencer: He extended a hand, as limp and moist as cooked cabbage.
The word choice is vivid and reveals the heroine’s (and guarantees the reader’s) reaction to this man. You can be sure this hand doesn’t belong to the hero. Strong descriptions and vivid analogies let the reader know what’s going on in the character’s mind without introspection. I underlined this for emphasis mainly for myself as I tend to spend too much time in my characters’ heads and want to use alternate ways to reveal their thoughts.
Well chosen words add depth to our stories and can reveal a lot about our characters, much as their actions, thoughts and dialogue do.
Well chosen words can reveal characterization—
Throughout The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption, Carly uses the sense of smell to reveal who are the good and bad guys, as she does in this excerpt at her dead husband's gravesite.
She pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and pressed the square of linen to her nose. Though the air carried the scent of mowed grass, spring flowers and fresh-turned dirt, the vile odors that had clung to Max filled her nostrils still, as if he stood at her side, not laid out at her feet.
The scent of her little boy is a stark contrast to his father.
Carly bent, cuddling her seven-year-old son close. Henry smelled of soap, innocence, the hope of new beginnings.
Well chosen words reveal the character’s emotional state.
A distance from town, the winding road bordered woods, shooting his thoughts back to the location of that cottage in Carly’s dream. Except, this woods was littered with fallen trees and broken limbs, probably the result of a winter ice storm. A hardscrabble reminder woods weren’t some fantasy world of perfection. And fairy tales were just that. Myths. Not something to hang anyone’s future on.
The woods Nate passed in this passage held some upright, well-rooted trees, but he has no hope for a future with Carly and what he notices fits his outlook and hopefully ups the emotion for the reader.
In the next passage, Nate has reluctantly agreed to accompany his sister to church. His view of the setting reveals his relationship with God.
Gnaw Bone Christian Church cast a morning shadow, the steeple’s silhouette pointing right at Nate like the finger of God.
Misspoken words or incorrect grammar shows a character’s level of education and/or adds humor.
The skinny guy’s gaze narrowed. “Ah, you’re that there bounty hunter. I’m Lester Harders and I ain’t wanted for nothing but being late to supper.” He shook Nate’s hand. “This here’s my twin Lloyd. Iffen you need a face for a poster, he’s the guilty one.”
My apologies to Audra for using her last name for the Harders twins.
Well chosen words reveal the character’s conflict:
|Draw a picture of this cowboy with words.|
Hat in hand, Nate stood in the entrance, his rugged jaw dark with stubble, his gray eyes probing, his holstered gun riding his hip. He reminded her of their first meeting here in this shop. She’d thought him dangerous then and he looked dangerous now.
Her heart tripped in her chest. Dangerous and oh, so tempting.
Well chosen words evoke emotion.
Words can bring tears to our eyes, make us laugh out loud, make us angry or sigh. I’m not referring to using words like sad, angry or happy that tell the emotion. Passages of well chosen words will make the reader feel something.
In the following scene, Carly’s goal is to protect Henry from being hurt when Nate inevitably leaves. But just the opposite happens. Worse, the talk with her son opens Carly’s old wounds.
“You’re a wonderful boy, Henry.” She groped for the right words to comfort her son. “You’re not a mistake. Your pa wasn’t good with praise.”
The flash of skepticism in Henry’s eyes knotted her stomach. Why had she whitewashed the truth?
His chin resting on his chest, Henry laid his hands in his lap, the meal forgotten. “Nate likes me,” he said with a sniff.
“Yes, he does.” No wonder Henry had put Nate on a pedestal. A kind word, a thoughtful gift, a small deed were huge to a boy starving for a man’s approval. Now Nate was teaching Henry to ride, the highlight of her son’s young life, increasing his regard.
Henry sighed. “I wish Nate was my pa.”
Carly’s pulse tripped. “Nate isn’t planning to live in Gnaw Bone. He’s here…visiting Anna. He might have to leave soon.”
“He’s gotta get the bad guys, Mama.” Henry sat straight, a smile on his face.
“When he does, he’ll come back. Know why I know?”
“Why?” she whispered.
“God bringed him to us.”
“Why do you say that?”
“`Cuz I prayed for a new dad. Nate’s him.”
Henry’s words churned inside her. Not only had Carly failed to convince her son Nate wasn’t a man to count on, she had failed to realize how desperately Henry wanted a pa.
Every muscle in Carly’s body tightened, turning her stomach into a queasy, quivering mess. Matrimony was out of the question. No matter how much she tried to put Max Richards out of her mind and move on with her life, she couldn’t. She’d been married to a polecat and couldn’t get rid of his stench.
Let’s chat. Share one sentence that impacted you. Either a sentence you wrote or a sentence you read for a chance to win a copy of The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption. Actually any comment gives you a chance to win.
As we share our sentences, grab a plate. I brought Alpha-Bits cereal to form words as we down a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage and gravy, fruit and coffeecake.
Recently widowed Carly Richards is shocked when a bounty hunter declares her seamstress shop belongs to his sister. But Nate Sergeant has proof—the deed her lawless husband gambled away without her knowledge. Now Carly must fight for her home and her son’s future. And until a judge arrives to settle ownership, she’s not budging…despite Nate’s surprisingly kind demeanor—and dashing good looks.
Nate’s faced the meanest outlaws in the land—but this petite, strong-willed seamstress may be his greatest challenge. He owes his sister his life, so he’s determined she’ll have the property that’s legally hers. But as Nate and Carly battle for ownership, Nate realizes there’s something he overlooked—the hope of building a family with Carly and her adorable son.