It’s easy to write a novel, and just as easy to write short stories, anyone can do it, can’t they?
Well, not quite. Anyone can write a novel or churn out short stories, but not all writers can actually write well, so whether they are any good is down to the talent and capability of the writer. Those who think that it’s an easy process need a stark reality check, because writing fiction is an often difficult, problem-filled, labour intensive job, and they don’t always appreciate how complex writing can be.
In reality, the love of the written word is very much ingrained in those who want to write. There also has to be a modicum of flair and ability to begin with. For some, writing has been in their blood since childhood. This means that not everyone can simply wake up one day and decide to be a writer. It takes talent, dedication and a lot of hard work.
And writing isn’t just about churning out as many words as possible and making it all kind of make sense either. It’s about understanding the power of words. It’s about using the right words at the right time to give the right impact.
Words have the ability evoke our emotions; influence our mood and thoughts, as well as the ability to entertain us.
Using the right words makes the narrative stand out; it enriches the writing beyond expectation. How often do we sit back and look at the power of the words we create? How often do we amaze ourselves with what we have written?
Every now and then we might read an amazing line in a book, or a phrase that sticks in our mind, or a snippet of dialogue or description that stops us in our tracks and makes us think. That’s because the writer has given us ‘a touch of genius’, a phrase or line or description that perfectly captures something, all through the power of words.
Everyone knows their incredible power – they can move us, hurt us, scare us or lighten us etc. And it’s not just ‘genius’ phrases or sentences that enrich the writing, it’s also the way we construct the narrative that helps influence the power of words.
For example, look at these two sentences:
Her eyes shuttered against a bright light.
Her eyes shuttered against a despicable light.
They are quite ordinary sentences. But one sentence is very different to the other, and that is because one evokes a stronger feeling than the other. ‘Bright light’ evokes more of a soothing, lighter feel, perhaps it’s the glare of the sun, but ‘despicable light’ is much darker, there is something dreadful or foreboding here.
Also notice the choice of ‘a’ instead of ‘the’ in the sentences. A light, rather than the light. This is to separate a generalisation that ‘the’ suggests. ‘A’ is more specific, and when coupled with the right adjective, it provides greater impact.
That’s the power of words.
Good narrative is all down to a writer’s choice of words, it’s about choosing the right verbs and nouns and adjectives, it’s about understanding the meaning of the words and their construction order, and the emotions you want to convey with them.
There is a lot of confusion for writers about whether to substitute some ‘bland’ words for more evocative words within their descriptions. Many writers see this as being overly pretentious to resort to the thesaurus, when the original word would suffice. This can be a problem if the writer does it all the time, making the narrative ridiculously flowery by trying to use ever more descriptive words. But again, it is about choice of words, in the right places, in the right scenes, at the right time.
There is nothing wrong with finding better words that help you describe something (just not too many of the type that leaves your readers scratching their heads and leafing through a dictionary to find out what you mean). A new word or two is enlightening, and using better words is what brings description to life, after all.
To illustrate how word choice makes such an important difference to the narrative, I’ve included the excerpt below, from one of my flash fiction pieces, Alone on the Hill:
‘Polonius blinked against the haze and dust, pulled his sagum around his shoulders. A forest of crafted crosses stretched into the distance, scattered the light, but all he could see were scarlet ribbons wrapped around branchless cedars’.
A forest of crafted crosses… Scarlet ribbons wrapped around branchless cedars. These sentences stand out for several reasons – images, symbolism and emotion, to mention just a few. I could, however, have written something insipid, like:
‘Polonius blinked against the haze and dust, pulled his sagum around his shoulders. A line of crosses stretched into the distance, scattered the light, but all he could see was blood dripping down the wood’.
While there is nothing wrong with this description, it doesn’t have the power that the original narrative does, it doesn’t evoke much, and that’s all down to word choice within the description, and the way it is constructed.
Remember, the right words at the right time, to give the right impact.
- Think about the meaning or imagery/symbolism or emotion you want to convey.
- Pick the right, evocative words - can you replace bland words with more evocative ones?
- Does the construction have that little ‘touch of genius’? Never be afraid to tinkering with word order.
- Does your word order pack that descriptive punch?
Above all, never underestimate the power of words. They are a lot more powerful than you realise.