Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Art of Finding the Right Word, or Top 5 References for Writers

Words can be your friend.
When I am writing, sometimes I can't find the right words (Gasp! You're shocked, I know) to express the tone or attitude I am trying to build into my scene. I know what I want it to feel like, but I can't always find the perfect imagery on the first try, so I find myself stuck, banging my head against the wall, hoping the words I seek will magically appear on my computer screen. It can be the most frustrating feeling in the world to settle for the wrong words, knowing that you'll have to go back and change them later. I suppose that's what editing is for, but who wants to edit? Wouldn't it be wonderful to nail it the first time? (Disclaimer: I am not condoning skipping the editing process. It is often necessary to edit in order to prevent oneself from sounding like an idiot.)

During my hours of wandering aimlessly around the internet, I have stumbled upon several resources that have helped me in those times when I am grasping for the right word, phrase or image. The following links will direct you to very useful pages to reference when writing. If you write at your computer, you may want to bookmark some of these, or if you prefer to write "unplugged" (without that pesky internet to distract you), you may want to print these lists out and keep them in a file on your writing desk. After all, we can never have too many weapons to use against the mighty Writer's Block.

1. Body Language: Do you find yourself repeating the same phrases (she shook head, he furrowed his brow, she blinked in surprise)? Here is a list of body language and what it means. Is your character angry? Check the list and see if the corresponding posture seems fitting.

2. Emotions: Can't find just the right word to express how your character is feeling? Here's a cheat sheet. No more "she felt sad," try deflated, abandoned, demoralized... You can find the word with just the right shade of meaning with this cheat sheet!

3. Latin Love: Ever tried to write a character who was smarter than you? This list of common Latin words and phrases is especially helpful if you are writing a lawyer, a 19th century learned individual, or a condescending ass.

4. Watch Your Tone: This list of tone/attitude words can help put you in the right mindset to write as well as find the write word to express the feeling you are looking for in your writing. Caustic and Contemptuous, after all, are not equal, and should not be treated as such. And this list has handy definitions, so no need to grab the dictionary to help you decide which word you want to use!

5. He Said, She Said: This is the most important reference I am posting, if you haven't been impressed by any of the rest, prepare to be blown away by this one. One sure way to spot an amateur in writing is overuse of the word "said." There are a million different ways to say said, so why not use them? Why not say threatened, piped up, announced, drawled, challenged, countered... I could go on. My goal: eradicate the word "said" from my writing.

Do you have any secret weapons you use when writing? Please share!


Above image from Reconnections. Another interesting Google Image search: "words"

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