Not all words are made equal. Each of them serves a purpose, I’ll give you that much, but some purposes are certainly more vital than others. Some words are weak, other words are strong, some words are vague, other words are precise. And each of these can be used for whenever they are in need. It just happens that there is more need for some words than there are for others.
Now, before any of you call me the equivalent of the term racist in the case of words (a wordist?), it is a known fact that how we use our language has a significant effect on the tone, feel, emotion, and weight behind the scenes that we use.
Which is why we must exterminate the unfit.
It is a sad, sad truth that much of the words that we use on a daily basis are ineffective. They are incapable of pulling their own weight, and need additional context in order to properly define them within a story. This is what you want to avoid. But let’s move on to the example.
Example: Jerry fought with Tom over the stuffed animal.
Now, maybe if you were making an essay for your elementary school Reading class, you might be able to get away with this sentence. But if you intend to use this for any serious writing project, at any of the other stages of your life, you’ll see the plethora of ways to improve the message you’re trying to convey in this sentence.
Let’s start with the problems, which are really just two glaring issues. The minor problem is the word over. While it usually does imply that they would be having a tussle with regards to whom gets to keep the stuffed animal, it’s not as precise as it could be. But seeing as how it is not a “bland” word, just one that could have been tweaked a little, this is nothing worth losing sleep over. The other problem, however, is worth noting.
If you’ve read my post on making better fight scenes, then you might be able to guess the other issue that I’m going to point out. The word fought is what I like to call, a Hollow word. When I mean Hollow word, I mean a word that lacks substance to it. While using it could work well in everyday vernacular, it helps little in painting a picture of what is actually happening. Hollow words usually represent big ideas from which spread a plethora of smaller, more concise words.
Fought, expresses the idea of conflict. But this is too vague for literature. Just think about it, what kind of conflict is occurring here? Are they fighting to the death? Is one dominating over the other? Is it a weak scuffle? Is it even that rough? Are they even fighting physically? These are the kind of questions that are left unanswered when you just use the word fought. Chances are, considering the fact that they’re fighting over a stuffed animal, that the ferocity of their battle is not that high. So you want to get across the idea that this is a non-lethal conflict.
Now the question is, how in the nine hells do I even go about fixing this issue? At first, you might try to do something like this.
Example: Jerry fought with Tom over the stuffed animal, walloping the boy on his head with his fists.
Now, now, now, if you want to get really technical, this is a solution to the problem. You’ve managed to specify the kind of fighting that is occurring. You pointed out that they’re using fists, which implies that this argument is not going to escalate that far, and the word walloping gives the motion of the fists a lighthearted connotation, which places emphasis on the innocence of the conflict. And, if you would like, you could already throw in the towel on this.
But this isn’t the best solution.
For starters, you’re already adding more words to the idea that you’re trying to express. While the image is precise, it requires more thought processes from the reader because the sentence is too long. As for the word walloping, which is an effective word, it falls into the category of -ing words. But I won’t speak with regards to this, as another blogger you should follow, Sheryl already has, and rather neatly, might I add. But on the whole, one of your goals should be to facilitate the process of reading, and adding more words to your sentences tends to be a detriment in this regard.
So instead of adding context to a Hollow word, why not just try to replace it? Let’s see if you do better this time.
Example: Jerry brawled with Tom for the stuffed animal.
Alrighty, we finally reached an effective answer to our problem. Unlike the verb fought, which is a very vague word, brawl carries a more precise connotation to it. When you say the word brawl, you usually don’t think about deadly sword duels, or pistol showdowns, rather, you’re more likely to picture a fist fight of a kind. Brawl is a word that carries the whole implication of being a non-lethal fight. Not only have you gotten rid of the ineffective word fought, but you’ve also eliminated any need to add extra context.
You killed two birds with one stone!
So what did we learn today? We learned that some words are more valuable than others when it comes to literature, and that context matters when it comes to choosing the right words. We also learned that it tends to be easier for a reader to digest short sentences with strong words over long sentences with Hollow words. But my dear reader, before you leave, I’ve got a pop quiz for you!
How would you fix the following examples:
- The two boys jumped over a hole inside of a cave.
- The group of people had an argument in front of an audience.
- The woman picked up the child, wrapping him in a blanket.
- The farmer worked his finished crops, harvesting them since the morning.
- Lyra grabbed the bloodied knife and looked at it with a curious expression.
Be careful with some of these! One or two of them are traps, and a lot of them can be trimmed to the point of being unrecognizable. But there’s no set answer, whatever paints an accurate picture of the situation works. Pick however many you wish to answer, and if someone else has fixed one you wanted, then feel free to pick that same sentence and do something different with it. We at QuestingAuthor just want to promote healthy disscussion! So feel free to drop off your answers in the comments!
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.