Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V - Vocabulary

(Fun fact: V day is also my Virology exam day. Wish me luck!)

Every writer knows the importance of choosing the right word. We're required to express ourselves clearly and concisely. Talking loudly is yelling. Hitting furiously is smashing. The right word will lighten your text and ease any reader’s experience. It will give your sentences punch and create vivid images. The right word is a writer's best friend.

What if you don't know enough words? How does a writer pick the right word if he doesn't know it exists?

This is one of my biggest problems. In day-to-day writing such as this blog, I get along just fine. I'm almost undistinguishable from a native English speaker (of course if I did vlogs it'd be another story. You guys could poke fun at my accent).

Novels require more, however, and to me this seems even truer with fantasy and science-fiction. Sound too much like a modern-day speaker and you'll lose the feeling of a different world. This little step above the norm may not seem like much, but it becomes a real challenge for me.

I know the meaning to a lot of words. No problems when I read. When I write, however, those words aren't the ones that come to my mind. I'll use the same adjectives, verbs and clothes names over and over in a first draft (the truth is that my clothing and food vocabulary is horrible. No kidding, it’s hilarious how often I have to look up basic clothing names!).

Learning new vocabulary means using it over and over, until it becomes natural. Not an easy task.

I must love challenges, because I never paused to think about this. I noticed it as I began reading again, and noticed the difference. It’s a good thing I have revisions and thesaurus. The second one is a great friend, if you know enough to avoid the wrong-synonym pitfall.

And I’m sure, deep down, that this problem isn’t limited to me. Perhaps it’s more frequent. I’d bet there are a lot of writers out there who get annoyed or stumped because this famous right word is escaping them, slipping through their fingers.

So, I say, no good reasons not to improve my vocabulary.  After all, who wouldn't want to learn new words? Words are fun!


  1. Oh, getting the exact right word can drive me nuts. I have a pretty good vocabulary from reading so much (like most writers), but I can't always get the right word to surface when I need it. First drafts, especially, can be a little dull in the word choice category. But when I do connect with just the right word -- priceless.

    Good choice for V.

  2. "How does a writer pick the right word if he doesn't know it exists?"

    She gets a thesaurus and beats the story and reader about the head and face with it! Ha ha! Take that! And that!

    No? Um...

  3. I have that problem a lot. Words will sometimes escape me, and I'm stuck using filler words until I can think of that magical elusive word.

    This reminds me of the movie "Throw Momma From the Train", with Billy Crystal and Danny Devito--"the night was...humid."

  4. LG: Priceless is, indeed, the word. It's a wonderful feeling. (and for everything else, there's Mastercard).

    Margo: Interesting use of the thesaurus! Maybe if you beat the reader hard enough with it, he won't have the strength to complain.

    Akari: When words escape me like that, I imagine they're tiny soaps and I'm in the shower. It doesn't help finding the right one, but I don't feel quite as irritated.

  5. I had this problem last night. My husband and I were talking about something going on at his work and I wanted to say that I do not support......something........and the conversation trailed off because I couldn't think of the word for what I didn't support.

    I kept saying things like, "It's like 'empowering' but evil."

    It came to me much later when I yelled out, "ENABLE! I do not support enabling people to be awful!" in the middle of a room full of people eating their Mexican food.

  6. Claudie, Hmm... Interesting. Maybe visualization like that will help me.

    Sommer, I do that ALL THE TIME! I'll start talking and then just trail off because I can't think of the word. I'll be like, "you know--the thingy-thing that you use to do that thing."
    I can be pretty vague. No wonder people misunderstand me. I speak jibberish.

  7. Heehee, I do that too, very often. Twice as often in english than in french. You should've heard me trying to describe curtains once.

    I do believe the vocabulary phenomenon is worse when we talk. It is for me. My brain is spinning so fast to say the right thing and to say them the right way, I forget half the words I know.

  8. First of all, good luck on the test today!

    I think it was LJ who mentioned something about her first drafts having "simple" words. Yeah, that's me. Actually, I'm starting to wonder if my words will ever get better. Thankfully, I'm writing in MG/YA, so I don't feel as much pressure as if I were writing something in the literary fiction genre. Yikes.