Friday, May 27, 2011

Cowboys and Dragons at the Cafe: Susan's Beginning

Thoughts on Words

No one picks up a book to read about what they have done in their ordinary life. Books are meant to be entertaining, to remove the reader from everyday life, boredom, everyday anxieties. To give a rest from being oneself.

As writers, we have a responsibility to engage the reader in an entertaining way, and I also believe, we should encourage them to keep reading in the future. To manage that, we must pay attention to how we use words, and to which words are chosen.

In today's American culture, a lot of entertainment is by formula, in TV, movies, and in video games. Books seem to have more freedom from these constrictions, and I feel it would benefit our national intelligence levels to exercise readers' brains by writing in more challenging forms than the entertainment industry is using.

To live through another character has great value to most of us readers. We get to have more than one life, so to speak, for a short while. We get to feel pain, joy, sexual activity, frights, curiosity, and other methods of interpreting life in general. How valuable. And, best of all, when that life gets to be too much for us, we simply close the book for a while and enjoy our simpler life in our own world.

A single adjective or adverb, well chosen, can take the place of an entire boring descriptive sentence. Study the great writers' works and notice how you are given motives, visuals, and sensory input by the use of a single word well placed here and there.

Using synonyms in place of simple words is recommended in every lesson for writers, and certainly words such as sneak and waddled serve writers well to not only describe a movement, but also a subtle motivation. In other words, "walk" has been expanded not only visually, but empathetically, and we feel the action, we put ourselves right there in the street where the action is taking place. This is what books can do that visual entertainments cannot do.

Without using a greater vocabulary than is normally encountered in our worldly life, we cannot convey the fascinating realms that draw loyal readers. Don't dumb down your work. Let yourself reveal to the reader concepts beyond the boring, the ordinary. Let the reader have to grab a dictionary at least twice during the novel, or let the extraordinary words reveal their own meaning within the context of the sentence. You are writing because you want to fascinate a reader. Stretch their brains!


Some interesting words for "walk"

Gait, plod, amble, mince, strut, stram, saunter, somnambulate (to be used in a murder mystery?)

I have found the Crossword Puzzle Dictionary by Andrew Swanfeldt to be extremely useful when looking for synonyms. It has tons more info than any thesaurus.

Cowboys and Dragons at the Cafe: Susan's Beginning: "Em closed her eyes against the setting sun reflecting off the ocean waters. The daytime wind had at last died down and it was safe to lie on..."


  1. How many out there prefer paper pages to an
    e-reader? Are writers skewed to a preference in one direction over that chosen by people who just read books?

  2. Word choices...In our critic group, Susan is the one who dings us for boring word choices. When I'm in the zone, cool words come easily. The problem is, in order to get a whole story down on the page, I gotta write when I'm not in the zone. That's when a thesaurus comes in handy.

    Good post, Susan.

  3. I never thought of the crossword puzzle dictionary. Yeah, I can see it in place of a thesaurus.

    Gotta be careful with those carefully chosen words though; I've seen some people pack in so many of the flowery, descriptive words it overwhelms the narrative. But yeah, using ambled instead of walked gives a clearer picture of the movement.

    I don't mind editing my writing. I feel that's when I'm really looking at the story for the impact of the words.