ECHOES

 

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One of the first books I can remember reading as a youngster was Heidi.

I was fascinated by the life she led on the mountaintops with her grandfather. I begged my parents to take me on a trip up north so that I could hear my voice echo from the  mountains in northern Arizona.

ECHOES.

Who would have guessed that, years later, I would loathe them???

With so many different words to choose from, writers have little excuse for using the same ones over and over again.

There are a number of self-editing programs out there. Each one is able to help authors avoid this pitfall.

In the program I use, this is found under REPEATS (words) and ECHOES (phrases).

Much to my dismay, I always find that I am guilty of many of these on any given page.

Why do I find myself using the same words so often?

I think it is because once I have used a certain word, it is in the forefront of my mind. Then, when the next occasion presents itself, it is on the tip of my tongue, ready to be quickly and conveniently typed onto the page again.

For example, I actually used the word slipped FIVE times in two consecutive paragraphs—each time, referring to a different one of its multiple meanings:

He slipped into (Got into the car easily).

He slipped. (Fell).

He slipped her five dollars. (Gave someone money without others noticing).

He slipped. (Not meaning to, he revealed a secret.)

He slipped up. (Made a careless mistake).

When my editing program flags one of these multiple uses within close proximity, I often use my Thesaurus to find possible substitutes.

Just another one of those pitfalls authors need to avoid…

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Choosing the Perfect Words

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In this world of texting, Twitter, and Facebook, it is more important than ever to watch our words, making sure we aren’t using offensive language or words that can be misinterpreted.

For writers, it is important to choose our words carefully because—even though they may be synonyms—an ever so slight variation in meaning can change the impact on and interpretation by the reader.

That is why a Thesaurus is on my desk at all times. It helps me choose the exact words to represent feelings, intentions, descriptions and so on. These words also make fine distinctions between meanings—and what you do, or do not, want to portray.

Here’s a recent example. My word choices for the concept of “getting used to” were:

Succumb (to)

Tolerate

Embrace

Acquiesce

I found that tolerate, embrace, and acquiesce meant “to accept,” whereas  succumb did not.

Tolerate and embrace meant to support.

Embrace meant to welcome.

But, acquiesce and tolerate meant to “put up with.”

Succumb meant to surrender or die from.

So, these words, although similar enough, could be placed in order on a continuum, from less to more positive:

SUCCUMB>ACQUIESCE and TOLERATE>EMBRACE

Once I read back my paragraph in light of the intended meaning, I was able to easily choose the perfect word.

It took a little work, but it was worth it.

You might say I embraced the process!

Inspirational Words With a Twist

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Watch your thoughts,

for they become Words.

Watch your words,

for they become actions.

The are the beginning lines of a well-known inspirational poem.

However, as I look at them, I see a hidden message for us writers.

When I first began writing, I had to break myself of the habit of telling.

I remember having so many critiques returned to me with the following in the comment section:

“Give more thoughts…show more action.”

How?

Word choice.

In a lesson for my young students, I now give an example of how choosing the correct words can make a huge difference in the meaning that is portrayed:

Max walked down the street.

Max ran down the street.

Max skipped down the street.

Max hobbled down the street.

Max fled down the street.

And on and on…

Each new verb changes the picture for our minds’ eye.

And that picture, changes the mood…the intent…the meaning.

A dictionary, a thesaurus.

These are a writer’s best friends—especially the thesaurus.

They make our work more accurate

more vivid

more exciting.

They change telling stories into “word movies” and ho-hum books into sheer excitement for the reader.

The Problem With Repetition

Continuing on from my last post…

Another thing I realized as I scanned my manuscript was that I had used a lot of exclamation points in my writing. (I must really think my writing is exciting!!!!!!!!!)

With most things, the more you do them, say them, express them, the less effective they become.

Or, to say it another way:

A SMALL DOSE GOES A LONG WAY.

Exclamation points should be used sparingly and, by and large, in dialogue. After all, their purpose is to denote excitement. But, remember, not all things are equally exciting, so be careful not to use them too often. Then, when you do use them, the reader will pay attention.

Another thing that I remarked on before (when talking about pet peeves, I believe) is words that are repeated over and over. Take the word “walked”. There are so many more words—exciting ones— that can be used in its place: sauntered, ambled, jaunted…

This problem is easily fixed by going under the EDIT tab and clicking on FIND. You can type in a word you think you may have used too often, and your computer will search your manuscript for it, page by page. It is up to you whether you want to keep a given sentence as you originally wrote it, or whether you want to replace it. It’s as simple as that.

Don’t forget, your Thesaurus gives you plenty of alternative words to use. When you run out of replacement words, you can always cycle through your list, again. Or, you can try rewriting your sentences so they read altogether differently.

More observations next time. I’m always open to questions, also. If I don’t know the answer (which I very likely may not) I will find out…

Brenda

When I Forget the Words

Have you seen instances on television of celebrities, football players, and even olympians who don’t know the correct words to the Star Spangled Banner? Or, perhaps witnessed an interview of a person who got tongue-tied, searching frantically for just that right word?

As writers, we have it a little easier than that. Using our computers, we can write and rewrite until we get the words to flow “just right”. We can use a thesaurus and a dictionary to help us choose words and check on meanings.

I recently bought a book called The Describer’s Dictionary by David Grambs. I must confess I have just begun to use it, but to give you an example of how it works, say you want to describe the color black. The book gives these words: ebony, ebon, sable, jet, onyx, ink black, coal black, anthracite.  The book is divided into words for various Shapes, Patterns and Edges, Surfaces and Textures, Light and Colors, etc.

A book I’ve used a LOT, is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I truly believe no fiction writer should be without this book. It includes all emotions in an easy-to-use alphabetical format that is further broken down into Physical Signals, Internal Sensations, Mental Responses, Cues of Acute or Long Term experiences of an emotion, emotions that specific examples May Escalate To, and Cues of Suppressed emotions. I especially like the Writer’s Tip which is provided at the bottom of each listed emotion.

So, there are resources out there. I am slowly finding them. If you know of any others that writers might find useful, please let me know. One I’d find extremely useful would be substitutions for adverbs. If there isn’t one out there, already, maybe this would be a project you’d be interested in taking on!

Brenda