I have a hard time with word choices. My vocabulary is stunted, shallow, darn near non-existent (I had to come up with that phrase at the end because I couldn’t think of another word for low, limited, very little). I often come up with odd analogies and metaphors that paint awkward pictures because I can’t think of the right word. I know there’s a word out there for what I’m trying to express, but I just don’t know it! Thus, I’ll say something like: “She walked with a dove’s gait.” When what I really want to say is that she is young and awkward, and can’t really control her movements, that she’s not as elegant as you would think she would be or can be.
Anyway, I was just going through my WiP and noticed all the times I used ‘bulk’ to refer to a person’s size, and ‘blood-soaked’ to describe a scene. There were a bunch of other word echoes that I systematically removed by taking out my thesaurus and inserting a different word that, hopefully, still maintained the spirit of the sentence.
So after doing that to about 10 chapters, I decided to call it quits. But before going to bed, I thought…hmmm, I should do another 25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day post. And, wouldn’t you guess it? The next piece of advice has to do with…
9. Word Choice
The poet Frank O’Hara is rumored to have given this advice: “If you think in pictures, write. If you think in words, paint.”
This turns out to provide some guidance on word choice. If you’re stuck on a word, sketch what it is you’re trying to describe. It doesn’t matter how good you are at drawing. What matters is the employment of a different skill set, a portion of the brain distinct from the one that has been searching for the mot juste.
Or consider a soundtrack for the scene. Let the scene play out in time along with the music, or read it aloud with the music as background. When you employ a different depictive medium than mere words, different associative threads (or synaptic connections) can be brought to bear on the task.
Some time this week, I’ll definitely have to give this a try. Most of my stories are inspired by music, so why not use it to help me express that story?
It could only help.