Yesterday I mentioned the importance of expanding your vocabulary. One way to do this is to make it a habit to look up every new word you encounter. While you may be able to deduce its meaning from the context, often the official definition provides important details. In some cases, it may have even been used incorrectly.
One skill every writer should develop is the ability to use exactly the correct word. The more expansive your vocabulary, the more easily you’ll be able to accomplish this. Such precision contributes to imagery, emotion, action, and all the other elements you want to capture. Learning new words is often useful in this way since it may be just the one you’ll need later.
Keep a dictionary within easy reach of where you do your writing. It’s important to use words correctly and as accurately as possible to maximize their impact. Electronic equivalents are great, too.
If you’re a true Anglophile of the language kind, treat yourself from time to time by reading the dictionary. You’ll be surprised what you might discover! There are also various “Word of the Day” apps or services you can subscribe to for free, such as Merriam-Webster’s on Instagram.
As an author, words are the tools of your trade. Embrace and celebrate them as the treasures they are. Using exactly the right word adds considerable impact and meaning, so the more expansive your vocabulary, the stronger your writing.
Do you ever read the dictionary? Words are an author’s tools. Your vocabulary will determine the quality of your writing. Using the word that precisely expresses your meaning strengthens your writing.
By reading the dictionary from time to time, you’d be surprised what you might discover that will come in useful. Along those lines, when you’re reading and encounter an unfamiliar word, look it up. While you may be able to discern its meaning from the context, it is likely to have a certain slant that adds to the sentence’s meaning.
This is the kind of precision that makes your writing stronger.
Avoid adverbs and adjectives whenever possible. For example, rather than saying, He walked slowly say, He strolled or He dragged his feet. Using exactly the right word brings clarity and moves the story along more quickly. Verbs are powerful; use them properly and they strengthen your writing. This contributes to the Show, don’t tell admonition which allows the reader to experience the story as opposed to simply observing it. For example, which of the following is more effective?
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that before,” Sally said sadly.
Sally’s eyes filled with tears and her chin quivered with emotion. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that before,” she whispered.
Use active voice and subjective case. In other words, say, He threw the ball as opposed to the ball was thrown by him.
Avoid using the same word more than once in a paragraph. This is something my senior lit teacher told us in high school. Of course there are exceptions, but often when you need to repeat a word it’s a signal that you could reword the sentence in a more concise way. For example:
Sharon saw the pantry was empty so she went to the store to get some groceries. When she got to the store she bought bread, eggs, milk and sauerkraut.
Seeing the pantry was empty, Sharon went to the store to buy bread, eggs, milk and sauerkraut.
Flashbacks are often a source of confusion for the writer as well as the reader. The convention is to begin a flashback with past perfect tense, e.We had started that day with the usual cup of coffee. If you want you can use it for the next sentence as well, particularly if it’s going to be a fairly long sequence. Then when the flashback ends, you close it again with past perfect, i.e.I had thought at the time that it was a good idea, but time had shown otherwise. You can also include a simple statement such as He returned to the present….
There are numerous words out there that sound the same but have different meanings and are spelled differently which are called homonyms. Examples include here and hear; whole and hole; where and wear; your and you’re; you’ll and yule; there, they’re, and their and a host of others.
In the past few weeks I have seen the word shudder used incorrectly in two different books. The meaning of this word is to shake or vibrate; it is not the word for those planks designed to cover or sometimes decorate windows; that word is shutter like in shut. Another one I’ve seen misused in an otherwise excellent book is the word reign. This word relates to authority, such as “the queen’s reign.” To restrain or limit is the word rein, like the straps used with a bit to control a horse. The most common seem to be your (possessive) and you’re (contraction for you are) and they’re (contraction for they are), there (a place) and their (plural possessive.)
Nothing shows your ignorance as a writer faster than getting these different words mixed up. Many readers won’t know the different, I’m sure, but it’s really our responsibility as writers to provide correct usage and set the example for what appears to be an increasingly semi-literate world.
Of course now that we have autocorrect messing with our best intentions sometimes it’s not entirely your fault if they show up. Furthermore, if your keyboarding skills are advanced your fingers may tend to spell incorrectly from time to time. I have that problem where I know (not no) better but when I really get on a roll (not role) they often turn up (not turnip). That said, you’re (not your) going to have to pay attention and do your (not you’re) best to at least know (not no) the difference between them so you can correct them when you see (not sea) them. If you tend to read over your own mistakes then please, by all means, hire a good editor. Readers who know the difference will appreciate it.