Finding the exact precise right words

October 29, 2019

Sometimes I search for just the right word. I’ll be writing, words flowing freely, and then I stop. The word I want to use eludes me. I know there’s a word that denotes the exact feeling or movement or person I’m trying to describe but I can’t think of it. I put down a similar word and use the thesaurus. Back and forth – this word, that word, another word. Most times, I do find the perfect word. If it remains elusive after 5 or 10 minutes of searching, I leave a blank space in the manuscript, confident the word will come to me later. I don’t want to disrupt my writing flow.

edictionary

When I’m writing a description and the words won’t come, I use other means.

I was trying to describe a playground. I could see in my mind’s eye the equipment and the kids but I couldn’t get the description right. So, I said aloud – just me and my cat in the room – “Jenny and Mike walk outside and see kids on the swings, the teeter-totter, monkey bars and slide. Little boys are running around. The playground pulses with energy and joy.”

This is what I wrote: Jenny laughed as they walked out to the playground. Kids clambered on the jungle gym while smaller kids stood in line for the slide. One little girl slid down squealing, pigtails flying. A little boy stood on top of a green plastic pipe tunnel; as she watched, an adult rushed over to cajole him down. He waved his arms, obviously unwilling to abandon his perch. The swings were full, and kids raced around everywhere. A group of girls, age 6 or 7, stood to one side talking animatedly.

Jenny laughed louder as she felt the joy and energy emanating from the kids. Despite the reality that all these children needed a home – a fact that saddened Jenny momentarily – this was a happy place. She wanted to take them all home. How could you ever choose when they all needed parents?

Another tip is to say aloud: “What I’m trying to say is…” And then you describe it aloud. You can also draw the scene and then describe your drawing. I’ve done that when building a town.

“What I’m trying to say is…”

For emotions, I’ve heard people use an emotion thesaurus. Sounds good to me although I don’t have one of those books yet.

I’m sure there are other books and tips to find the right word. What helps you find the elusive word or description?

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I’m a Word Dork (Word Nerd is Catchier but I Like Dork… or at Least I Did…)

June 25, 2019

I watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee on ESPN Sunday night. Does that make me a dork? Probably, but that’s okay. The kids in that contest are amazing. They study languages and word origins and memorize words. I’ve always been a good speller. I wish I had done what they’re doing.

SPELLING

Grammar is another forte. One day, when I was 8 or 10 years old, my older sister asked me why I wasn’t playing on the monkey bars with the kids next door. I told her they were mad at me because I corrected their grammar. She explained that this wasn’t a good way to make friends. My response: “but they were saying it wrong”.

I no longer correct people’s grammar, although I do cringe at times, and I don’t know why it bothers me so much. When I had a young writing staff, I insisted their memos and emails be error-free. They chafed at this, and would point out errors in emails from senior-level staff, but I told them that we, as writers, are held to a higher standard.

GRAMMAR

Other challenges arise, too. I was talking with a woman recently and realized I had used a few words that she didn’t understand. (You can tell by the look on someone’s face.) That’s a conundrum. Do you explain and make them feel stupid, rephrase with smaller words and chance being condescending, or ignore the fact that they have no idea what you just said? I chose the latter.

So, yes, I’m kind of a word snob. I’m also a beer snob but that’s another post. 😊 I consider it a hazard of my trade. Just like walking through a parking garage with an engineer friend who keeps pointing out cracks in the concrete or wants to know what kind of guardrail saved my car from going into a ravine when I was hit on the Ohio Turnpike. What kind of guardrail? Really? Or going to the movies with someone who works in production or direction. They point out all the inconsistences in costume, dialog, lighting, etc.

WORDS

 

On the other hand, my wordsmith friends and I believe we are allowed to make up words as we see fit. No one else can do it, just writers! Did I mention I used to read the dictionary for fun? Another dork-like quality.

I’ve worked with literacy councils in a couple different states and taught adults to read. I wonder if parents and teachers feel the same satisfaction I did when their kids sing the alphabet and start sounding out words and reading stories.

Words. Spelling. Grammar. Stories. Reading. Writing. They’ve drawn me in my whole life. Did I mention I also like math? I do. But words have always taken center stage.

Do you have any spelling or grammar stories to share? I’d love to hear from any other self-proclaimed word dorks.

p.s. I just googled “dork” to find the actual definition, and I’m horrified by the second definition so I hope no one else finds it.

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