Part of the incredible power of good writing stems from how individual words are used. Carefully selected, intentional choices can mean the difference between saying something interesting and saying something profound.
Writing instructors, especially when it comes to fiction, talk about showing rather than telling. This is accomplished through the creative use of verbs and nouns. It requires a writer to command a vast vocabulary–or at least access to great resources.
Since discovering my Celtic heritage some years ago, I have been studying my family history in Cornwall and Wales. That study led to curiosity about Gaelic and Brythionic languages, which in turn inspired me to investigate some ancient words for use in my fiction writing.
I was amazed to find several British University linguistic projects, from which had been created some incredible websites featuring dictionaries and translation searches. I have spent hours playing with these sites, discovering all sorts of word history and evolution. Big fun for me–and, I quickly realized–a well spring of words I had never heard before.
Other interesting resources I discovered in the physical world–largely in used book stores. On my shelf I currently have 7 versions of Roget’s Thesaurus, dating back to the mid 1930s. You would be amazed to find out how the meaning of the word buxom has changed throughout the generations. I have 5 English Dictionaries, 2 French-English, and several dialect dictionaries.
But even more important than having many many words at your command is the knowlege of how and when to use them. By taking the time to learn and understand the real meaning of any given word, you will discover some truly unexpected ways to incorporate them into your work. This will give you an opportunity to take your writing to a whole new place.
Take the word eclectic for example. My 13-year old daughter was reciting from a poetry collection that was described to her by her teacher as eclectic. My daughter wanted to know what that meant. Easy, right? I gave her my definition–based on the common, everyday usage of the word. In my experience, eclectic is most often used to describe something that is ‘put together’, an amalgamation, often of oddities.
Being the critical thinker she is, my daughter decided not to be satisfied with my definitions and pulled out 3 of the 5 dictionaries on the shelf and proceeded to investigate. She came back with 3 similar but distinctly different definitions. And, I now know 3 new and unusual ways to use this fascinating word.
How many dictionaries and thesauri are on on your shelf? In my opinion, there can never be too many. Happy writing!