Researching

Finding That Right Word, Part 2

This month, I’m continuing the series on finding the right word. Let me emphasize again this is part of the editing process more than it is part of the creative process, especially the first couple of drafts. Those early drafts are to get the story out so we have something to work with. Finding the right word is part of editing when we look to improve the first draft by finding words that better express what we want to say. You can find the earlier post here: Finding the Right Word, Part 1

Today, let’s talk about being descriptive. I touched briefly on this in the previous post when I recommended using Synonym Finder by Rodale as a resource. How many ways can you think of to say eat? Here are a few suggestions from the Finder: break bread, dine, sup, nibble, devour, gobble up, gulp down, gorge, bolt, wolf, scarf, or pig out. The Finder or other thesauruses expands the possibilities to find the right word without drifting into pretentiousness or purple prose.

Say we place our protagonist in a city. We could name a specific city and let the readers’ knowledge of the place take them there. To make the experience deeper, to show it from the character’s perspective, we need a vivid description, so the reader experiences the setting as the character does. Here is an example I use in my classes. I live near Fort Worth and downtown has an entertainment district called Sundance Square. Following is a description of how two characters experience Sundance Square on the same day and time.

Example 1

The heat bears down on me, pressing me into the softened asphalt. Eleven o’clock at night and it’s still ninety degrees. The air reeks of ozone and booze, of cigarettes and pot, of sweat and over-heated perfume. Perspiration flows down my back, gluing my shirt to my skin. Neon flashes and stabs the night, lances of light burn through my eyes and into my skull. A door opens as I walk past a bar. The blast of air conditioning chills me. Country Western music twangs in my ears. Alcohol-fueled laughs and shouts echo off the buildings. Every third step someone bumps or jostles me. I constantly make sure my wallet is still in my pocket. Pizza and steak and Cajun aromas roil my stomach. Another two blocks to my car. Two blocks that stretch to two miles in a Twilight Zone haze. Why did I ever agree to come to Sundance Square on the Fourth of July?

Example 2

The bright neon dazzles. A kaleidoscope of blue and red and orange and yellow, like a permanent fireworks display. I inhale. Steak. Pizza. Cajun. I’ve tasted it all tonight and I’m still hungry. Warm enough for cargo shorts, sandals, and a tank top. The warm weather has the girls dressed to keep cool. Their short skirts flounce around their bare legs. I walk by a bar as the door swings open. I stand and revel in the blast of air conditioning. A country band is singing an upbeat love song and the crowd two-steps to the rhythm, their boots stomping the hardwood floor. I smell the beer and remember anew the microbrews I enjoyed tonight. A whiff of perfume dances by me. Visions of bluebonnets fill my mind. Every two or three steps I pirouette with another person in a sidewalk ballet, laughing. I approach my car way before I expect it and thumb my key fob. Eleven o’clock. Way too early to leave Sundance Square, especially on the Fourth. But my boss wants me in at seven in the morning. I salute a cop as I drive away. Until next weekend, Sundance.

Finding the right word enables to create a physical world and an emotional world unique to our character. I recommend trying this exercise with a popular location in your area: an amusement park, a sports stadium, an entertainment district, neighborhood playground, your church.

May your writing be blessed.

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