Posts Tagged ‘precision’


Saturday, May 29th, 2010

One thing a writer should possess is a keen understanding of the meaning of words. Words are, after all, the tools of the trade. We need to know which word to use in this place, a decision that should be driven by the words that precede and follow. A single word comes with shadings, multiple meanings — which shading and which meaning are derived from the context.

Take, for example, the word spell.

  • How do you spell letter?
  • Can you spell me for a bit? I’ve been awake for 20 hours.
  • Come sit a spell.
  • I am under his spell.
  • The witch cast a spell.

Indeed a word with multiple meanings. Each meaning comes loaded with information. Suppose you were thinking of spell in the last sense listed. The witch cast a spell. There are lots of words we could choose instead but not as a direct replacement. enchantment, glamor, hex. If I thought harder about it, I’m sure I would come up with more (bespelled, ensorcelled, see?). Each choice requires that the sentence be cast (heh!) in a slightly different way, each choice affects more than the meaning of the words, the choice affects whether the sentence is makes us think of danger, deception, illusion or something else.

A writer needs to make deliberate choices. I used this word here for a reason. Maybe to call attention to itself. Maybe to pave the way for something yet to come. Perhaps to call attention to some other portion of the writing. You are shaping the story through the words you choose. To do this, you absolutely must understand the nuances. You must satisfy the perquisites of the word. If, for example, you chose the word refute, then you have implied a precedence of logic. Something before had a flaw in its logical structure and at the place where you have chosen to use this word, you darn well better have set up your choice. It does not mean mere disagreement. It implies someone or something has the power to disprove. There is power in this word and by your choice of it, you have the ability to to draw us a character whose mind is impressive or who lacks the wit to, in fact, refute anything.

Sloppy use of words does not make for strong writing. Don’t choose a word because everyone else does in this situation. Choose it because it works here. In this place. Surrounded by these words.

I was moved to this post because I just finished an otherwise delightful book that was spoiled, for me, by imprecision.

When you use words, you are calling upon powerful magic.