When my daughter was two and learning to talk, if I knew she wanted something, I got low to the ground, smiled and said to her, “Sweet Pea, try using your words.”
When I watch the Bachelor (like you don’t?!) and Steve, the dashing life guard from Kansas, describes his sincere process of finding the woman of his dreams, amongst the relatively small focus group of 25 unqualified lovelies, as an “amazing journey,” I take off my shoe and throw it at the television and say, “Use your freakin’ words.”
I know what you’re thinking. One wrong, but completely valid, word and its all over? Curtains? Next stop rejection city? That’s not fair! And you are right. It’s not fair. Don’t worry, I will read the whole story to make sure that someone did not have a bad sentence, or two, within an otherwise well-written story.
However, most writers using vague, generic or cliché words usually have submitted a story with bigger problems than just one or two small word choice problems – the whole story is usually crap written in “we” voice.
For me, when I come home after a trip with an inspiring personal experience, I am compelled to share the story with friends and family. However, sometimes I come home with a story filled with epiphany, feeling, self-reflection and an ineffable quality that is amazing, breathtaking, and great. The problem is these kinds of words (hyperbole, cliché and vague) do not mean much to another person other than pointing out the importance of the moment, which is simply not enough to justify publication. So when I write that inspiring story down, I have to focus on getting out the details of the moment rather than summing them up with overly used words.
Here is a short list of crappy words I use when I am being lazy or feeling particularly conversational: nice, good, bad, incredible, great, breathtaking, amazing, and fun. There are dozens of other big sounding words, which take the place of detail. Look out for them and delete them. Do it now. Go ahead, I will wait right here.
My best suggestion for avoiding these duds is by writing out a scene in full and using a thesaurus or word finder. This is exactly what I do when I am drawing a blank. Personally, I prefer a word finder to a thesaurus.
As an editor, this means I am looking for a description that expands upon what is important to the writer, but shows willingness to make the reader understand the details that made the experience breathtaking, amazing and great.
As a reader I want to be inspired. As an editor, I want to feel like a piece of writing has the ability to inspire others. This usually requires more effort than what most writers do.
The complete series
For Part 1, Why We Sucks
Part 2, Use Your Words
Part 3, Do Your Homework
Part 4, The Dreadful Epic
Part 5, The Easy Opening
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