Friday, May 30, 2008

Word Choice and Lightning Bugs

Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

We must make word choices everywhere. Maybe word choice is not so important in conversations where specific words are soon forgotten and only the overall message is saved in the brain, but word choice becomes more important when it is delivered in writing. Have you ever read something you wrote the day before – a sentence, a scene, an entire chapter – then realized it makes no sense?

I buzz through a first draft and leave word choice repair for the revision (which I’m currently working on with my middle grade mystery). After critiquing a friend’s manuscript this week and marking Word Choice in many places, I started to think I was being too picky. Then I read Mark Twain’s quote, on the same day that I saw the first lightning bug of the season. Word Choice is only one tool in manuscript writing. But I don’t want to turn any cute lightning bugs into lightning in my manuscripts.


Tom said...

Rae Ann,
Interesting topic. Reminds me of the movie "Throw momma from the train", where Billy Crystal is suffering writer's block at the start, trying to finish the first sentence. The night was... anyway, one of his choices was 'moist'. At the end of the movie, the mother says the word 'sultry' and Billy's eyes light up and he finished the ms, which of course, was immediately published. (Hollywood) I can sympathize with trying to find the proper word, even resorting to the dictionary for help. I've even put in sentences to make use of some really cool words I've found while looking for another one. Of course, the ultimate 'word choice' goes to when dealing with the wife, as I'm sure it is when dealing with the husband. Unfortunately, there is no editing to be done after its said. Or are flowers considered a rewrite?

Rae Ann Parker said...

TOM, I like my dictionary, too, but I love my thesaurus. It stays on my desk and if someone borrows it without returning it to its spot, I go looking for it.
And I think you can't go wrong with flowers, or chocolate.

Shauna Roberts said...

Many published authors advise leaving finding the right word until revisions, as you are doing. I can't do that. If I can't find the right word, I can't go on. For me, the tone or flavor words have, whether they have soft or hard sounds, and how many syllables they contain and where the accents fall influence what should follow. (Think of how different a paragraph would be if a sofa were described as scarlet vs. pomegranate vs. vermillion vs. red.) So I sometimes spend 15 minutes finding the right word so I can continue.

Yes, I am a slow writer.

Rae Ann Parker said...

SHAUNA, by finding the right word in the first draft, you are saving time in the revision. As They say, Whatever works for you is the right way to write. Thank goodness.

Sphinx Ink said...

I'm more like Shauna--I will spend time trying to think of just the right word, rather than just putting anything down and moving on. I polish and edit as I go along, so by the time I get to the end, it's pretty close to the final version. I've never been a first-draft, second-draft, third-draft writer.