Does a single word matter that much to your book?
Sure, a poet will pour over every letter. And according to a recent blog on this very site, reading poetry will not just make us better writers, but better people. But for those of us penning hundred-thousand-word novels, can a single word make that big of a difference?
Words are more than just letters on a printed page. Words can summon images and scents and sounds and feelings. They can be musical or plodding, lyrical or barbaric. Speak aloud the word lyrical. Do you hear the music? And barbaric sounds just that.
Imagine the difference between the words lovely and pretty. The first is larger, more sweeping. The second sort of sits on the page, small and insignificant. Why do we say a woman is beautiful and skip the word comely so often? Could it be that comely isn’t a pretty word? Might it be that comely rhymes with homely, which means just the opposite? And don’t even get me started on pulchritudinous. How dare such an ugly word be a synonym for pretty?
Think of the difference between the nouns scent, odor, and smell. Does a pulchritudinous matron have an odor, while a dainty lady’s scent draws you in? When your mother says, “It smells in here,” is she complimenting you on your new scented candle? (Why don’t we call it an odorous candle or a smelly candle, for that matter?)
In a restaurant, I can talk over a din, but a cacophony will drive me mad. Of course the word din is so small, it’s easy to ignore, while a cacophony nearly disagrees with itself.
A butterfly might flit from perch to perch, but a wasp scuds toward its intended targets—like a missile. A scud missile.
Are you writing a horror story that takes place in the forest? Perhaps the trees didn’t soar above the earth so much as tower over the frightened heroine.
Is your hero thinking of kissing the comely damsel during a storm? Maybe the rain wasn’t beating on the roof but pattering a melody only lovers could hear.
If your protagonist just heard her mother passed away, let’s not have the leaves dancing in the autumn breeze but clinging to the branch for dear life.
If your villain is trying to spin a tale, perhaps he didn’t prevaricate, equivocate, or evade. The little weasel lied, and the reader knows it.
God created the whole world with words, and the Bible tells us Jesus was the Word. And for us writers, a little word can make a big difference in our inspired works.
So slow down (but don’t slacken) and ponder (without scrutinizing) each tiny (never meagre) word, and perhaps when they come together, they’ll make your novel not just better, but exceptional.
Robin Patchen lives in Oklahoma City and has recently released Finding Amanda
” In the worlds I create, I can go back to the best places time and again. And when they’re not perfect, that’s all right–I just edit until they are.
In the real world, I’m married to the man of my dreams, Edward, and together we have three children, Nicholas, Lexi, and Jacob. They are a close second on my list of priorities after my relationship with my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
So that’s my life: God, husband, children, and made-up worlds where I have complete control. Who could ask for more?”