Words, Words, Words and How to Use Them Wisely in Fiction

Words are the tools of a writer. Devices and methods and techniques develop, but first you have to have words. Evaluate the vocabulary of the story.

Here are a few rules to think about.

Use short words when possible.
Short words are usually more powerful and understandable than long ones. For instance, compare guts and intestinal fortitude. There may be places to use the longer term, but make sure it fits. Shorter words are easier to read and, generally, to comprehend.

Don’t use $ 5.00 words without giving information to define them.
Example: The new executive, in the grip of an iconoclastic fervor, fired John. Restated to give meaning to the word, the sentence might say: The new executive, an iconoclast by nature, fired John in his effort to restructure the company. (An iconoclast is one who tears down established or cherished beliefs.)

Avoid negatives.
“The sun was not shining,” does not give much information about the weather. “It was dreary,” is much more descriptive. Generally, positive statements are more efficient and powerful and give more information than negative ones.

Write with nouns and verbs.
You had to write descriptive paragraphs in English class using adjectives and adverbs and now you have found a place to practice. Oh, joy! Don’t! Use them very sparingly and very well. The right modifier shines like a jewel while inappropriate or excessive ones clutter and drain.

Beware of trendy words used inappropriately.
Consider them informal or slang until they are accepted by Webster. Biggie, cheap shot, judgment call, power curve, gnarly and maven may have a place, but be sure they fit. Never force the use of unique words just to show off. Use this one with great caution: camoflanguage–it means language meant to hide rather than reveal facts. It should be very popular in many areas, such as, politics, business and maybe critiques.

The opposite advice is applicable when you intend to sound weak or tentative. This is useful if you want to define a timid character with conversation. In that case, reverse everything: Let him use scholarly words or trendy ones with many caveats to cover any situation and modifiers ad infinitum.

The following story illustrates some of these principles.

A cook had an aluminum pan that was stained with burned food. She found a surface cleaner that proclaimed instant success. Since she was very fond of the pan, she contacted a chef who was knowledgeable in such matters.

Her email read: ?I want to clean an aluminum pot with ScourPower. Will it do the job?”

He replied: “This cleaner is contraindicated in the problem you described. I recommend absolute abeyance at this time.”

She responded: “Thank you very much. I will use it as soon as I have time.”

He emailed her again: “This substance is highly detrimental to the surface of aluminum. Please consider alternative measures.”

She responded again: “I appreciate your interest. I will use it at once.”

He emailed her a third time: “Don’t use the stuff. It eats holes in aluminum.”

Words need to be powerful, dramatic, revealing and interesting, but first they have to be understood.

Gayle Haynes writes stories, poems and articles on subjects taken from her life experiences. She has been married for 50 years and has 6 children. She is a retired prison psychologist and caterer. She also makes and flies kites