Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Word choice: quality > quantity

Revising and editing my manuscript has given me an opportunity to observe and reflect on my progress as a writer. One of the most interesting changes besides my (hopefully improving) skill level has been my approach.

When I began my novel, I was comfortable with my vocabulary and grasp of sentence structure, and my goal was to use all of it. As a result, my early drafts were full of interesting (and sometimes rarely-used) words, but they weren't always the right words. My sentences tended to be long and descriptive, but they weren't always attention-grabbing.

Over time, I realized that the authors I enjoy the most weren't always teaching me new words. Instead, they were giving me vivid images with the words they chose, and the words they chose seemed to have more to do with connotation and sound than with variety for its own sake. Similarly, these authors showed me that I was underestimating the power of short sentences. By throwing in too many modifiers and clauses, I was diluting my sentences into a runny word soup.

I think of this when I hear other folks say that they could never be writers because they lack extensive vocabularies. An ear for cadence beats an encyclopedic vocabulary any day. Rhythm makes prose a lot more enjoyable to read, and it's eminently harder to learn.

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