Why Word Choice is ImportantIdeas are rarely new. So when you write, there’s a good chancethat what you are presenting has been said before. In order notto bore your audience, you have to make your writingunique and original. But how does one accomplish this? Write with style.Quality word choice is significant improving a to a writer’s style.Clever phrases, powerful verbs, just-right nouns . . . these lead toa voice all your own, one you will enjoy using and one that willkeep your audience reading.
Using Powerful VerbsVerbs come in two types: state of being verbs and actionverbs. State of being verbs are most often variations on the “to be” verb: is, was, are, were, has been . . . Most other verbs are action verbs, showing someone or something doing. These are the ones you can have fun with: blast, tip-toe, wrench, guzzle, fling, mutate, project, wink, plop, flutter, cascade, sink, yelp and snooze.
Using Powerful VerbsFirst of all, look for ways to use action verbs over state ofbeing verbs whenever possible. Original: A grandfather clock was in one corner and upon was a cat. Rewrite: A grandfather clock towered in one corner and upon flopped a cat. Original: The teacher is at her desk while the kindergarteners are all over the room. Rewrite: The teacher cowers at her desk while the kindergarteners sprint all over the room.You can see how the rewrites are superior and moreappealing sentences.
Using Powerful VerbsSome action verbs are very common and over used.Replace boring action verbs with ones that are not onlysnappy, but precise. Consider this sentence: “No,” she said and walked out of the room.The verbs are actions verbs, but not very exciting ones.Let’s try a few more possibilities: “No,” she murmured and shuffled out of the room. “No,” she bellowed and stormed out of the room. “No,” she gasped and backed out of the room. “No,” she screeched and bolted out of the room.
Using Precise NounsThe man walked into the room. The nouns in the sentence above are vague, generaland unexciting.The priest walked into the courtroom. Isn’t that better? Strive to use interesting, precise nouns to describe objects and people.Now write your, replacing the words “man” and “room” from theOriginal (#4a on your notes).
Using Precise NounsHere’s another example:Original: A dog bounded across the yard, scaring thegroup half to death.Rewrite 1: A Doberman Pincher bounded across the estate,scaring the vandals half to death.Rewrite 2: A toy poodle bounded across the Astroturf, scaring the trick-o-treaters half to death.Do your own rewrite of the original (#4b on you notes).
Using AdjectivesUse adjectives with caution. One mistake of beginningwriters trying to improve their word choice is to go into “adjective overload.”Here’s an example of what NOT to do: The lovely, fluffy, wonderful pillow helped me get a peaceful, relaxing and great night’s sleep. Boomer, our hyper, crazy, big, furry dog, licked my little cousin’s small pink hand until she gave him a treat.
Using Adjectives“Adjective overload” doesn’t just happen when long stringsof adjectives get thrown into a sentence. Some writers will only useone adjective per noun, but the problem is when they use anadjective for EVERY noun.Another example of what NOT to do: My fantastic friend gave me a wonderful present for my very special day. It was an awesome poster of a cute kitten and an adorable puppy playing. It sure made up for the terrible name she called me on that awful school day last week.
Using AdjectivesIf you were gagging on that last example, you tuned into thefact that many commonly used adjectives are just that –common and overused – and a bit sickening when used tooheavily.Avoid adjectives such as wonderful, pretty, lovely, great,awful, terrible and the like. These words “tell” ratherthan “show” and make for boring reading. How was theday beautiful? Describe it!
Using Adjectives Okay, Thorsen, so what DO we do?Use strong, descriptive adjectives only when they really addto an idea. Consider lively adjectives such as these:blistered sun-kissed raspy saturated silkenpapery bejeweled turbid willful eeriegritty catastrophic acrid tattered hauntingcrystalline redundant soulless variegated cynicalsinuous unruly sluggish vacuous bitterdiscombobulated scaly brazen polished lucid
Using AdjectivesThose listed on the last slide are just a few examples ofhundreds of adjective possibilities. Here are a few in use:• We followed the sinuous path of the river through the forest.• Cortez’s bitter conquest of the Mayans was the beginning Western rule in the Americas.• Grace’s haunting voice lilted over the airwaves.• The sluggish clerk scanned our items, grabbing each with scaly hands, which made me reach for the travel-sized bottle of hand lotion displayed in the checkout line.
Using AdverbsWhereas an adjective describes a noun, an ADVERBdescribes, who would have guessed it, a verb. Most adverbsare “ly” words.Again, you want to avoid over using adverbs, but let’s take alook at a few good examples in action:• The thief stealthy crept down the museum hallway.• Tirelessly trudging through the mud, the oxen harnessed to the plow continued their thankless job.• Superman intuitively sensed the danger.
Creative PhrasingPhrasing is probably the area where you can have the mostcreative fun in writing. Creative phrasing is takingordinary words and phrasing them together in a unique,pleasing manner.Look at these words to describe a desert scene: cactus, sand,windy, hills, arid, sun-baked, blue sky, expansive,tumbleweed, harsh, unforgiving, sparse, rocky, rigidUse these some of these words creatively to create adescriptive picture of a desert scene (#10 on your notes).
Creative PhrasingHere are some of the combinations I came up with:• cactus-ridden, sun-baked hills of sand• Expansive tracts of gritty sand gave home to sedentary cactus and racing tumbleweed• the sharps winds of the desert lifted sand into the expansive sky• spikes of cactus rose up into the unerring blue• a palace of harsh, wind-driven sands and sun-baked rocks• a arid canvas of sand carpets and cactus and topsy-turvy tumbleweed• thirsty waves of sand• the fat dollop of a barrel cactus
Creative PhrasingMany times, this just take a little rearranging of words youalready have.Original: As I drove along the highway, I could see the summit ofPasachoa off to my left. Having hiked on it, I know it’s green, andall of its contours make it look like some grabbed it and twisted it,but today I couldn’t see much because the windows were fogged up.Rewrite: The green, twisted summit of Pasachoa slid by tomy left, but I could see little more than a dark splotchthrough the veil of fog resting on the windows.
Creative PhrasingHere are a few examples from my own writing. These arefrom an essay about Christmas lights: electric holiday frenzy icicle merriment psychedelic in-your-face festivenessFrom an essay about traveling in Peru: a flurry of confused activity mountains draped in noble robes of snow a makeshift woolen cocoon a dark sequined mantle (to describe the night sky)
Use “Dense” WordsOnce a month is monthly.Something new is novel.People they don’t know are strangers.Something impossible to imagine is inconceivable.To think about for a long time is to ponder.Throughout the whole year is periodically.Over and over again is redundant or incessant.Something that doesn’t last long is fleeting.Refusing to follow directions is obstinate.
Use “Dense” WordsThe previous slide just gives a few examples of howyou can reduce wordiness and improve the flow ofyour sentences.A big vocabulary helps, but is not necessary. Just payattention to the words you use and ask yourself ifanything better is available.Remaining attentive to your writing is the key to improving it!
Words to AvoidAvoid “like” as a modifier. NO: I was, like, horrified by the situation. YES! I was horrified by the situation.Avoid “like” as a replacement for said or synonyms. NO: Layla was like, “No way!” YES! Layla shrieked, “No way!”
Words to Avoid (or use in serious moderation)run thing stuff good badwent said pretty ugly awfulnice sucks mad sad happyget well so
Avoiding ClichésA cliché is an overused expression. Many clichés aresimiles, such as “smokes like a chimney” or “like abump on a log.”While clichés are often colorful, they are alsounoriginal and tired. Any writer can throw one in,and far too many do, degrading the quality and art ofthe writing.
Avoiding ClichésMore examples: Couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag Everything is coming up roses Let the cat out of the bag Raining cats and dogs Safe and sound Snug as a bug Kicked the bucket Live and learn No guts, no glory First and foremost
Avoiding ClichésThere are hundreds more clichés than the ones just listed.How do you spot one in your writing so that you know toreplace it? Ask yourself if you’ve heard that before, more thanjust once or twice. If so, it’s probably a cliché.
Avoiding ClichésHow do you replace a cliché? Be creative! Use description.Look at the difference between these two sentences: Cliché: The weather was awful! It was raining cats and dogs! Creative: Thick rain drops pounded the pavement with force, sending pedestrians running for cover.Notice how the second sentence is much more interestingand descriptive? Challenge yourself to, as the joke goes,avoid clichés like the plague. Har, har, har.
Using the ThesaurusA thesaurus is a lot like a can of paint: it has the potential tohelp you or cause a lot of harm.Many writers new to the thesaurus make the mistake ofchoosing big, academic-sounding words that they really don’tknow. While synonyms are similar, they are nuanced enoughthat the word you choose has the potential to throw off yourreader and make you look silly. Plus, many words have morethan one meaning. If you choose a synonym for an alternatemeaning to the one you are using, it makes your sentence soundquite strange.
Using the ThesaurusThe best use of a thesaurus is to find word you know, butjust hadn’t thought of at the moment. For example, let’ssay you want to describe something a soft – a voice, hair, theflowers of a petal, skin or music. “Soft” replacements: silky, downy, velvety, suppleThe words mellifluous and faint can also replace soft, butonly for sounds. Diffused and dim work for only for light orcolor.Chances are you know most of these words, you just might not
Using the ThesaurusI even used the MSWord thesaurus in writing this PowerPoint presentation. To remedy my over-use of the wordinteresting, I looked it up and found many alternatives –words I know, but just hadnt thought of at that moment.Interesting: appealing, attractive, motivating, exciting, fascinating, attention-grabbing, remarkable, note- worthy, catchyObviously, not all of these words will work for alloccasions, so choose your words carefully!
Last WordGood word choice does take time and thought, although itcomes easier the more you practice. Slow down, consideryour words when you write and revise, and you will begin tosee a dramatic improvement in the quality of your writing.Reading is another great way to help improve your wordchoice. Nothing builds a strong vocabulary bank likereading books!