by Gayle Bartos-Pool
Part Five – Finding the Right Word
Stephen King said “Any word you have to hunt for in a Thesaurus is the wrong word.”
I beg to differ, Mr. King. Here’s why. If I have used the same word ad nauseam in several close paragraphs, I just gotta find another word. Your computer writing software usually has a few suggestions when you Right Click on Synonyms. And I have a really nice Thesaurus that I will turn to if the computer doesn’t come through.
But, come on, guys. We’re writers, authors, novelists, playwrights, wordsmiths for crying out loud. Words are our life. Personally, I like adding a few new words to my vocabulary every so often. And I definitely want to use some fresh, innovative, new-fangled words when writing just to shake things up a bit.
I’ll stumble over a boring, colorless, lackluster word when doing one of the many edits I complete before sending out a book for publication. The troublesome word will be sitting there like a wilted piece of lettuce, limp and begging to be tossed into the garbage…. (And, yes, I did use the Thesaurus on a few of the words in this recent paragraph just to make the point.)
So why not use the sources available and pick another word so you don’t sound tedious, uninteresting or just plain _____________. (You fill in the blank.)
Polishing the Gem
Part Six – Picky Picky
Last, but not least, be picky about your work. Agonize over a word or sentence or paragraph until you think (or even feel) that it’s the right choice. Feeling’s okay, too. Your name is going to be on the work, so why not do your best?
Something I have mentioned before might be of help when doing that last slog through those thousands of words you have put on paper. Ask yourself three things:
Does it Advance the story?
Does it Enhance the story?
Is it Redundant?
These questions make you re-think aspects of your work. If you have a long section of dialogue that doesn’t add anything to the plot and it doesn’t get your characters any closer to their goals, cut it or rework it.
Idle chatter between characters about the weather or their latest boyfriend over tea or yet another lunch at the local tearoom can become stale especially if the weather doesn’t change, no storm is brewing, and the boyfriend’s body isn’t buried in their backyard. Make sure most of what your characters talk about actually has something to do with the story.
As for enhancing the plot or even who your characters are, take note: If a long section of great descriptive passages doesn’t set the stage, but rather clutters it up, trim it or make sure you don’t keep piling on more and more of the same thing every few pages. You might like all your great descriptions of period furniture or sweeping landscapes, but after a while it stops the action. When it’s done well, it is a joy. Too much detail starts sounding like a boring college lecture course. You know, the class you fell asleep in when the teacher droned on for an hour about one more Roman army siege of yet another small village in ZZZZZZZZZ.
Here’s another point: Enhancing your characters personality or description or painting a beautiful picture of the scenery in your story is great as long as you don’t keep putting too much makeup on the characters or clutter the scenery with too many trees so you can’t see the forest. You want a stunning image, not layers of paint.
As for the redundancy part, during your final read-through as you are editing your work, check to see if you have said the same thing twice. During your final read-through as you are editing your work, check to see if you have said the same thing twice. (See how redundancy gets to be a problem? That sentence was in there twice.) Whether you repeat yourself in the same paragraph or page or chapter or throughout the book, it gets old and your reader will think you are either padding your word count or not paying attention.
As you polish your gem, remember another thing: if you file off the rough edges, sharpen the angles, and buff out the dull areas, the reader will come back for more. Everybody admires a beautiful jewel. Write On! (And Read On Below)
Let me add one more little tidbit. Several years ago I published The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook. It was to accompany a class I taught by the same name. It is a quick reference to writers as to how to get those few chosen words on a page in a short story as well as a novel, screenplay, or even an article you might be writing. As a member of The Writers-in-Residence group, I have also written many blogs on the art of writing. Many times I just expanded on the points I made in the Anatomy book. Recently I compiled those many blogs into a new book: So You Want to be a Writer. It gives some history to my own career and some expanded thoughts on writing. You might find it helpful in your writing journey.