Fiction 101: Word Bank

An immersive story needs masterful usage of words that are arranged just right. When a writer’s word bank is stocked, her story flows from fingers to keyboard at a faster, more fluid pace. Fact is, many find writing tedious because they lack the right words to use. You wish to write a story floating in your head but finding the right words prove difficult, or worse, everything you manage to write looks elementary.

So, how do you get your word bank stocked? Do you write the words in an actual book or in a notes app? Are you some sort of dictionary now? Is that what Precious Nkem is asking you to become? Nah; take a chill pill and listen. Your word bank is in your head and you fill it up by reading any and everything. If you want to be a good writer, you absolutely cannot escape reading a lot of books. It’s like learning subconsciously, and it’s even better when you are enjoying the story. I beseech thee not to look upon this task like it’s some sort of mountain. Reading novels is FUN. Repeat that a million times until it sinks in.

Your brain has the ability to subconsciously learn new words and their proper usage if you come across them often enough. To take this ability up a notch, you can train your mind to read like a writer and not an ordinary reader. An ordinary reader reads to be entertained but a writer learns how to write even as she reads. She notices the skill with which authors write and she also learns new words and their usage in the process.

Using Your Word Bank

Good writing is knowing the right word to pick in a sea of synonyms.

Ordinary: he walked slowly.

Better: he strolled.

There are other words to use in place of ‘walked slowly’: Ambled, sauntered, lumbered, and a host of others. Before you use a similar word, ensure you are familiar with its full meaning. Even though some words share a similar definition, it doesn’t mean they will accurately paint the picture you want your readers to see.

Let’s Consider More Examples

The elf lumbered past.

The elf tiptoed past.

Both lumber and tiptoe are words that describe manner of walking but one of those words does a better job at describing the way a regular elf would move. Elves are tiny, elusive mystical creatures known to be light on their feet. Saying, ‘an elf tiptoed past,’ does a better descriptive job. Let’s switch the elf with a giant and see how it goes.

The giant walked past.

The giant lumbered past.

Giants are big and obvious. Using lumber instead of walked is a better descriptive choice.

Another Angle…

There are other ways to give a bland sentence a needed punch without necessarily using a thesaurus. In this case, simple words are rearranged in a way that makes the sentence more interesting.

Ordinary: Hercules swung his sword and cut off Medusa’s head.

Way better: With a powerful swing of his sword, Hercules sent Medusa’s head flying.

Tips

Do Not Over Describe: ‘Bola walked into the room and gazed at the furniture, admiring the leather love seat, the purple high back chair, the blue and black center table, the plush grey Persian rug, the massive painting of the sea on the south wall…’

We know you have a lot of words in your word bank… just try not to be so heavy handed with your description. If you can’t help it, narrate your description in doses. Between dialogues and character musing. A little here and a little there. Do not flood your readers with paragraphs or long winded sentences of setting/character description.

Avoid Excessive Use of Adverbs. Slowly. Gently. Angrily. Mournfully. Joyfully. Go easy on the ly’s, please. For example, instead of saying slowly, narrate what slowly looks like. She smiled slowly. A slow smile touched her lips. Better.

Try Not To Repeat Words. Repeated words sometimes distract/irritate readers.

He looked through the window, staring with unseeing eyes as fat drops of rain beat against the window glass.

Without the second window, the meaning of the sentence is still perfectly communicated.

Another example: Bola placed her hand on the dog’s head and began to pet it with her hand. With her hand is redundant. Its addition to the sentence is a clear example of repeating words in order to over-explain scenes to your readers. Your readers are not dumb. Stop over-explaining/describing in your story.

Activity

Read through the story you’ve been working on from the beginning of this course. See if there are ways you can make your sentences even better from what you’ve learnt today.

Next Class: Narrative Tenses

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