Thursday, June 30, 2011

Writer's Wednesday

Editing your Manuscript -- Part Three 

Regardless of the type of writing you do, decisions regarding vocabulary and word choice are critical.

Begin by giving serious thought to vocabulary that is appropriate for your intended readers.  Are you writing for children -- elementary, middle school or high school?  Is your manuscript intended for the general reading public or is it meant for a professional audience?

Consider how the vocabulary is influenced by the genre and voice.  If you're writing something historical, you want to avoid language that doesn't fit the chronology of your story.  Writing YA?  Is your language accurate for the age of your characters?
The goal of any form of writing is to be understood.  There's nothing wrong with a reader needing to check a dictionary for a word or two, but deciphering a manuscript shouldn't be a chore.  Do you employ jargon or technical terms to express or impress?  
Choose vocabulary to communicate ideas and facts clearly rather than astound readers with your intellect.

The simplest way to insure that your readers understand you is by giving careful attention to word choice.

Be specific.  Find the precise noun or verb that expresses what you intend.
      Consider -- "He walked."  Clear enough, but is there a more precise word?

A quick check of the thesaurus produces these possibilities: saunter, amble, march, stride, pace, hike, toddle, totter, stagger, move, and stroll.  If I look closer, I discover that stroll has its own set of synonyms: amble, mosey, meander, ramble, wander, promenade.  As a writer, it's my responsibility to decide if any of these options would better express what I mean when I say, "He walked."

Be accurate.  Synonyms are not always interchangeable.  When consulting a thesaurus remember that the synonyms, although similar, have individual meanings.  If you are uncertain about differences, check the dictionary. 

Here are a few examples from the Merriam Webster online dictionary:
     Saunter: to walk about in an idle or leisurely manner.
     March: to move in a direct purposeful manner.
     Stride:  to move with or as if with long steps.
     Toddle: to walk with short tottering steps in the manner of a young child.
     Stagger: to move on unsteadily.
     Amble: to move aimlessly from place to place. 

Be thrifty: Avoid multiple words when a single one will do.
     I began to see. = I saw.
     They came to the realization that they were lost. = They realized that they were lost. or They were lost. 

Check for repetition.  Many people have favorite words or phrases in their spoken language that end up on the page and are overused. 
     These are some words I watch for -- just, now, really, like, even, very.  By the time I completed the recent revision of my novel, I had a list of over one hundred words that I had used multiple times.  In most cases the words could be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Make every word count! 

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes --

"The difference between the right and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug." Mark Twain

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