“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.”
If you have been writing a while, that quote from Mark Twain makes plenty of sense. You are writing along and come to a point where you need a strong word – a word that will be descriptive, powerful, or set the mood for the story. You scratch your head and try to think of just the right word that will convey what you want to say. You try out a few words, delete them, and try again. Finally, you resort to your thesaurus or dictionary – searching for a word that makes your sentence rock. You may even decide on a word and then in the editing process realize that is not what you meant after all. Thus starting the process all over again to insert a word or phrase that fits just right.
Combining just the right words to fit the context of what you are writing about is a learned process. It isn’t necessarily how big your vocabulary is that makes the difference, but how you combine words to make your sentences effective.
Here are some tips to think about when searching for the perfect word;
Know your audience. Highfaluting words can be an impasse for some readers. If writing for middle-grade readers, you will have a whole different vocabulary than for adults looking for literary fiction. Sometimes simple, straightforward words are best.
Use strong, powerful verbs. Using a powerful verb helps to eliminate the need for descriptive adverbs that clutter sentences. They also set the emotional mood for the piece. Example: A man doesn’t just walk into the room. Does he saunter? Slink? March? Etc. Each of these verbs gives a different visual picture to your reader and provides a different mood for the rest of the piece.
Check for what the word means. English often throws curves at all of us! It isn’t unusual to confuse word meanings. Example; confusing word meaning between such words as childlike and childish: where one means naïve and the other immature.
Descriptive words should add gusto to the sentence. You want these words to help the reader visualize what you are imagining. Often descriptive words describe the sensations of what is going on in the scene; they describe what you are thinking, hearing, seeing, smelling, and feeling with your body.
Don’t clutter or be wordy. Look through your sentences and decide if you can take out words that make your sentences awkward or too wordy. If the sentence makes sense without those words – take them out! Example: Wordy — The car went very fast down a big hill, and Bill felt like he should hit the brakes. Better — The car careened down a huge hill. Bill hit the brakes.
To have better word choices in sentences, ask yourself these questions:
Is this really what I mean?
Will a reader understand this?
Does it sound good?
Comments are welcome.