Monday, October 5, 2015

The Weight Of Your Words

In fiction, when it comes to word choice, writers must be specific. 

Each word has to earn its place.

There’s no room for words that don’t pull their weight.

The trick is to choose words and phrases carefully, ones that are able to paint vivid pictures.

 Don’t depend on adjectives and adverbs to do the describing. Rather use strong nouns and verbs.

Look at the following:
Peter dragged his protesting body from one classroom to the next. Each lesson mocked him. He felt trapped in the middle of a never-ending nightmare as the day stretched before him. Mrs Smith, his eighth grade teacher, was concerned about his lack of focus. All the children, especially Tom, teased Peter. Tom was popular. Everybody liked him. He was the cool kid, the rich kid, the one who wore the latest footgear. Peter sighed. He wished that he owned a proper pair of shoes.

Let’s concentrate on the last sentence of the above paragraph. 

He wished that he owned a proper pair of shoes. Does it reveal much about Peter? No. It’s neutral. Almost bland. It tells me that his existing pair of shoes are probably in poor condition. I’m sure a boy of his age has a specific shoe style in mind. This would depend on the context and direction in which the story is moving.

He wished that he owned a pair of sneakers. Aha. Why sneakers? Does Peter want sneakers for show? Maybe to outrun the bullies who always chase him? I have insight into Peter’s character.

He wished that he owned a pair of boots. Maybe he has a deep and dark desire to hurt Tom? Is he an outdoor kind of boy? Maybe boots signify strength and valour? Maybe boots remind him of soldiers in the army? His father/brother may have been killed in the line of duty?

 Choosing precise nouns makes it unnecessary to add layers of descriptive adjectives to lengthen your sentences.

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Use strong verbs to elevate the action.  A strong verb creates a mood or an image simply by its sound or connotations.

Look at the following:
Jessie smiled. Does it reveal much about her? No. Lots of people smile. What makes Jessie different from everyone else who is smiling in your story? Smile is a colourless verb and needs to be replaced by one that is vibrant.

Jessie simpered. A boy she likes has complimented her on a new haircut? 

Jessie beamed. She’s over-the-moon about something or the other. Maybe proud of an achievement or the unexpected invitation! 

Jessie smirked. She can just imagine the expression on her arch-rival’s face when she rocks up at the shindig with the most popular boy at school...

Writing is stronger when writers use strong nouns and strong verbs.

Strong nouns and verbs have several qualities:
1. They are precise.
2. Rather than being commonly used, they are less commonly used.
3. They are paintbrushes creating visual and visceral images.

Adverbs and adjectives carelessly used just tell instead of show. Be aware of them and make sure they are doing a job, rather than puffing up your sentences with little more than air.

Mark Twain cautions us on using adjectives: "As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”

Remember, the right words can make your writing vivid and memorable.
 

30 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Less common, specific, and strong verbs - check!!

Deborah Hawkins said...

Very good points!

Pat Hatt said...

Have to remember to use less common at my sea. Great tips.

Linda Kay said...

Great advice, Michelle....will try to keep in mind when writing.

Ann Bennett said...

I have been working to say more a with less and this helps.

Gail said...

Wonderful points.

Thanks

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Great examples to get the point across. Strong verbs are needed and sometimes take a bit more thought.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Michele - too much description is too much - we need to think for ourselves too. Wonderful way of expressing your points ... it's good to expand our vocabulary too ... cheers Hilary

Patricia Lynne said...

Great advice. Thanks for sharing.

Michelle Athy said...

This is a great reminder! Thanks Michelle!

Nadine_Feldman said...

All great ideas. I am always looking to strengthen my construction in my revisions. Thanks!

Patricia said...

Ooooh. I loved your post. I don't think I pay enough attention to just the "words" themselves and how you explained their importance and differences was right on!
Thank you.
Patti

Yolanda Renee said...

Now if I just get out of my head and think of these wonderful ideas when composing and I'll have it made!
How many times have I been told I write like I talk. Oops!

dolorah said...

I check my words only during final edit. When they flow, just gotta go with it :)

Murees Dupé said...

I'm guilty of not using strong verbs. I am working on it though. Thanks for the great post. It really helped.

Sherry Ellis said...

Great advice. That's when the old Thesaurus comes in handy!

Jen Chandler said...

Wonderful words of wisdom, Michelle! With my own writing, I've noticed I tend to weight every word carefully before I decide whether or not to keep it or cut it out. Not in the initial draft, but in all those subsequent drafts that inevitably come. I love a good adjective, but there is something about that perfect noun or verb that really shows a writers craft.

Thanks!

J.L. Campbell said...

Excellent article, Michelle, and a timely reminder for me.

Robyn Campbell said...

Fabulous tips, buddy. I am trying to add stronger verbs in my writing. It's a challenge. I have no problem adding them in my poetry. And don't forget One Stop For Writers has an excellent verb list. I've been using it. Love your examples. :-) Hugs, my friend.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Excellent tips, Michelle! I wish you could come and guest teach in my writing classes. We were just talking about this on Monday . . . strong, specific nouns and verbs, the use of adjectives, but not too many. Of course, there's saying it and then there's doing it - I struggle with this area even though I teach it to MG and YA students.

cleemckenzie said...

Yep. One precise word replaces several others with better results. I try, but sometimes I need help with that. Thanks.

Robert Bennett said...

I've always thought of this as one of those things that's easy to get but hard to master. You are always finding new ways to change your wording and sentences to make it EXACT for what you want it to be.

Lexa Cain said...

Terrific post! Coincidentally, I did a newsletter for a writing site about this very thing this week. It's called "Verbs Drive Your Writing." Great minds think alike, eh, Michelle? :)

Liza said...

The story is in the details!

assholeswatchingmovies.com said...

I wouldn't dare argue with Mark Twain.

D Biswas said...

basic tips, butones worth remembering!

Pat Garcia said...

Hi,
Choosing strong nouns and verbs is so important. That's why reading other authors is a must. Thank you for your excellent post.

Shalom,
Patricia

Michelle Wallace said...

Thanks for all the visits/comments!

Toni said...

Dang, sorry I missed this. Looks like fun.

Lisa said...

Right on! Great reminder...