Making the Most of the Words You Use
|8 min read
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Published: January 25, 2014


Have you ever opened up a dictionary and just starting reading it? (Oh, come on, I know I'm not the only one!) Well, if you haven't, you should go do that, right now, before you read any further. Okay, you're back. There are literally hundreds of thousands of words out there, and all of them are waiting for you to use them in your next literary masterpiece.

Now, you may be asking "So what?" Words are just words, right? So long as you get your point across, that's all that matters, right? After all, green is green, whether you call it olive or neon or sea-foam. Right? Right?

Wrong! Consider this scene: Abigail walked through the quiet garden. The hedges formed a maze for her to navigate.

It gets the point across, but doesn't paint much of a picture without context. It's kind of boring, and doesn't give you any details or reason for caring. By adding or changing a few words, you can turn this dry piece of toast into an enchanting seedcake of delight.

Abigail wandered the garden, her whispering steps hardly disturbing the quietude. The leafy hedgerow formed a path with many turns and switchbacks for her to navigate.

This creates a more dreamy feel that could fit in a fantasy or even romance story. But what if you want to write horror? Again, a simple change of words can create an entirely different atmosphere.

Abigail crept through the garden, afraid to break the heavy silence. The maze of hedges loomed overhead, casting even deeper shadows that threatened to swallow her.

The same actions and locations are here, but the scene is entirely different. But both of these cases suggest that Abigail is a woman. What if she is a child?

Abigail skipped along, singing nonsense rhymes to liven the otherwise quiet garden. The hedgerows grew over her little head, and she laughed as she trotted down the pathways, searching for the way through.

"Wait!" you cry. "You're showing me how to use word choice, but how do I choose the words to use?!"

The first thing to do is to consider the type of story you are writing. I'm assuming that, by the time you are writing things down, you know whether you want an action, romance or horror story flowing from your fingertips. Certain adjectives or verbs work better to create a specific atmosphere than others. If you get stuck, take the word closest that you can get to the one you want, and then find yourself a thesauras. Check out the link at the bottom of this article for the one I use most often. Try reading the sentence aloud with different words until you get the one that sounds right. Often, reading aloud makes it sound different than it does when you read silently. (The phrase "That sounded better/funnier in my head" applies here, too.)

Another thing to look out for is variety. If you find yourself using the same word throughout your writing, it may get a little repetetive and distracting, especially if the instances occur close together. Don't be afraid to call a forest "the woods," or even substituting the pronoun "it" as long as the context makes your meaning clear. Remember this phrase "variety is the spice of writing." Again, read through your work aloud, and see if anything jumps out at you. If in doubt, ask a friend to take a look. Oftentimes, a third party can give you ideas you might not have had otherwise.

Here are a few links you might be able to use in your endeavors:

dictionary.reference.com/ - I use this one all the time. It has a dictionary that both defines and gives a history of the words, but you can click the Thesaurus tab to get synonyms of many possible meanings of a word.

en.writecheck.com/voice-and-wo… - This is a very simple article that breaks down the topic of Word Choice into some of its most basic elements. It's a great place for starting out or for a quick refresher.

writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts… - This article provides a pretty in depth look at proper/effective word choice, providing many examples and touching on a few things I haven't included in this article. It focuses more on the technical aspect, too many/too few words, vagueness, etc. Give it a read!

www.quickanddirtytips.com/educ… - Another great in depth article that gives a little more focus to word choice within genres.

These are just methods that I use in my own writing endeavors, and are in no way the end-all, be-all of writing. What methods do you use to spice up your prose? What are some references you have found to be particularly helpful and/or useful? Sound off in the comments with your tips, hints or questions!

Stay encouraged, stay motivated and stay awesome, my friends!





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Comments (30)
GoodOldBaz's avatar
GoodOldBaz|Hobbyist General Artist
Reply  ·  
brietta-a-m-f's avatar
brietta-a-m-f|Hobbyist General Artist
Very nice! Remember that you can also use synonyms for words rather than just adding new ones. Smile could be grin, or grab could be clutch. Stuff like that does wonders for changing the atmosphere!
Reply  ·  
GoodOldBaz's avatar
GoodOldBaz|Hobbyist General Artist
that's true... I'll keep that in mind. :)
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brietta-a-m-f's avatar
brietta-a-m-f|Hobbyist General Artist
:D
Reply  ·  
UltraLiThematic's avatar
UltraLiThematic|Hobbyist Digital Artist
Interesting. I will have to remember this when writing! 
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PurpleInk777's avatar
Prose week is turning out to be a wonderful week! I'm discovering new nuggets on writing all the time! Thanks, projecteducate for sharing! :salute:
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brietta-a-m-f's avatar
brietta-a-m-f|Hobbyist General Artist
I'm glad you're getting something from it!
Reply  ·  
PurpleInk777's avatar
I am! :nod: Prose Week is turning out to be one goldmine of a week! :nod: So many tips! :la:
Thanks for sharing hints on using more definitive words! :hug: 
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brietta-a-m-f's avatar
brietta-a-m-f|Hobbyist General Artist
You're very welcome!
Reply  ·  
Enemom's avatar
Enemom|Hobbyist Writer
Now I want to pick up my dictionary and read it. :la:
Reply  ·  
brietta-a-m-f's avatar
brietta-a-m-f|Hobbyist General Artist
You can find some pretty awesome words in there that you might not have thought of before! My Dork Dance 
Reply  ·  
Enemom's avatar
Enemom|Hobbyist Writer
Pardine is my new fav. 
Reply  ·  
brietta-a-m-f's avatar
brietta-a-m-f|Hobbyist General Artist
That one is a pretty cool word, but the opportunities to use it are somewhat limited, unless you're writing a story about skin-changers.
Reply  ·  
DevilsTunes's avatar
DevilsTunes|Hobbyist Writer
If only more people thought along these lines.
Reply  ·  
brietta-a-m-f's avatar
brietta-a-m-f|Hobbyist General Artist
Well that's what these PE Weeks are for! Making people think about things in ways that they may not have before.
Reply  ·  
C-A-Harland's avatar
Great article, it's so true that change just two or three words in a sentence can change the whole mood. I love Thesaurus.com, I nearly always have it open while I'm writing.
Reply  ·  
brietta-a-m-f's avatar
brietta-a-m-f|Hobbyist General Artist
It's amazing how much you can do with so little, if you think about it! It is a wonderful tool. By far the most comprehensive I've ever used.
Reply  ·  
sun-lily's avatar
I can apply this my poetry, thank you.
Reply  ·  
brietta-a-m-f's avatar
brietta-a-m-f|Hobbyist General Artist
Fantastic! I'm glad my advice can cross those borders!
Reply  ·  
neurotype's avatar
neurotype|Hobbyist General Artist
The one thing I want to say about the thesaurus is, make sure you know you're using the word right! We would never say "that dust particle really piqued my eye" even though pique and irritate are synonyms.

Good stuff, anyway, word choice does so much for mood.
Reply  ·  
brietta-a-m-f's avatar
brietta-a-m-f|Hobbyist General Artist
Ha ha! Good point! If things like that crop up, I'll have to hide from all the pointing fingers and "But she saids.."!
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neurotype's avatar
neurotype|Hobbyist General Artist
:eyes:
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brietta-a-m-f's avatar
brietta-a-m-f|Hobbyist General Artist
:o
Reply  ·  
GoodOldBaz's avatar
GoodOldBaz|Hobbyist General Artist
this was a fantastic read! I really want to try out what you did at the beginning with writing the same thing over again to try to get a different feel. It seems like it would be really fun.
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