I apologize if the new title for my writing posts makes you hungry. I cannot stop thinking of Rice Crispies; does any cereal hold more sugar? As a ten-year old boy, I reached for unsweetened cereal in the cupboard. I wanted to choose the amount of sugar on my own. Some cereals tantalized my tongue with lots of added sugar, while others were delicious with nary an added grain. Cheerios fell into the latter category. Rice Crispies and Grape Nuts cried out for a four to one ratio – four parts sugar! Some cereals melt in the mouth; others are hard and crunchy. These days, I’m more likely to sigh as I walk past the cereal section of the grocery store. Whether due to age, taste, or diet I’m not quite sure. Maybe the selection of cereals is so broad that my mind boggles with indecision. Sometimes, life makes choosing difficult.
One aspect of writing I am particularly sweet on is choice of word. The right word will make or break a thought, a point, or a story. There are two categories of choosing the right word: Synonym and Sound.
I’ll skim over the Synonym category since we know using a thesaurus to choose a word is rife with danger. Writers risk sounding inauthentic – fake – when using words not part of their daily vocabulary. They also risk missing the subtle differences of definition between synonyms, differences that may convey your intended point or thought with a different meaning (or mental image).
You should pay attention to how your writing sounds to the reader. I almost never read my writing aloud. Yes, I know; we’re often advised to read our writing aloud to ensure sentences flow and sound natural. I prefer to do that in my head (that helps me drown out the other voices in my head 🙂
Words with harsh, hard sounds may grate on the reader’s nerves. When I write, I avoid opening sentences with “It.” It sounds harsh, for one thing. It, as a substitute for using an object’s name, seems impersonal. “Look at that rainbow. It’s so lovely.” “Look at that rainbow. How lovely.”
Another word I avoid is “got.” I got a raise. I got clobbered. I got everything I need. Got Milk? (KMN.) Got is an ugly word. It sounds harsh, hard, misbegotten. Using “got” is uninspired writing. Using got implies the writer is unaware of the effect words have on sentence flow and sound. The writer may use the word naturally, but that doesn’t mean got is the right, or best, word. When used in dialogue between characters, got is acceptable, as long as the word is natural to the character speaking. Other than that, got should be avoided.
The thoughtful writer pays attention to how words sound. Words that fit the pattern of your thought or intended meaning are fine. However, words with harsh, hard, or jarring sounds will sound harsh, hard, and jarring to the reader. Don’t be afraid to search the thesaurus for a better word, or the right word. Do be careful not to select the wrong word.