This is a guest post by my friend and fellow writer, Sylvie Kurtz. She’s a published author and a writing teacher. Enjoy!
One of the top ten beginning students’ mistakes I see is the use of weak words to get a story across. I’m not sure if it comes from the advice I often hear from teachers to write as if you were telling the story to your best friend.
So let’s say you’re out jogging and you see a man and a dog. You saw them with your eyes, so you have a clear picture in your mind of the man and the dog. When you sit across the kitchen table and tell your friend about what you saw, the conversation might go something like this:
“I saw this guy walking with this dog and—”
“What did the guy look like?” the friend asks.
“Like a thug.”
“What kind of dog?”
“You know, one of those mean ones. A Rottweiler.”
So you fill in the sketch in her mind and soon her mind picture might look similar to yours.
The problem is that a reader can’t knock on your door and say, “Hey, by the way, what kind of dog was it?”
When you write, all the reader can see in her mind is what’s on the page. Yes, given enough details, the brain will fill in the scene, but you have to give enough seed impressions to start that concrete and specific picture building.
Let’s take that man walking that dog again and create a more vibrant sentence.
He walked with his dog. Nothing wrong with this sentence. Nothing wrong with walk. It’s an active verb. He and dog are kind of blurry though. I’m not seeing anything but silhouettes.
You’re missing three chances to create a more vivid mind picture for your reader.
He strolled along the sidewalk with a Jack Russell terrier ahead of him, tugging at the leash. Here you get the sense of someone not being in a hurry and a small dog full of energy. So now the dog and the manner of walking are clearer, but he’s still gray.
The man’s spine curbed with age and his plodding gait matched that of the golden retriever at his side. The pace here is slower and both the man and the dog give a different emotional impression.
A guy his age should’ve been working at some nine-to-five job, not striding the quiet streets of the suburbs at ten in the morning wearing a hoodie and fighting the pitbull, prancing and growling at his side. This creates a completely different picture, one that might raise suspicion.
The writer’s foremost tool is the words he uses to generate pictures that will allow the reader to experience the scene. That experience strikes an emotional cord in the reader and that emotion is the unconscious reason why a reader reads.
What do you want your reader to feel as she reads your scene? What concrete and specific words can pop up an image that’s colorful enough to give her that feeling?
Strong words cause strong pictures to fire into the brain and those strong images create emotions. It’s like taking a reader’s hand and saying, “Come along with me. I’ll give you a ride you’ll remember.”
Sylvie Kurtz (www.sylviekurtz.com) writes adventures that explore the complexityof the human mind and the thrill of suspense. She likes dark chocolate, soft wool, and sappy movies.