When writing, choose words thoughtfully; you are writing to communicate ideas and feelings for your reader to experience and understand.
Words make up your manuscript. The words you select determine how well you communicate with your audience. Your vocabulary and use of language can make or break a manuscript. A robust and expansive vocabulary is an important asset as a writer and can set you apart in your ability to describe a scene and propel a story.
Language is what we use to communicate thoughts, emotions, and ideas. Sometimes our written and verbal communication is successful: other times it isn’t. As a writer, your job is to select the words that best communicate what you mean while limiting the possibility of misinterpretation. An extensive vocabulary is one key to that. Without an accessible repository of words and their meanings at your disposal, your written communication will be cloudy and limited.
Even those of you with strong vocabularies may find yourselves straining to find the right word and turning to a simple but effective writing tool: a thesaurus.
Let’s say you want to describe how your character feels on the day her first child is born. The word “happy” may spring to mind. Then again, we use that same common word to describe an enormous range of pleasant feelings. You might be happy when you drink a good hot cup of coffee, but that’s not the same happy you felt the day your daughter was born.
There are a number of online thesauruses (or thesauri, if you prefer) you can lean on, but I highly recommend the Visual Thesaurus. Type in the word you want to replace, and the results return in mind map format. You can then click on any of the resulting options and expand them to provide further meaning. In this way, you can drill down until you find the precise word that conveys exactly what you want to say.
Let’s go back to my previous example of the word “happy” and the search for a more descriptive word for how I felt when my daughter was born. Some of the selections include joyful, blissful, content, bright, glad, euphoric, and elated. But the word that best describes my own feelings is “blessed.”
So what about that hot cup of coffee in the morning? I don’t feel blessed, gleeful, or euphoric. I feel content. I am content with my cup of coffee in my hand.
“Blessed” and “content” are both related to the word “happy,” and yet, they convey very different meanings.
A nimble working vocabulary allows you to say exactly what you mean and to be explicit, rather than vague. That said, use caution and choose words your audience will understand. You need to know your audience. It might be your intention to challenge them, but if your reader doesn’t understand your word choices, you may appear (and feel) intelligent, but you will lose your audience, and that makes for poor communication.
A thesaurus is an excellent writing tool because it helps you browse, drill down, or climb up to the perfect word, but do you want your readers to need one of their own to wade through the mess of over-complicated words you’ve packed on every page? Choose words carefully, and remember, you are writing to communicate thoughts, ideas, and feelings for your reader to experience and understand.
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