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.