Playing with Words (Because Nobody Else Will Play with You)


Okay, the plot to your story is planned, your characters are developed, and all that’s left to do is get writing.  But after you finish it you discover that, like a plot twist, something went wrong.

You read it and it falls flat despite your brilliant ideas.  Or worse yet, a beta reader gives it back to you with a shrug and an “Eh.”  And that’s when you realize the words on the page are merely functional.  They need some zing and zap to make your writing sparkle.

We’re going beyond the show, don’t tell concept here.  We’re going to dissect the words themselves (ew, gross!).

The thesaurus is one of my best friends (and I’ve always been a dinosaur nut as a kid … sorry, couldn’t resist).  “He cried out” may not be precise enough for the image you want to project.  Maybe he actually yowled, or bellowed, or squealed, or yammered.

Throwing in some alliteration can get certain phrases to click.  Repeated letters in words draw attention to them, conveying they mean more than their simple dictionary definition (draw dictionary definition … isn’t that sold as Pictionary?).  They are also used to boost memory or create a mood or (attempt to) insert humor.

Reading the story aloud can help (hint: do this when nobody is around to call the people with butterfly nets and those long-sleeved jackets).  Is there a pleasant rhythm to the way your words flow together, or do they seem to clank and clunk?  Think of the flow of poetry and vary the length of sentences.

As in all things, moderation is the key, or you wind up with the dreaded purple prose.  If you’re unfamiliar with what that is, it sounds something like this:

It was a bright and sunny day.  The radiant daystar, that golden orb and glorious lamp of heaven, prodigiously illuminated the proliferous landscape with aestival and resplendent effulgence that inspired the everlasting soul and prompted Peter to pipe vociferations while he pranced out to his pepper patch and picked a peck to pickle for the parish picnic.

Having that much fun should be illegal….

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