Saturday, October 09, 2010


"Easy reading is damn hard writing." Nathaniel Hawthorne

This past week, a friend read a sentence to me that they had written. It sounded very important, but, honestly, I didn't have a clue what it meant. I was unfamiliar with the words chosen; so, I completely missed the point that my friend wanted to make.

Why? Because each word matters. The words chosen by my friend, while they sounded important, meant nothing to me as a reader. Only after I stopped reading and looked up the words would I understand what the writer meant. As a storyteller, I don't want the reader to stop for any reason, let alone to look up a word I've written. Likewise, I don't want my reader to reread a sentence several times before they undedrstand it.

Obviously, revisions are crucial. But, are you conscious of your word choices as you write?


Christine said...

Great post. First draft writing is more about the story and getting it down. Second draft writing is more about plot revision and firming up my characterization. Conscious word choice happens after I go through the initial stages of revision. I don't worry about fancy words, echo words, "ly" words, and so on until I am ready. However, I did just print out a great self-editing tip list that I will incorporate into my first draft writing. Basically go back and fix basic editorial mistakes like "ly" words and passive voice and -- you get the picture. Then I'm back in the story and can progress forward.

Jeanie said...

Good point, Kat. It's about telling a good story not exhibiting our wonderful vocabularies. Anything that pulls the reader out of the story is to be avoided . . . at least that's what I aim for!

Christine, I would LOVE to see the link to that list you mentioned.

M.V.Freeman said...

I like this post...
There is truth that if you lose the reader than you are history. That said, I actually like words I don't understand, because then I read before and after to get a picture of what was meant. I love vocabulary. My last resort is the dictionary.

As a disclaimer, I don't write like that. My stories are very much action/adventure--much like a comic book/graphic novel in book form. But I like reading different things.

I'm very contradictory. :-)

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a great system Christine - like Jeanie, I'd love to see the link to the list you mentioned!

I love learning new words too M.V.Freeman! But, like you, I don't use them in my writing (anymore). :)

Jeanie said it perfectly, a good story is not the place to exhibit our vocabulary.

Kat Jones said...

Oops - that's actually my post. I forgot my name. :)

Christine said...

I'm getting her link right now. She's a screenwriter and novelist. Here is the actual link to the original post:

But I also recommend following her blog as well. She's got a lot of great advice and tips for us.

And now back to my own sorry plot.

Christine said...

Oh, that tip list was through a Candace Havens workshop. But A Sokoloff is awesome and I recommend her blog a lot.

Kate Lyon said...

Word choice is critical, even in the first draft. I spend quite a bit of time making hooks hookier and imagery more visual. When I do revisions, those spots show me where I have to beef up the emotion. I try to choose words that my characters would use and stay in deep POV.

Louisa Cornell said...

Great post, Kat!

I think the key is to remember what you are trying to convey. You want the reader to live your story. And they can't do that if they have to untangle what is going on. Action scenes need short quick words that speed up the reader's pace. More emotional scenes or scenes where the character is in deep POV you can go a little easier. Funny scenes require a certain rhythm to them and words are like musical notes. The right rhythm makes funny even funnier.

“Why haven’t I fired you?”

“You can’t pay my severance.”

“I knew there was a good reason.”

There is rhythm to this exchange. Add one word or take one word away and the rhythm would change and it might not come across as funny. (Which I hope it does because it is an exchange between my hero and his valet in my current and almost finished book!)

And as I write historicals I am really aware of word choice. Not only to my words need to convey the story to the reader but they have to be words that were used in the early nineteenth century in England. Fun, right?

Kat said...

Sokoloff is awesome! I read her blog regularly.

I agree Kate, staying true to your character is important too.

Louisa, you do have more to keep up with writing historicals! I definitely agree that the tone matters too.

Cari Hislop said...

Like Louisa I write regency romances so I think that makes me hyper aware of words at every stage in writing. Did you know the word 'nice' was a new word in the early 1800's?

I can't escape words that some readers won't have heard before because there's a whole world of every day items and objects etc that are no longer in common use, but I think people who read historical novels expect that. I know when I was a young reader it never bothered me to read about things I'd never heard before. What does irritate me as a reader is when the writer-invisible narrator starts pontificating or lecturing me instead of just describing what I'm meant to see. That drives me nuts! As for modern romances, I think you just have to be true to your characters. Some published writers seem to think they had to prove they know every word in the dictionary, and that is very irritating as a reader, but generally if I come across the odd word I've never heard before I'll look it up and then continue reading. I think if the story is flowing well most readers won't even notice it. They probably mentally skip over it.