The Write Words
by Stuart Aken
These posts have been intended to help writers improve their language use. It’s easy to fall into bad habits; using redundancies, applying tautology, and employing clichés. Adverbs come easily, but is the verb you’re using the best for the piece? Suggestions here are the opinion of one writer: it’s worth remembering writing rules are guidelines rather than absolutes, so use your experience and judgment to determine how best to enhance your text.
Synonyms are alternative words that have the power to convey exactly what you’re trying to say.
Labyrinth: most writers understand the meaning of this word, and know it originates from the Greek myth of Daedalus and the Minotaur. However, it is also a word much used in metaphor, with subheadings given in Roget’s Thesaurus as follows: complexity, meandering, and enigma. Under ‘complexity’ we find another 39 alternatives including difficulty, imbroglio, intricacy, tangle, and pretty kettle of fish. We talk of the labyrinth of the mind, of the thoughts of politicians and philosophers. But, as creative writers, it behoves us to seek different terms to explain and describe complexity rather than relying on the easy route provided by that labyrinth (and, yes, the irony was deliberate!).
Cliché: a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language that’s so overused it no longer holds power. However, clichés come into being because of their original and effective ability to describe a situation or quality in apposite terms. Their use should be sparing: in dialogue, they’re fine, providing the speaker would use them. They’re words or expressions we’ve all encountered more times than…Here, I might use a cliché to illustrate a cliché.
Let the good times roll: this expression is an informal invitation for people to start having fun. It trips lightly off the tongue and, unfortunately, just as lightly off the pen. We’re writers and should therefore avoid such easy answers. And, sometimes, using the simple words, ‘have fun’ will do the job better.
Adverbs, as the word describes, are an addition to a verb. A strong verb always wins over an adverb propping up a weak one. Alternatively, a change in sentence structure can help to express the same idea in a better way.
Lazily: ‘Sara gazed up into the clear blue sky, her dark tresses spreading to form a fan of contrast against the pale skin of her face, as she floated lazily on the still surface of the pool.’
Perhaps improve this: ‘Sara’s eyes rested on the blue above, conscious her dark hair fanned out from her face, contrasting with the lightness of her skin, as she let herself relax, floating in the stillness of the pool.’
This says the same thing, but shows the reader rather than telling them, and employs descriptive words to convey her mood instead of depending on the lazy option of the adverb.
This is the final post in this series, as I feel it’s run its course, and I’m busier than ever with writing and photography. I have, however, committed to continuing a similar series running on my own website, appearing each Friday until I reach the end of the alphabet.
About the Author
Stuart Aken, born to a homeless, widowed artist, in a neighbour’s bed, describes himself as a romantic, open-minded, radical liberal. Raised by a creative, loving mother and a step-father who educated him in things natural and worldly, he had what he describes as an idyllic childhood.
An author who refuses to be shackled by genre, he’s written romance, thrillers, sci-fi, humour, fantasy and an autobiographical, self-help memoir, aimed at sufferers from ME/CFS. His fiction is the only place he bends the truth and, after love, remains his raison d’être.