Words have power. Unfortunately, there are writers who don’t understand or who misuse that power. Here are some ideas for how to develop that power.
Lingo is “a category of words that are made up from other parts of speech”. For example, adjectives are converted to nouns (e.g., great becomes greats, notable becomes notables). Nouns are converted to verbs (e.g., host becomes to host), or they’re clipped to form verbs (e.g., enthusiasm becomes enthuse, emotions becomes emote). Conversely, they may get padded (e.g., beef becomes beef up, teeth becomes put teeth into). In this form of jargon, associates become staffers, instead of just staff, and someone is going to fire off a note.
This kind of writing is inflated and empty. Made-up words and clichés fill pages without adding meaning. If you fall into this trap, you’ll end up sounding like every other hack writer.
Respect for words
English has one of the largest and most varied inventories of words. In order to stand out from the crowd, you need to develop a deep respect for words, and an almost obsessive curiosity about their origins and various meanings. To write distinctively, you need to spend time finding just the right ones for your work.
One way to do this is to read extensively. See how other writers choose their words, especially writers who have stood the test of time. But don’t just copy or mimic their style; be original. Try to figure out what it is about their writing that appeals to you (and thousands or millions of others). Select bits and pieces from all these authors and craft your own personal writing style, whether it’s fiction or even non-fiction.
In addition to reading as many books as you can, learn to use the dictionary, whether it’s a printed version of an online resource. And when you get stuck for just the right word, use a dictionary of synonyms or a thesaurus. It’s a great way to expand your vocabulary.
Sound and rhythm
This may seem like a strange heading for advice on writing, but think about it for a minute. Even though readers read with their eyes, they often “hear” what they’re reading. So, it matters how you pick words and string them together.
A great exercise to test your words and writing is to read your text out loud. Do you get bored listening to your text? Or does it excite or motivate you? Reading aloud will let you know where your words and flow might be creating problems.
So, how do you fix it? Try reversing the order of words in a sentence, or changing some of the words, or moving several sentences around, even moving paragraphs. Replace an ordingary words with one that you don’t often use or one that may be a little different or odd. Try changing the length of some sentences so that they don’t all have the same flat pattern of sound. Sometimes, a short punchy sentence, even a one-word sentence, can change the sound flow. For example:
He slowly and patiently explained the situation to her, and how it would affect them.
With that one word, she put an end to the discussion.
As a writer, words are your basic tools, though sometimes pictures, charts, and other images may be used to enhance your writing. So, learn to care about and use words with originality. And remember, someone out there is listening.
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