Friday, June 25, 2010

Writing tip -- Words

I began re-reading John Gardner's Becoming a Writer, a book I often read for inspiration. I came across two questions he asked about a new writer. Does he have enough words? Does he have too many words? I'll add a third. Does he have the right words.

When we begin writing, we often fall into the first question, Not having enough words and we write lean sentences that are often passive. Think of the books you read in grade school These were short sentences. Then we discovered adjectives and adverbs and headed in the other directions. I'll admit I love adjectives and try to shun adverbs. There are some times when adverbs are useful and necessary.

Adjectives are a different thing. They can bring life to a stale sentence but they can also form strings to confuse the reader. The object is to select the right one, rather then the three or four that come close. The beautiful woman. That's very ordinary. The tall, lean, striking woman. That's descriptive. How about the streamlined woman. One thing that often happens and I've been guilty of this is to use the same adjective over and over again. Why? It's the first thing that pops into the writer's mine. What one has to do when revising is look for the right word for each of the beautifuls.

Now we come to phrases and the like. There's nothing more exciting to read is a clever turn of phrase. Some writers can't get enough of them and will string wonderful ones together, one after one after one. Sometimes the problem is they are all clever and seem to fit the character or the action. The problem lies is by luring the reader into seeing the beauty of the words and forgetting the characters and the story. Story is what it's about.

So when writing there are three questions to ask Do I have enough words to tell the story? Do I have too many words? Do I have the right words? Revise until you feel you do but try not to agonize over every word in the story until all you are doing is replacing one word with another.

3 comments:

Wendy Marcus said...

Great Post, Janet!
When I started writing, the first thing I did was take one of my son's old notebooks and create a word journal. Every time I read an interesting word I wrote it down. I couldn't wait to use incredulity in one of my stories!

Now, I still write down unusual words, only not as much. When I write, I try not to use words I wouldn't use in a conversation.

Shana Brodsky said...

I bet Jennifer would like to publish this article in the HV RWA newsletter!

Liz said...

I also have a word journal and keep a list of scents from candle and perfume descriptions.