Thursday, September 20, 2012

What's in a Word?

I'm not an expert writer, my betas and editors will attest to that, probably with a roll of the eyes for good measure. However, I also beta for other authors, have done a bit of coaching, am an avid reader, and have learned a few things over the years. One thing folks I've worked with will tell you is that I've developed a  personal vendetta against certain words. If they don't pull their weight in a story, they need to be out of a job.

Today's word is "walked", or how a character gets from point A to point B. I'm going to pick on Lucky  from Diversion for an example of why this word annoys me.

Number one: it tells me next to nothing. "Lucky walked across the floor." All I leaned from this sentence is that the character moved from where he was. Nothing wrong with that, right? And yet: "Lucky crept across the floor" tells me more. Ah! Now I've got a bit more information without having to add one single word. Lucky's being sneaky, so he must be undercover and creeping up on a bad guy, or maybe he's going to play a prank on his nemesis coworker, Keith.

How about "Lucky sauntered across the floor"? Or maybe he swaggered across the floor. He's in full asshole mode now, isn't he? And "Lucky dashed across the floor" brings to mind an entirely different image than "Lucky moseyed across the floor", right? How about "Lucky charged across the floor"? Oh my, maybe he's about to tackle a bad guy, or his partner, Bo.

With a simple word change you can tell your audience so much more about the situation, or your character's personality or mood. "Lucky trudged across the floor." he tired? Maybe he did something wrong (again) and has been summoned to his boss's office, with "trudged" showing his reluctance. See the difference a single word can make?

And unlike "smile" which I have a hard time finding synonyms for, there are so many beautifully descriptive words you can use to move characters from one place to another: ambled, sashayed, darted, shuffled, strolled, marched, hiked, paced, toddled, staggered, and they each add something that "walked" doesn't. Now don't get me wrong, sometimes "walked" is the best term to use when nothing else is going on in the scene, but why not get all the mileage you can out of word choices?

After all that walking, ambling, strolling, and sauntering, Lucky says he's tired and going to bed now. Right. Like Bo's not waiting there wearing assless chaps.


  1. Thanks. There's several words that get to me, but I figured this post is long enough. I'll save the rest for another day.

  2. i adore you!!! i cringe knowing how many times my characters walked lol... it is a point that should be taken!!! big hugs and thank you for the advice! hugs, z.

  3. Rather than tell a story, some writers paint a picture with words. I admire them so much.

  4. Using the words floor and ground interchangeably will jar me out of a story every time. A floor is inside a structure while "ground" is outside. The two are not the same.

    Thanks for a great post! :)

  5. Hi tameiki! Yeah, floor and ground bother me too, but it's something I see a lot of. I've wondered if the usage might be a regional thing, like southerners eating supper while the rest of the country has dinner.