Right Word, Wrong Word . . . Right?

Some manuscripts/stories offer bare-bones details and descriptions.  That tends to lean toward flatness . . . a story that doesn’t have much oomph.  To be engaging, there should be a certain level of information that provides mental images/pictures that enable readers to envision what’s transpiring.  No, we don’t need to know every detail about a character or setting, but it helps if we have a decent sketch.

Using the right words—like adjectives and adverbs—helps with that sketch.  But, as we know, all things in moderation.  You don’t want to add so many that the manuscript/story has the opposite effect: instead of bare bones, there’s info overload.

    • Bare bones: “I see Mr. Montague was murdered with a knife,” Inspector Rawlins said, looking down at the body on the floor.
    • Too many bones: “I see poor Mr. Montague, the town’s banker, was brutally murdered with a boning knife comprised of 31 layers of chrome stainless steel, which clearly penetrated his frail heart,” Inspector Rawlins dramatically declared as he pointed a scarred finger at the crumpled body lying face-down on the red-and-green linoleum floor that had seen many decades pass.
    • Happy Medium: “I see Mr. Montague was murdered with a boning knife,” Inspector Rawlins said solemnly.  He scratched his stubbled chin as he studied the middle-aged banker lying face-down on the linoleum floor.

Speaking of bones, one bone of contention [debatable, of course] is word usage.  Some writers make verbs out of nouns, or vice versa.  Sometimes, it’s doable, given the action or dialogue.  Certainly characters—well defined ones <clearing of throat>—have accents, speech impediments, phrases/words that are central to them.  So, yes, words may be used incorrectly because that assists in painting a picture of a given character.  What doesn’t work?  Using words that aren’t right . . . as in incorrect.

This can happen when a writer decides to consult a thesaurus to replace a word but doesn’t consider the definition, or simply uses a word he/she thinks might work (or sound good).

Quick examples:

    • She looked at Lee.  “I won’t leave you, ever,” she intimated.
    • To intimate generally means to hint or imply or provide information indirectly.  It shouldn’t be used to make an outright statement.
    • Tom watched Marshall and Beatrice hurry to the cabin.  He wondered.
    • That’s wonderful that he wondered—but what about?  Some words require a little “wrapping” to make them complete.
    • The group departed, leaving them alone at the town’s edge.  She waved and mused, and headed back.
    • Maybe she mused about the group departing, maybe about being at the edge of town . . . maybe what she’d have for dinner.  Who knows?  Maybe that musing isn’t even central to the action or story—and if it’s not central, then don’t keep it.

A story should captivate the reader from the get-go.  Nothing new there.  Words paint pictures, create images, show what we can’t see . . . use them wisely . . . use them well.  😉

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