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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Choosing Vibrant Words

YOU NEED TO CHOOSE WORDS THAT ARE BOTH UNDERSTANDABLE AND VIBRANT.

Vibrant:

Your description should include all five senses--sight, smell, taste, touch, sound. This will bring your reader into the story, help them to experience what the character is experiencing. This will create the atmosphere, this will make the reader forget the real world for the fictional one.

Use specific nouns and adjectives. Not "a sad girl," but "a suicidal 14-year-old soccer player." Not "a sunny neighborhood," but "a tree-less suburb of monotonous cookie-cutter development homes."

Use active verbs. A few rules of thumb for verbs:

1) "To be" verbs are weak. "She was on the stage" versus "she quaked on the stage," or "she sparkled on the stage."

2) "Had" is jarring to the reader.

Joy remembered the time she had gone to the grocery store and had picked up a few sodas, but then Johnny had driven up in his motorcycle and had asked her if she wanted a lift. She had coyly refused with her mouth but her heart had screamed yes. Oh, if only she hadn't been so stupid.

If you're describing a past event being recalled, use one "had" in the beginning, and then maybe one "had" at the end, and then continue with the present narrative:

Joy remembered the time she had gone to the grocery store and picked up a few sodas, but then Johnny drove up in his motorcycle and asked her if she wanted a lift. She coyly refused with her mouth but her heart screamed yes. Oh, if only she hadn't been so stupid.

3) Adverbs should be minimized. The current writing trend is to eliminate them as ruthlessly (haha) as possible, but in general, they're just tedious after a while. Replace adverbs with more specific verbs. "She angrily walked to the front door and quickly opened it," versus "She flounced to the front door and yanked it open."

If you do need to use an adverb, put it at the beginning or the end of the sentence for the most vivid effect: "Efficiently, she cleared the desk." "He whined monotonously."

Exercise:

Edit something you've written. Use the following checklist:

1) Did you use all five senses?
2) Did you use specific nouns? Active verbs?
3) Do a Find for "to be" verbs (was, is, etc.) and "had.".
4) Do a Find for "ly." You may be surprised how many you find.

Next: The Larger Picture of Character, Setting, and Story

NOTE: Information in this article is taken from the classic "Techniques of the Selling Writer" by Dwight V. Swain.

Back to Articles from Swain

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