If you’re even a little bit serious about improving your writing, you know the value of replacing banal autopilot words with something more imaginative, something that will catch the reader’s eye rather than gliding past it like asphalt on the road. But how do you go about finding those fragrant figments of speech? It takes years to develop enough vocabulary flexibility to have a dozen options on the tip of your fingers for any given phrase.
This morning I began an e-mail to another writer. “I love your descriptions,” I wrote. Oh gag! I thought. Not about the descriptions, but about that trite phrase. I’m writing about lilting phrases that slide into my ear like the warble of a meadowlark, and all I can say is “I love your descriptions”? I tried again. “I admire your descriptions.” True, but not even close.
There was no need to flounder. Those of you reading this blog can do the same thing I did — click over to Thesaurus.com. I searched for alternatives to “admire” and came up with twenty-six lists containing hundreds of words, mostly overlapping. Treasure, cherish, commend, savor, applaud or esteem were improvements, but still lacking.
Rather than recasting the search with one of those words, I took another tack. I recast the sentence: “Your descriptions are music in my ears.” Mental melodies? Your lyrical lines…? How do I feel when I read her descriptions? I asked. What do they remind me of?
I won’t bore you with every thought in the train. I’ll skip to the final choice, only one of many satisfactory alternatives: “Your lyrical lines of description evoke the happy tinkle of wind chimes. My heart smiles.” Okay. Maybe this is a bit overblown for most purposes, but it’s accurate! That is the way I respond. Her writing has that effect on me, and challenges me to respond in kind.
To me this is the difference between sending a birthday card from the Dollar Store versus handcrafting one on rice paper with embossed borders, a poem in hand-written calligraphy, and a few watercolor embellishments. Some occasions call for the quick-and-dirty card, and auto-pilot words are fine for most communications.
But not my stories! When I write for the delight of readers, they deserve my very best. I’m not great with calligraphy, poetry, rice paper or watercolor brushes. Word pictures are what I have to offer.
My challenge to you: Take one ordinary sentence from a story you’ve written, or one you’re working on, and see how far you can stretch it. Write from your heart to make it flower, make it growl, make it glow. Transcend the trite!
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal