As an avid reader, I come across a lot of new and self-published authors. I actually prefer to read books from new authors, as I am one of them. In fact, I am on the last of a trilogy that has a great storyline, interesting and relatable characters, and fantastic descriptions. I’ve read all three books in the last week, and each of these books has the problem we’re going to discuss today. I’ve only kept reading them because everything else is so well done.
Something that I’ve noticed that newer authors have in common is their lack of imagination when it comes to vocabulary. A favorite facial expression is “smirked.” I don’t want to get into which books I’ve been reading lately (but you can find out on Goodreads), and I’m not here to bash the authors. The goal here is to help other writers be aware of what their word choices do to their writing. The book I’m currently reading is 699 pages, and the words “smirk” or “smirked” appears 32 times. I’m not a mathematician, but just typing that makes it seem a low occurrence over the course of the book. However, it has appeared enough to spur this blog post. It’s noticeable, sometimes irritating, but mostly boring. Why can’t the characters snigger, leer, simper, grin, look coy, giggle, chortle, titter, laugh, snicker, or beam?
Scientists claim there are 21 different facial expressions, although I think there’s more. Those 21 facial expressions can be described in a myriad of ways. Use them all. Make your characters relatable and real by employing a variety of emotions, expressions, gestures, and habits. Make your story interesting and engaging by showing off your power over words.
Some steps to ensure you are maximizing your vocabulary usage:
- Know your audience. Really, this is the first step for any writing. But don’t use jargon specific to Italy if your audience is from Africa, at least not without explaining it first. Don’t use respiration instead of breathe if your audience is 5-7 year olds. Choose your words wisely.
- Read through your story a few times, and make note of any words that appear frequently. Make a list or highlight them. Do not rely on your memory.
- Use the find feature on your program and search for those words. It will usually give you a number indicating how many instances appear in the document.
- Determine if the word should be changed for definition or just frequency. As we all know, some words have multiple meanings, so a dog barked up a tree, the commander barked an order, and I barked my shins on the table. Too many barked in the story? Maybe.
- Use your judgement to determine if the word needs to be changed. If you notice that your character only grins and never scowls or looks bored, make some adjustments.
- Ask a friend or editor (like me) to read it through just for recurring words/phrases that might get tedious.
- Invest in a good thesaurus. Yes, the online ones are useful but sometimes having an actual book in your hands is easier as you don’t have to go from your writing program to the internet and potentially get sidetracked from the job at hand.
My last piece of advice is more for the readers. If you read a book that could use some more creative phrasing, leave a helpful review on Amazon or Goodreads. Most authors or their agents read the reviews from time to time. Try to keep it constructive, and include some positive aspects as well as the negative. If you feel particularly strongly about the book, you can even reach out to the author through their webpage, Amazon, or Goodreads via the contact form.
Above all, keep working and writing!