On Writing: Vividness, Vocabulary, and more on Said

Vivid descriptions are key to drawing readers deeper into your writing, whether prose or poetry. Your challenge as a writer is to create images and scenes with words, to reproduce intense emotions and experiences with descriptions so your readers can experience what you have. It’s creating vicarious experiences for readers, affording them a glimpse into your world, into your mind. Writers who do not take advantage of the wealth of words available in the English language create their own handicap and limit their writing to the mundane. Besides limiting their potential, writers who do not stretch their vocabularies where the language takes them also limit their potential to teach their readers the beauty and power of language. As a writing teacher, I am committed to helping my students improve their vocabulary because vocabulary is essential to writing. A writer with a poor vocabulary is like a runner with only one leg.

I have written several times about using exact language, especially in writing, and it’s not something I will ever stop writing about. Society is no great help in this regard, especially when it promotes vague language by using words such as “stuff” and “things” for objects, or “nice” and “great” for anything positive. Writing teachers have been trying to teach their students year after year how to use more precise language, more vivid words. After all, writing is about creating images for the reader in words. If your writing cannot provide the reader with sufficient details to recreate the picture or scene you, as the writer, imagined, then you have failed. Let me revisit “said is dead”. If you haven’t yet found enough words more vivid than “said”, here’s a short list of “a” words to get you started.

Acknowledged, acquiesced, added, addressed, admitted, admonished, advised, advocated, affirmed, agreed, alleged, allowed, announced, answered, approved, argued, assented, asserted, assumed, assured, asked, attested, avowed.

As a reminder, I admonish writers not to use a dialogue tag to merely repeat or state the obvious. In this case, I refer to writing a question in dialogue and ending it with a question mark, then using the dialogue tag “she asked” or “he asked”. The use of a question mark to end a sentence, in itself, indicates a question has been asked, hence, the dialogue tag can be dispensed with and replaced with a description of an action or expression, instead. For instance, what do people do when they ask questions? Some might raise an eyebrow or both eyebrows, frown, shake their head, raise their hands to their sides with palms facing up, scratch their head, or rub the back of their neck. As in previous writing, I continue to recommend keen observation of behavior because that is what will give you, as a writer, the images you will recreate in your writing.

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