Write Like an Expert

At the risk of sending certain words into oblivion or exhibiting them in some museum of dead words, I have to remind writing students longer words are not always the best choice in writing. I have students who think they should not use the same word more than once in an essay and search assiduously for synonyms to replace a single word should they need to use that word a second or third time. There is such a thing as introducing variety in your vocabulary and using the exact word. If there is no alternative to the exact word, by all means, use the exact word instead of using alternative words. If a word can replace a phrase, choose the phrase over the word to avoid the downfall of many a writer: wordiness. If a plainer word exists that more people will understand, use the plainer language. Throwing in exotic, long, fancy words when simple language suffices is more likely to repel readers. Besides, when words are used out of context, you risk conveying the wrong meaning or creating the wrong impression. Probably the best rule to follow in choosing words as you write is to use mainly words in your active vocabulary. When those words are not enough, go ahead and rummage through the rest of your vocabulary. If you still cannot find the right word, then do consult a thesaurus but check your choice for the most apt meaning and usage. When in doubt, search for nuances and implications, because the word you choose could have a special significance or usage. If you are writing in a particular genre, for instance detective, crime, or espionage stories, you need to familiarize yourself with the terminology used within those professions. Not knowing the right lingo reveals you are no expert in that area and the last thing you need is to lose credibility. Yes, there is a Dictionary of Espionage.

You can compensate for your lack of expertise in an area you want to write about by consulting other experts besides dictionaries and encyclopediae. Find someone familiar with the area you are writing about and solicit their advice on technical details. Ask them to beta read your story and help you straighten out your details and terminology. Do your research, whether by reading expert and reliable sources extensively or interviewing expert sources. Read works by writers you admire in the genre you want to write so you can emulate them, if not at least get an idea of the language they use. If at all possible, you can immerse yourself in the environment. If you are writing a cop story, hang around a police precinct, talk with them, get a feel for their language. Unfortunately, there will be severe limitations to how much you can actually witness, as well as how much can be revealed to you or that you can reveal in your stories. We can’t all be as fortunate as Frank Castle who can run around with police detectives and observe them solving crimes in person, using their stories as fodder for his best-selling novels. That’s where the fiction comes in. There will be greater difficulty observing actual detective work, espionage, or even other branches or areas of law enforcement. I have heard real cops say nothing you see in all the tv cop series is anything like the real thing. That’s the cold hard truth. It’s all fiction. Really, if you can’t have a real-life model, all you need is your imagination to craft a meticulously well-planned world with all the details worked out so your characters interact with consistent surroundings. You create the world, you make the rules, you play god. That’s how you create your fictional world.

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