For those brave souls who are going to submit, let's stick to the usual 250-ish words, and your piece will go up the week of the 23rd after these nerdy posts are over and done with. I already have 2 in my inbox, so those that want in, get in while you can. After the series is over, I'm closing it down :)
A while back, I wrote a guest post for a site that no longer exists on the implied meanings of words.
I don’t really want to repeat what I’ve already said in that linked post, so let’s pretend you’re all interested enough to have clicked the link, and read it before returning here, and focus on moving on.
You don’t actually have to read it ;) It’s more that I’m trying to consolidate (potentially) relevant information, and someone in the industry recently posted about the same thing. Her annoyance of 'flowing hills' is like mine when an author uses 'bloated' to describe a sharp, pointed, metal knife.
The thing about choosing strong words, is that it overlaps with voice and description. How a character views the world is going to impact the words he/she uses, and the importance he/she puts on things.
This is precision. Instead of a vague word that could relate to any character, you're narrowing the field to one specific to your character.
Jay, who is an artist, is very quick to notice visual information, but is less quick to pick up on other sensory information. His frame of reference is going to gravitate towards art-related terminology, anatomy, light/shadow, etc. He is also arrogant, and entitled, so his focus is self-centered, and his actions self-serving. He can be very manipulative when it comes to getting what he wants.
We all know the usual ‘weak’ words to avoid, ones like ‘walk’ or ‘run’. Stride, skip, slink, skulk, saunter, these are all better words that give a much more visual description of how a person could cross a room, perhaps they even give you different ideas of emotional state, age, purpose, etc.
What does 'walk' give you? Not a whole heck of a lot.
I think visually (yes, you know this), so this might be easier for me to do naturally. I’m not really sure how to teach someone how to think visually, but I suppose a few things I try to keep in mind are:
What is the character’s emotional state? Physical state (hot/cold/hurt/tired)? Is their goal/desire in front of them/in the room, or elsewhere? If elsewhere, what, in the room, is the biggest influence on the character’s emotional/psychological state? How does the character see the people around him/her (enemies? friends? frenemies?) Does he/she care what they think of him/her? If the character was an animal, what would he/she be?
Does that last one sound weird? Perhaps, but I often use animal characteristics to draw from in terms of moment/behavior/etc. Animals we are familiar with can be very powerful ‘short-hand’ to imply many things about a character, their state of mind, their moral/ethical state, etc. You’ll see an example in a later post how I use a robin.
Now, vision is only one of the senses... so, strong words will hit the other senses as well, but be careful. Like, if you read that linked post, you would never think to use a ‘sound’ word to describe something ‘visual’, right? ...there is a correct answer here ;)
...and I often say, that any good vomit reference should make the reader a little sick to their stomach.
Here’s a quick set of words, with similar meanings, progressing from weak to strong:
Hit, attack, assault.
So, why is assault stronger than attack?
Because ‘assault’ has the added meaning of ‘rape’, so it implies, not only a physical attack, but an emotional/psychological attack as well.
So, if you wanted to use a strong word to describe your character being bombarded, verbally, you would want to ask yourself, do I want the added implication bagged up in ‘assault’, or should I stick with ‘attack’? Well, that would probably depend on your character’s state of mind, and what the verbal bombardment was about.
Say, it was a woman who had just miscarried, and someone knocked on the door to survey her about abortion, or starving children dying in Africa, or giving money/support for babies born to alcoholic/drug addicted mothers... well, that might feel like an assault rather than an attack because of the personal/emotional aspect.
If, instead, your character is a middle-aged bachelor... you could stick with ‘attack’, or even downplay it further because there’s likely not a huge emotional connection between him and the subject matter, so rather than take it personally, he’s probably just shut the door and forget it even happened.
The thesaurus is your friend, just don’t blindly accept one of the suggested counterparts... check the dictionary function, pay attention to all of the meanings, not just the first one on the list. Words carry baggage, and even though we don’t routinely read the dictionary, because words have different meanings, we associate them with other contexts, and we bring that chain of knowledge with us when we read.
One misused word can have unintended repercussions.