Choose your words wisely, my mom used to say. And while I’ve always tried to follow that advice in my everyday life, as a writer, I live by it. I can (and often do) spend hours on one word or phrase. Are my character’s eyes a vivid blue or do they sparkle with an electric hue? Are they an emerald green or the shimmering green of a summer’s first jewel beetle? And her hair, is it the color of sun bleached wheat or a deep chestnut streaked with the first hint of gray?
And while her green eyes may flash with anger, and she may push away a stray hair, it is vivid dialogue and secondary physical characteristics that will bring her to life for the reader. A firm set to her jaw, a furrowed brow, a hand running distractedly through her tousled hair will add drama to her words and a sense of who she is to the reader.
For example – Her smile evaporated at the sight of him, and she felt her shoulders tense. “I thought you said eight,” she said through gritted teeth. She turned away and sighed. Suddenly everything felt heavy, her legs, the air. Nothing would ever be the same. Why bother pretending?
And though those sentences read quickly, I spent a significant amount of time on each word, each phrase, hoping it would convey a sense of who this character is, and more – hoping that she’d leave an impression on you.
But for a writer, there is still more to ponder. I read an article recently decrying the over use of certain words, and some of my favorites – literally, really, amazing (okay so I agree with that one) – were among them. And now, when I’m writing or editing my words, I’ll have to give more thought, literally, to whether or not it all works. I mean really works.