Using the right words to tell a story


smalloneI just got done reading W. Somerset Maugham for the first time and it is striking how plain his language is. He just went through and told the story. He didn’t bother with tricks or bells & whistles. He just gave it to you straight. And, even though the words were boring in themselves, his mastery at connecting them together and making a story is astonishing.

By the time I reached the climax I found that I was a fan. All because he knew how to take something so simple and make it come alive.

If you are finding that your writing is not hitting the mark, maybe you are trying too hard to make it SOUND like good writing. Maybe you are using flowery words where you need to be using plain, direct language.

There are a lot of three-dollar words that can be pared down to ten-cent phrases that will get your message across much cleaner and more effectively. Try using a thesaurus as you write and ask yourself if any of the synonyms listed can better tell your story, can better SHOW the reader what it is you’re wanting her to see.

Of course, if you’re a poet, those three-dollar words can help you paint a fabulous picture on the canvas. But if you are writing fiction, those devices can get in the way. Keep it simple and don’t let the journey get away from you – or the reader. If the reader has to constantly stop and get out the dictionary to understand what it is you’re saying, then you’re making her work too hard. Keep it simple, like Maugham did. And you may find that your skill at telling the story — flourishes.