There’s a scene in a later season of one of my favourite 30-minute shows, The Office, where Kevin starts speaking very simply. His logic is that you don’t need fancy language or words to communicate, and it will save time. “Why waste time say lot word when few word do trick.” But, of course, because The Office is a comedy, misunderstandings happen, and Kevin quickly decides to revert back to the “normal” way of speaking.
Today, I’m here to talk about the opposite. I’d appropriate Kevin’s line that I’ve quoted and change it to, “why use big words when smaller words do the trick.”
Choose the Right Word
As writers and speakers of the English language, we all know there are many words to say the same thing. The question then is, which word do we choose to use? For example, do we use “speak,” or do we choose “articulate,” or “perorate,” or “verbalize” (and the list goes on and on)? My general rule of thumb is you don’t want your readers to read your book sitting beside a dictionary.
That isn’t to say you have to “dumb things down.” If it weren’t for books, a good number of words in my vocabulary wouldn’t be there, but at some point, we writers have to reconcile that our vocabulary may not be the same as our intended reader. We don’t want to alienate them – we want them to engage with the journey we’re bringing them on.
A thesaurus can be a great companion as you’re writing your draft, but don’t let it replace every single word. Trust yourself. And remember, a good editor is worth their weight in gold!
What Words Look Out For
When I teach my Self-Editing Masterclass, I take some time to talk about overused words. We’re all guilty of this, but some examples of weasel words include “actually, maybe, very, really, and seems.” Overused words can include words that don’t add value to the story. When I see dialogue from newer playwrights, I often see almost every sentence starting with “well” or “so.” That can happen to newer writers when they start writing dialogue. I also see a lot of characters forgetting that contractions exist, and most people don’t say “do not” in this day and age. Of course, there are always exceptions (writing historical fiction, character choices, and providing specific emphasis), but if you wouldn’t speak like that out loud, should your character?
Finish Your First Draft
If you’re reading this blog and you’re currently in the middle of your first draft, don’t return to what you’ve written in a panic! Continue writing your first draft. This work is for draft two or three. The main goal of the first draft is to get your thoughts out, and then you can start refining them. If I’m in a groove, and the word I want isn’t coming to me, I will sometimes leave an underscore to denote something is missing, and then I’ll move on. If I don’t do that, if I sit and agonize over the word that isn’t coming to me, not only will that word be even more elusive, but I’ll probably have lost not only the flow but also the narrative journey I was on.
Remember, every author has these struggles. If you see yourself in what I’ve written, then don’t think you’re a bad writer. Instead, think of the community of authors you’re a part of!
And finally, don’t forget to read! Reading is training for an author, so work up a brain sweat and enjoy a book.
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