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Words! Words! Words! - How to Find Those That Jump off the Page
"Musings" for May 2006

by Margot Finke


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Words are what writers do. We must come up with exactly the right words, be it for characters swooning with love, sobbing with misery, laughing for joy, or in some other emotionally flummoxed and aggravated state. Then, there are the descriptive passages, where our scene must capture the heart of the reader: the farewell dialogue, the proposal, or the dying eulogy, and on and on. . . HELP!

Words are everywhere. You hear them on radio, TV and the movies. You read them in magazines, newspapers, letters, and on the Internet--and don't forget all those e-mails. Most of the words you read and hear are commonplace: the same old ones, used and reused, ad-infinitum. However, the words writers choose must be gems. Consider a jeweler designing a priceless necklace. He begins with the premise of pure gold. He then adds the dazzle of diamonds, the richest of red rubies, and the sumptuous glow of pearls. Writers must aim for a similar effect when stringing words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into chapters. If your stories are pure gold, and your words bring a richness dazzle and glow to each chapter, you have crafted something magical--a magnificent story.

Help is at Hand:

A writer's best friend is a good Thesaurus. You can buy them bound and in paper, hand-held with battery, online, or Microsoft's very own, with Shift F7 (if you use Word).
Your second best friend is the Find application on your computer--Control F. This nifty tool allows you to type in a word, then check the whole document to see if that word appears too often, is spelled correctly, or needs to be changed by adding the Replace element. Find/Replace does everything except the laundry!
A dictionary is also a great tool when you are writing. Refer to it often. Make sure you are using the correct word.
Keep a small inexpensive notebook handy. Jot down any fun, dramatic, or fascinating words you hear or read. Refer to the gems in this notebook when you write.
Read literary books. Pulp fiction is fine, but not as a permanent reading diet. Yes, popular mysteries and romances are great reads. However, like too many hamburgers and pizza, they offer a great number of words that take up space on the page (fat), yet provide little protein ( pure gold and sparkle!) to energize your creativity.

The How:

Bring up your trusty Find application, and search for those dull and innocuous words we writers tend to use over and over: Just, Very, Like, Some, etc. Whatever your repeater is, scrub it out, or change it to a more viable and powerful word. This is akin to weeding your literary garden.
Put your verbs to the test. If you pages are full of Walked, Ran, Looked, Sat etc, you need an injection of power verbs. Click Shift F7 (Thesaurus), or open whatever Thesaurus you intend to use. Outline these wimpy verbs one at a time, and come up with a stronger version: preferably one with power and pizzazz. Do this with every chapter. Verbs should demand, shout, and raise a frenzy of reader interest.
Do the same with the adjectives on your pages. If you have a fondness for adjectives like Pretty, Good, Nice, Little, Small, Happy, etc, you are operating in the "Bland Zone." Adjectives should sparkle, cajole, and lead us down the garden path without our realizing it.

The Next Step:

Replacing your dull and unimaginative verbs and adjectives with bigger, brighter, and better ones is a terrific start. Knowing how to string these "gems" together, into a gripping and imaginative set of chapters, is the next step along the road to publication. If you don't have the knack, take a writing class. They are available at all levels, and for a wide range of fees, both online and in person. Read some of the great literary novels. Burrow into the characters and plots until you get a feel for what makes them tick. Write what is in your heart, and what gives you a sense of fulfillment.

Help With Writing for Children:

How To Books:
Go to my "How-to Books that ROCK" for a list of insightful books on writing for children: PLUS comments from the writers who recommend them.
Great Writing Classes:
Click on my "Recommended Writing Classes" to find one that is right for you - either a college class, individual teacher, or online.
Writing Goals:
Click on "What to Aim for When Writing" for a short list of what makes a great book.

Write! Write! Write!
Read! Read! Read!

Always remember, the finest authors offer great "hooks." And the best bait for your hooks? Words that jump off the page with power and emotional punch, of course.


Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

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