Choose Words with Intention . by Gregory A. Kompes

Use the right word. Find the right word and revise it. Determine the desired meaning, usually from a weak word. Don’t be lazy about the revised selection. Dig deep into your brain. Don’t just settle for the first word. Don’t settle for was or blue or table. Don’t be indolent or lax. Take a moment. Think. Dig. Try a few choices. Roll the choices around in your brain, on your tongue, in the sentence, in the scene, in the greater meaning of life.

Think about whether your character would say it that way, would use that word, would even think that word to describe his grandmother’s doilies. Let your characters drive you, motivate you to choose crochet instead of knitted. Use their diction in that tight-third scene to choose yarn over fiber. Use their experience in that first-person narrative to choose a better word over your first word.

See it, hear it, smell it as they would. Express those ideas and thoughts in their voice, in their diction, using their meaning of the words you choose.

Understand the world you’re creating from the character’s perspective. Take the time to see the world through their eyes; take the time to explore the world and the motivations of each character based on their background and their upbringing. Know that that background and upbringing is, generally, different from your own. Know that it’s probably very different from your own background.

Go deeper now, think about a stronger verb, delete those weak words and reach for stronger words. Write words that are specific, that engage, that paint pictures through the senses with color and smell and sound. Evoke feeling through the words you choose, but not through weak words like think and felt. Evoke feeling through showing with specifics: gauzy, yellowed-lace curtains sucked out through the window as the temperature plummets twenty degrees in a few seconds while nickel-sized hail pelted the battered old house.

Show us don’t tell us. Help the reader live the experience through specific, special, meaningful words. Let the reader breath in the frigid, wet air, hike the four-hundred stone steps toward the peak of the Great Wall, smother in the steamy, over-heated stone sauna.

You see it better now, yes? Choose Pekinese instead of dog; choose crimson or scarlet or cherry or ruby instead of red or cerulean or sapphire or indigo instead of blue. Choose shades and tastes and colors and place names that are specific and evoke deeper meanings not only for the reader, but for the character experiencing them in your writing.

Write the character from their perspectives and background and education and thoughts and fears and loves and hatreds. Writer those characters into settings described based on how they see their world, or the world they now find themselves in. Take advantage of this to not only describe the scene, but to more fully develop the character.

Get into their heads and hearts and souls by choosing meaningful, deep, luscious words that drip with intention.

Do your job with every word you choose. Choose words one by one that have multiple layers of meaning, words a scholar or student must pick apart and suck on to gather their full taste and meaning.

10 Tips for Writing Tight

Over the years, like you and every other writer, I’ve read the lists and recommendations for writing tight. Among the most famous is Elmer Leonard’s list and you can read it here. We all have our favorites that we quell into our own, so here’s my list.

  1. Write Specific
  2. Develop Ideas
  3. Utilize Active Voice
  4. Format Clean
  5. Delete Qualifiers
  6. Limit Reiteration
  7. Destroy Adverbs
  8. Eradicate Expletives
  9. Beware of Prepositions
  10. Challenge Every Word

What’s your list? Comment below.