June 23, 2010

Expanding vocabulary and finding the right words

An excellent skill for a writer to develop is how to express with less. Contrary to popular belief, being able to utilise a copious amount of flowery language isn't necessarily the path to good (modern) writing. Some writers can manage wordiness if it fits their style, while others triumph in taking the minimalist approach. Back in the days when I wrote novels about terrible tragic romances with lots of sighing,  I expanded my book with elaborate words because I believed that more is more. My short story writing has reformed my wicked ways, and now instead of excessive padding aiming to compete with Russian doorstoppers, I now condense short stories into 4000 words or less, hence: cutting out the crap. You learn more by reducing your word count; it has made my writing tighter for certain.

Finding the right words is important: such as saying something with one excellent verb or noun as a descriptive replacement for the weak verb + adverb or the weak noun + adjective combinations. I plead guilty to occasional overuse of adjectives, less adverbs though since I caught the adverb cooties from having read too much on writing (I'm looking at you Mr. Stephen King). Sometimes there will be a word, too vague to convey your meaning and you hit the thesaurus for a better one.

But beware of thesauruses, named akin to a species of Dinosaur they should be treated with the same caution! Sometimes a word, even the perfect one found while perusing is a bad choice if no one knows what the word means. None of us, even literary readers want to read a book which has you reaching for the dictionary every five seconds; maybe the most educated Oxford don might be able to follow your prose, but in the lean, mean, fighting machine world of publishing it needs to appeal to the average person. Play it by eye, if the replacement word doesn't have you reaching for the dictionary then it's good to go. Read more and your vocabulary will expand.

Also think of your sentences. While editing this post I've come across many longwinded phrases which could do with a haircut. Eliminating passive voice helps, because instead of I was walking you'd use I walked: Immediately you cut a word - yay! Annihilate verbs when you don't need them and cut out pleonastic words like "just, actually, this" etc. will reduce word count.

The big question is why? Why should one cut out words? Think of it this way, expressing with less impacts more and clarifies more. Too many words and we trip over sentences.

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