Use Your Words


th (1)What comes to mind when someone describes something as “Mediterranean”? Or  “savory”? When someone is described as a “godfather”, do visions of Marlon Brando come to mind? Or your Uncle Hal?

Descriptive words are as varied as the world is wide.

Having given credit to a very general cliché, let’s think about the concept.   We are conditioned to react to words based on our own experiences. Images flash into our minds before we even can think about them. That is why your choice of words in your writing is so important.

For example, at NLP Language Patters for Advertising, the author writes: “The menu psychology research found the use of these five descriptor categories in the labels, food descriptions (or both) help increase sales dramatically…Visual (handcrafted, slow-cooked, fork tender); Gustatory (crispy, creamy, spicy, melt-in-your-mouth); Health & Diet Words (low calorie, all natural, organic); Memories/Nostalgia (Ye Olde, Homestyle, Made from Scratch); Geographic (Cajun, Sicilian Style, Southwestern); and Brand Names (Jack Daniels Sauce, Oreo Cookie Ice Cream).

“They also say to avoid what are now considered menu description cliches: zesty, sumptuous, mouth-watering, indulgent, unforgettable, world-famous, smothered, hearty, flavorful, pan-fried, special, and using apostrophes (“”).”

So even when you think you are using creative words you might not be using the right creative words. Describing food is no different than describing thoughts, motions, locations, and ideas. From blogs to novels, descriptive words are the bridge between the mundane and the magical. And as writers we have to be able to dance on that bridge.

I used to be the queen of descriptive words. Every look, every thought, was punctuated with adjectives, as if the reader couldn’t figure out for themselves if the hero was aggressive or merely forward. These were good times, for in them I developed the art of language, and each over-used description eventually was either changed or deleted.

But how do you spice up your writing so others will get your meaning yet interpret things for themselves?

I have a hard time describing my blog as “spectacular” or my art finds as “fantastic” because the words are so generic and over used. But I still want to grab the reader’s attention. I want to tickle a nerve that’s been hidden for quite a while so the reader comes back for more. So in my quest to sell myself and my wares I need to find words that describe me and my craft and hone in on those words. Make them mine.

Developing a writing style of your own is important.  Read others’ writings. The Classics. Descriptive passages from Lord of the Rings or Farewell to Arms might be miles apart in style, but both are endless rivers of creativity. Take a look at free verse or rhymed or sestina  poetry and see how each word is stretched to its full extent.

Then find your own style and stick to it. Now, Stick To It is different than Never Change It. If you have a fancy for words, by all means use them. Then re-read your work and see if you needed all those words to describe your point. If you are a writer of few words, make those count. There are some words that can replace a paragraph. Learn them.

Words are music. They sing, they explain. They carress. They express. And they all are yours for the taking.

Use your words.


Colorful Language

adjectivesTell me what you think when you read this sentence.

I stubbed my toe today.

What is my tone? What am I saying? Am I crying (I stubbed my toe and it hurts like hell)? Am I laughing (I stubbed my big fat stupid toe today)? Am I rolling my eyes in mock disgust (I — yes, I — stubbed my toe today)? Am i kidding you (I “stubbed” my toe today)?

What is your instant reaction to that two-dimensional statement? Laughter? Sympathy? Lack of patience at such a clumsy move?

Reading another’s writing is a wonderful experience. With one or two strokes on the keyboard you can find out about someone’s day, love life, depressions, and funny escapades. One-on-one or reading a book, words can open doors to worlds only once dreampt of.

But basic, simple sentences are often prime grounds for speculation. Without adjectives or adverbs, a sentence is open to interpretation. Depending upon your mood at the time, you could laugh or get bitchy or get depressed by what you read. Reporters do their best to stay unbiased, but if they have indigestion or are being threatened by a bill collector, their “tint” might be more or less shaded. It’s not bad journalism — it’s just the nature of the beast.

I have often texted or emailed someone, only to get a response that upset me one way or another. I don’t think first — I just assume. Yes, yes, I know what happens when you ass-u-me…but it’s more a knee-jerk reaction. Only with more conversation does the dust in my head clear and I see what’s really going on. When my friend texts “I can’t make it tonight,” all it should mean to me is “I can’t make it tonight.” Not “I can’t make it because you make me sick” or “I can’t make it because my dog died” or “I can’t make it because I have to study for my finals tomorrow.” All it meant was, she couldn’t make it tonight.

It’s the same for writing things for others to read. If I write “I stubbed my toe today,” most of the time it just means “I stubbed my toe today.” But if I’m trying to be funny, “I stubbed my toe today” doesn’t reflect much humor. If I’m angry about the rock on the side of driveway that got in the way of my toe, “I stubbed my toe today” doesn’t translate that, either. If I’m embarassed about my own stupidity of kicking that rock on the side of the driveway with my toe, that doesn’t translate, either.

I suppose what I’m saying is that God gave us creative words for a reason. They are supposed to take the place of facial expression when we can’t talk face-to-face with others. Looking into each other’s eyes, watching body language, hearing the inflection of your voice, all clarify simple statements. Even lies.

But writing just for the sake of writing can be a one-sided world, too. You need to throw some emotion into your statements. Some color. Some emphasis. That’s the only way we, the readers, can know where you’re coming from.

Don’t let us wondering what you’re thinking. Or what we’re supposed to be thinking. If you want to make us laugh, use your words. If you want tears to come to our eyes, use your words. If you want us to feel depression or elation, use your words.  Let the reader feel what you want them to feel. Like…

I stubbed my %@^?>$ toe today!!!