by Jan Drexler
Words, words, words!
As writers, they are the medium we employ to create our stories. Where would we be without them?
But there is a difference between using words and creating with words.
We use words whenever we communicate – I’m using words as I write this blog post, and you’re using words as you read it. We use words to express ideas, feelings, suggestions, commands, complaints… We use words a LOT!
However, when I pull up the file for my Work-in-Progress, I’m using words to create a story in my readers’ minds. Each word becomes important – not only in its meaning, but in its sound as it is spoken aloud and in the emotions it evokes.
Let me use this great word as an example: TRUCK.
If you’re like me, that one word brings forth a multitude of images and emotions to your mind. Let me name just a few – I think of dump trucks, semi-trucks, people driving trucks, pick-up trucks pulling campers or boats, work trucks hauling tools and equipment, ice cream trucks, delivery trucks, truck drivers, children playing with Tonka trucks…and then there are tons of off-shoots of those thoughts, including the movie ‘Convoy!”
But it is also one of my favorite words because it is onomatopoetic. Say TRUCK out loud. It sounds like what it means, doesn’t it? TRUCK. Solid. Utilitarian. No nonsense.
When I use the word "truck" in my writing, it is on purpose. I have chosen that specific word for a reason.
When we’re writing, we want to choose words that will create a sub-text for our readers. Words that create emotion and go beyond the text on the page to give our stories depth and purpose. Words that make our writing sing!
How do we do that?
There is no easy answer, but I can give you a couple suggestions to point you in the right direction.
1) Stay away from clichés, like the one I used in the previous sentence. Instead of clichés, use your own unique way of saying the same thing. So, instead of “to point you in the right direction,” I could have said “to help you choose words that will add a lyrical quality to your writing.”One exception to the cliché rule – sometimes using a cliché in dialogue can give our readers a clue about our character’s personality. But that’s in dialogue, not narrative writing.2) Keep track of weasel words. Those are words that we find popping up in our writing too often. For one book, my weasel word was “just.” For another book, it was “shrugged.” Just when I get one weasel word conquered, another one shows up, shrugging its shoulders apologetically. (Yes, I did that on purpose.) When weasel words dominate my writing, my story doesn’t sing. It drones.3) Use strong words, but don’t overuse them.
Strong words? What are those?
They are words that we use instead of common words to bring more interest and artistry to our writing. I use thesaurus.com to find synonyms for common words that will give me ideas. I often find a word that is perfect for my sentence.
But beware – I recently read a story that was so full of strong verbs and other words that it read as if the author or editor had gone down a list of synonyms and chose them without thinking. Don’t be guilty of that faux pas! We need to choose our words with care - verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.
The result of overloading our writing with strong words can sound like this:
Cindy detected a crack in the old, yellowed wallpaper. She ambled closer to inspect the fissure, triumphantly comprehending how this opening engendered the source of the secret door.
Do you see how too many “interesting” words creates a tedious set of sentences no one will want to read? The story gets lost in the dense underbrush!
Which brings me back to writing stories that sing. It isn’t only our job. It isn’t only our craft. It is our art.
And art takes work.
We write, rewrite, and rewrite again.
Rewriting gives us the perfect opportunity to clear out the weeds and weasels to bring out the strong structure of our story.
What about you? Are you a word-lover? Or as K.M. Weiland says, a "word player?"
What is one of your favorite words, and why? (And please tell me I'm not the only one that loves playing with word meanings and sounds!)