I’ve already discussed the 3 Elements of Good Description and the 6 Pitfalls of Description, but I saved the best for last. What is the true secret to good description? Is there the one thing that will open the door to allow a writer to touch the reader and dive them into the wonders of a story? The answer is yes and that one thing is word choice.
The word or words chosen to describe something can make all the difference in the world. It can influence the reader’s mood and change the entire context of a sentence, paragraph, and even the characteristics of a character.
I recently wrote a short story and gave it to a fellow writer to critique. She called me out (and rightly so) on a minor character because she thought he was too much of a stalker. It wasn’t my intention to make the character stalkerish, but I went back and saw that I actually used the world stalker to describe the character. So if I didn’t want him to be a stalker then why use the word? In my case, it was a slip of the word and I was in too much of a rush to go back and fix it. I wanted a different word but failed to chose it because I was too lazy to find the appropriate word.
Is this something you find yourself doing? I find I do it quite a lot. I settle for a word when I know it isn’t the right one. I know that the word I’m using isn’t setting the right picture or mood for what I want the reader to see and feel. Sometimes finding that perfect word can be difficult (even when I actually have the time to find it), in these cases the thesaurus is my best friend.
Still not convinced that word choice is so important? Check out the examples below. You be the judge.
Okay: The clown was enjoyable.
Definition of enjoyable: giving or capable of giving joy or pleasure. www.dictionary.com
Better: The clown was amusing.
Definition of amusing: pleasantly entertaining or diverting; causing mirth or laughter; humorously entertaining www.dictionary.com
As you can see the words enjoyable and amusing have similar meanings but amusing gives the sentence an extra punch. It says that the clown was entertaining and fun, maybe even funny. Between the two words amusing evokes a better picture of what kind of effect the clown has on the people in the story.
Okay: The sunset was a beautiful.
Better: The sunset was breath-taking.
This example shows a difference because it takes the sunset from being just plan beautiful to breath-taking. The words breath-taking gives a whole different picture. It is more descriptive because it makes the reader feel a since of wonder. The words even give the reader the reflex of taking in the breath.
(Notice the highlighted word since. It should be sense. Yet, another important thing to remember when choosing the right word. Make sure it means what it's suppose to mean. The dictionary is your second best friend.)
Don’t be afraid of words and get the best use out of them to expand on a thought or idea. This is most important when describing characters. Use emotion and attributes to embellish a character and describe them. Don’t rely on the physical alone and if you do a physical description make your words count.
Okay: Charlotte was intelligent for her age.
Better: Charlotte was a wise old soul. She understood more than most and always was quick with a solution; despite that she was barely old enough to drive.
Okay: Anthony was a handsome man. He was very athletic and it showed.
Better: Anthony’s skin felt taunt against the flesh of my hand. My eyes traveled the mountain ranges of his sculptured abs and I was afraid to meet his gaze. I knew those sapphire eyes were waiting for me to look up. His perfection made me feel small, unworthy.
Words are powerful. They have the ability to shape minds and make the reader see what you want them to see, so they must be used carefully and placed just so. Make it a practice to take the time to find the perfect word.