A Very Bad Article On Word Choice.

2 Aug

Oh wait I meant good!

Damn. Already my word choice is screwing me over.

Just like it screws over others.

Today I’m going to show you how easily really bad word choice can break the drama of the moment. I’m going to demonstrate this with an example based off a piece of work (which will not be named) containing the same maddening literary gaffe.

Take this riveting scene:

The stage is set for the heart-clenching rivalry between good and evil to explode. Many have been lost, and the casualties, not so casual to their friends, families, and lovers, are predicted to rise drastically in numbers. The hero is facing the villain, who has the hero’s dame of choice secure against him with a knife pressed to her neck. One wrong move and a love like no other will be lost, unleashing a sorrow of epic proportions.

“She’s dead now, Jack!” Noir shrieks, voice rising with the hysteria involved with finally besting your mortal enemy.

“No!” Jack pleads, throwing down his broadsword and lurching forward.

He trips over an unseen corpse and falls onto the ground. The dirt is muddy with blood. A psychotic laughter builds in Noir’s body as he pushes the knife closer, stumbling further away from Jack and taking Carol with him. Her face contorts with pain.

“Please!” Jack calls, voice gruff with terror.

Noir’s eyes narrow into slits.

“Pleading won’t save you this time,” he seethes.

In one quick motion, he jerks his arm and the knife hisses over Carol’s white neck. She tries to scream but it comes out like infant gurgles, and her clenching fingers grow steadily limp. And then she is gone.

Carol slips out of Noir’s grip, a dead weight.

Noir watches her fall. He let’s out his laugh as her head bounces against the ground. It is the deranged, demented laugh that accompanies horrific, impossible accomplishment. He looks at Jack, elated and disgusted by the blood on his hands, and sees his enemy staring shell-shocked at the body of his lover. He watches the expression transform before his eyes.

Jack’s face is paper white. His lips are bloodless even as they spread open to show teeth. His brows are heavy and slanted over his mad eyes and a feral growl is growing in his throat. His glare lifts to lock with Noir’s. He can hardly form words, but he tries.

“You…killed her,” he grits out grumpily.

WHOA now.

Grumpy? Really? You’re going to describe him as grumpy?

My god, woman, what were you thinking? Do you know what I picture when I think of grumpy?

This is what you want:

~

Word Choice Article

~

This is what you gave me.

~

Word Choice Article

~

Anybody can see that that word is extremely bad in that place, which leads me to believe that when writers make this kind of mistake, they don’t do it on purpose. Usually. And sure, I’m picky about word choice, (I may or may not have had ten minute long discussions over a single word with critique partners,) but certain things, everybody catches.

So here’s how I avoid this mistake. It’s incredibly easy.

  1. Instinct: After writing, when you’re reading your stuff over, if there’s a word that doesn’t feel good where it is, replace it immediately. You’re probably right. Better to do it right away than after the fifth reading and much frustration.
  2. Thesaurus: Because we can’t all have the honour of coining some 1700 words like Shakespeare had, we use those available. Which is more than enough, seeing as it’s practically impossible to count the number of words there are in the English language. The word ecstasy is stronger than the word happiness, but they both define one type of emotion. Choose the one that suits the situation best.
  3. Dictionary: If you find a word you think will fit but you’re not quite sure if the meaning is right, for Christ’s sake use a dictionary. It’s what it’s there for. It’s better to look it up to know for sure than having it clarified by a pansy little know-it-all who will Tweet it to everybody once your book is published.
  4. Critique Partner: Or anybody who reads. Find a fresh eye to look over something you’ve read a million times. Sometimes these mistakes just happen and you don’t notice because you’ve half-memorized the passage to the point where you’re no longer really reading it.

Obviously, I exaggerated with my example. I’ll always exaggerate when I use Carol, Jack, and Noir. And obviously, not many people have the time to comb through their manuscript looking for exactly the right word in exactly the right place. It’s really just the big mistakes that grate on people’s nerves and throw out the flow.

All I’m asking is for you not to trivialize dire situations with stupid word choices.

And, of course, to avoid Purple Prose :).

~~~

And now for my requisite Challenge!

Find the bad word choices and replace them with good ones. It’d be interesting if you could justify why yours is better.

~~~

The woman bounded off the train, umbrella in hand. She flexed her fingers around the handle of her luggage for a firmer grip. The umbrella unfurled at the click of a button as she left the station and she set off down the street, accelerating to be out of the weather. Avoiding the soiled Parisian puddles, she made her way quickly to her apartment, clutching her purse close. She cursed the weatherman for convincing her that suede shoes and a sundress would be a felicitous outfit for the day. She could feel her shoes kicking up dry mud and could imagine the stains on the white cotton.

She tumbled up her apartment stairs, fumbled briefly with her keys, and shoved open the door. With a sigh of relief she entered the dry foyer of her building. Shaking the water out of her umbrella, she closed it, and it seemed to be the most beautiful sound she’d ever heard. She leaned it into the entrance corner and reviewed the ruined hem of her yellow sundress. Pushing hair out of her eyes with a groan, she turned around—

And collided head-on with the last person she wanted to see.

~~~

Do it on your own first, and then compare it with my edits, here:

~~~

~Spoilers!~

The woman stepped [“bounded” is undignified and reminds me of rabbits; not appropriate for the tone] off the train, umbrella in hand. She flexed her fingers around the handle of her luggage for a firmer grip. The umbrella unfurled at the click of a button as she left the station and she set off down the street, hurrying [“accelerating” sounds too analytical] to be out of the weather. Avoiding the dirty [“soiled” implies they were once clean] Parisian puddles, she made her way quickly to her apartment, clutching her purse close. She cursed the weatherman for convincing her that suede shoes and a sundress would be a fitting [“felicitous” = too purple] outfit for the day. She could feel her heels [very picky point; “shoes” was used in the previous sentence] kicking up watery [how can mud be dry?] mud and could imagine the stains on the white cotton.

She tripped [“tumbled” implies falling, and she can’t fall up her stairs; also “tumbled” rhymes with “fumbled”] up her apartment stairs, fumbled briefly with her keys, and shoved open the door. With a sigh of relief she entered the dry foyer of her building. Shaking the water out of her umbrella, she closed it, and it seemed to be the most beautiful sound she’d ever heard. She leaned it into the entrance corner and scrutinized [“reviewed” sounds like she’s talking about a document] the ruined hem of her white [continuity; her dress is white, not yellow] sundress. Pushing hair out of her eyes with a groan, she turned around—

And collided head-on with the last person she wanted to see.

~~~

Feel free to use this as a prompt, and continue the story.

Also, here’s another prompt from the lovely Sarah Maas that I didn’t end up using because I suck.

“A unicorn, a dragon, and a monkey are all sitting by a forest pool, talking about a matter of grave importance.”

Good luck!

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She just graduated high school and is on her way to university where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here.

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21 Responses to “A Very Bad Article On Word Choice.”

  1. Kat Zhang August 2, 2010 at 8:10 AM #

    Those pictures are HILARIOUS 😀 Great post!

    • Biljana August 2, 2010 at 1:59 PM #

      Why thank you! 😀 It was surprisingly hard to find a picture to convey exactly what I wanted. Luckily, my trusty friend MS Paint was there to help :P.

  2. Julie Eshbaugh August 2, 2010 at 12:14 PM #

    Hey B! I knew this post was yours as soon as I saw the title. 😉 Here’s my take on the rewrite challenge:

    The woman descended from (bounded off is too unnatural) the train, umbrella in hand. She flexed her fingers around the handle of her luggage for a firmer grip. The umbrella unfurled at the click of a button as she left the station and she set off down the street, hurrying (accelerating sounds like a car) to be out of the weather. Avoiding the numerous puddles (soiled Parisian puddles sounds pretentious and aren’t all puddles soiled?), she made her way quickly down a quiet Paris side street to her apartment, clutching her purse close. She cursed the weatherman for convincing her that suede shoes and a sundress would be a practical (felicitous???) outfit for the day. She could feel her shoes kicking up (delete “dry” since it’s raining) mud and could imagine the stains on the white cotton.

    She shuffled (tumbled is usually down, not up) up her apartment stairs, fumbled briefly with her keys, and shoved open the door. With a sigh of relief she entered the dry foyer of her building. Shaking the water from (“out of” doesn’t work for me here) her umbrella, she closed it, and it seemed to be the most beautiful sound she’d ever heard. She leaned it into the entrance corner and reviewed the ruined hem of her white (yellow was not the color mentioned earlier, unless the dress is two-tone!) sundress. Pushing hair out of her eyes with a groan, she turned around—

    And collided head-on with the last person she wanted to see.

    LOL – not all the same as yours, but close!
    Great post!!! 🙂

    • Biljana August 2, 2010 at 2:01 PM #

      Yeah we had practically the same ones! I’m glad you caught the continuity mistake :P. Threw one in there for kicks.

  3. Sarah J. Maas August 2, 2010 at 1:19 PM #

    LOL those pictures!!!!!! Hahahahahaha! Fantastic post!!!!

    • Sarah J. Maas August 2, 2010 at 1:20 PM #

      And OMG. When you asked me for a prompt, I didn’t know it was for your effing ARTICLE, Billy!!!! I thought it was just you wanting to do some writing exercises on your own or something!!!!!! lololol

      • Biljana August 2, 2010 at 2:10 PM #

        LOL I actually sat in front of the computer for a good half hour trying to turn it into something I could use for this article. I’m afraid it was just too fantastic for me ;).

  4. Armith-Greenleaf August 2, 2010 at 7:40 PM #

    So I’m reading the article, wincing at the last choice word (and automatically getting the point across–good job on that), scroll down and see the first picture (300! AWESOME) and then…

    LOLOLOLOOOL! <— happened kind of like that.

    Yeah, sadly you do see this kind of thing happen in fiction (and hey, in real life too.) Commonly I see the word defiantly being misused, instead of definitely. Also, you see a lot of not entirely wrong but certainly not right words to describe actions, like in the challenge you posted (oops, I read the whole thing before understanding what I was supposed to do. I was sleepy when I caught the post! D:)

    But it's all solved using the recommendations you listed. Great post! 😀

    • Biljana August 3, 2010 at 1:06 AM #

      Hahaha glad you found it funny :D. And yeah the amount of times that definitely is replaced with defiantly makes me think that they just misspell it and Word corrects it for them.

      • Armith-Greenleaf August 3, 2010 at 1:08 AM #

        I actually think they don’t know the difference. It just happens too often. D:

        • Biljana August 3, 2010 at 1:09 AM #

          If so…that’s just sad :(. They’re extremely different.

  5. Gabriela Da Silva August 2, 2010 at 9:20 PM #

    Ahahahahaha, good ole Grumpy 😀 I think I had forgotten about his existance until you placed him there… on the other hand, next time I watch 300, I’ll be thinking of Snow white.

    And yes, word-choice is important, important. A teacher of mine talks about trees of meanings that are born from words and sprawl accross languages. For instance, it’s not the same to speak of a “charm,” a “spell,” a “sorcerie,” a “magic,” a “trick” or an “illusion.” All of them have to do with the same thing, and all of them are meant to affect the senses, but in different ways.

    An illusion, for instance, is meant to trick the eye, and through the eyes, the mind. A charm, however, goes directly to the brain. But then, words change meaning – a “charmed life” is not a life affected in the brain, but a lucky life, or a magical one.

    Ah words. Love ’em 🙂
    Tip for everyone here: visit http://www.thesaurus.com and enter a word. Not only will you get plenty of synonyms, towards the middle of the page you’ll get a word tree or “visual thesaurus,” where you can actually trace all the related meanings – very very useful!

    • Biljana August 3, 2010 at 1:07 AM #

      I see you’ve caught on to my secret plan of spoiling 300 forever!

      And I LOVE the visual thesaurus, it’s so freakin’ cool. I can spend hours losing myself in it.

  6. Theresa Milstein August 2, 2010 at 10:18 PM #

    I gritted my teeth grumpily when I got to the end of the story. Perhaps Grumpy in “Snow White” had just lost his true love. Great photos! Thanks for the laugh.

    • Biljana August 3, 2010 at 1:08 AM #

      Thanks for laughing :).

  7. Landon August 3, 2010 at 10:37 AM #

    ROFL @ 300 pics.

    • Biljana August 3, 2010 at 6:55 PM #

      It took me so long to find the right picture :P.

  8. Vanessa August 3, 2010 at 2:51 PM #

    OMG Billy! I laughed so hard when I saw the 300 pics! HILARIOUS!

    This was such a good article. I just love your tone!

    • Biljana August 3, 2010 at 6:56 PM #

      Hahaha thanks :D. Glad you enjoyed it.

      • Vanessa August 3, 2010 at 8:16 PM #

        I still laugh, even after coming back to look at it 20 times.

  9. crystalpublishingllc November 23, 2014 at 9:38 AM #

    Reblogged this on crystal publishing llc and commented:
    Word Choice

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