Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Choose your words wisely

Writers everywhere want to avoid cliches like the plague. Sometimes as I write, I just let the words throw themselves up onto the page and decide I'll go back to edit later. Sometimes I painstakingly choose every word, trying to get the right feel and emotions I want conveyed right then. Words mean something--we're not just happy and we're not just mad. There are different levels for each emotion.

The thesaurus offers many, many options for happy: blessed, blissful, blithe, captivated, cheerful, chipper, content, delighted, ecstatic, elated...on and on and on. I'm stopping there because two of the words you can substitute happy for are perfect for making the point I haven't gotten to yet.

Happy is such a broad, general word and is used frequently. As a writer, not only do you want to convey the level of their happiness, you want to choose words that are different and not used all day, every day. Utilizing the thesaurus, you can show the depth of your character's happiness by subbing in cheerful--in my mind it's on the more mild level of happy. Your main character's boyfriend finally proposes, your character loves him and wants to spend her life with him--she's happy. How happy? Is she cheerful? Probably, but that wouldn't necessarily be the right word. Is she content? Again, probably, again not the right word. Ecstatic? Yeah, of course she is. She's jumping up and down, smiling, laughing, hugging and kissing him, shouting "Yes!" for the entire world to hear.

Now, what's my point? My point is just because the thesaurus offers you hundreds of options, or even a few options, for the word you feel is over used--don't do it! I read a book last night where the character was snuggling with her boyfriend, head on his shoulders. When the car stopped, she "elevated her head." Really, pretty sure saying the character lifted her head would have been okay. In fact, the ordinariness of it would have been better because elevated read very awkwardly and pulled me out of the moment. She also wrote that "her mouth sinks into a frown." Again, awkward. Her mouth sinks? Makes me visualize a face that's melting and the mouth sinks down because the skin's, well, melting.

I was using the thesaurus to replace "too much." As I read through the synonyms offered, I came across fulsomeness. Could I choose fulsomeness? Yes--except when I read its definition, it was more of a "too much" in the sense of the parties the Capitol threw in The Hunger Games--offensive to good taste, especially as being excessive. Not the right context. I found, and chose, overabundance because it's a common enough word that readers will know and it fit my scene perfectly. And I also figured, it'd be conspicuous if I used fulsomeness instead of overabundance. The reader, at least I would, think, "hmm, someone's been playing in the thesaurus."

Use words you use, not words you wished you used. Some writers get away with using big words because they use them correctly and without making me feel like they're rubbing their intelligence in my face. Other writers use big words and you know it's because they're trying too hard or they've been playing in their thesaurus.

Avoid being cliche without using awkward words that really aren't appropriate for what you're writing. "He's full of passion"--in romance novels, very cliche. However, it's cliche because it works so well and saying "He's full of ardor" sounds awkward and like maybe he's smelly.