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Making the Right Word Choices When Writing

Updated on January 9, 2015

Has This Ever Happened to You?

So there I was in the local supermarket, browsing the shelves while my wife loaded the cart. We turned a corner, narrowly avoiding disaster as a little old lady ran a stop sign with her shopping cart and barreled past us, leaving obscenities in her wake.

Just another joyful shopping experience.

I recovered from the near-catastrophe and spied a book display in the next aisle. The rack held twenty copies of a novel written by a local mystery writer. Since I’m always interested in mysteries, and I love to support local artists, I grabbed one of her books and opened to the first page. I read the first page, and then I read it again. I called my wife over and had her read it. Her response was the same as mine….WHAT A BUNCH OF GARBAGE!

What awakened our literary wrath was poor word choice. On that first page, the only page in that book I read or will ever read, I counted ten sentences that began with the word “she.” Mind you, there were only twenty-two sentences on that first page, so that means that forty-five percent of the sentences on that page began with the same word.

Unforgiveable!

“She got into her car and started it up.”

“She drove downtown for her meeting.”

“She noticed the clouds forming and grabbed her umbrella from the back seat.”

And on and on she went, oblivious to the fact that she had just slit her own literary throat.

The first thing I would do, if I were that author, would be to demand a refund from my editor. Unless, of course, she used no editor, in which case, I would demand a refund from the author.

There are over 171,000 words in the English language. “She” is only one of them.

This is what bad word choice looks like
This is what bad word choice looks like | Source

Let’s Take a Look at Common Word-choice Mistakes

How can we know if we are goofing up if we don’t recognize our mistakes? I have found that many writers aren’t even aware that they are making word-choice mistakes, so let’s take a look at a few of the most common.

  • Repetition…..as we just saw from the example above, using the same word multiple times is tiresome and oh, so boring. Obviously, if you are writing about something specific like leukemia, you have very little choice but to use that word often…but….when writing short stories, or a novel, there is no excuse for repetition.
  • Connotation…..it is quite common for a writer to use synonyms, but it is also quite common for a writer to use the wrong synonym. Every word has a meaning, but most words also have a connotation, or implied meaning, that the writer must be aware of before using that word.
  • Precision….does the word you have chosen say exactly what you want it to say? Is the word vivid or is it vague?
  • The law of simplicity….using a word that is so erudite that it will confuse your audience might not be a road to success. I’m torn on this one, quite frankly. We, as writers, don’t want our readers having to run to the dictionary to find out what a word means, but we also don’t want to write down to our audience in such simplistic language as to render the writing childlike.
  • The word doesn’t fit the situation….if you have a five-year old speaking, and she uses a five-syllable word, chances are you’ve made a mistake. The word needs to fit the moment. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.

Poor word choice
Poor word choice | Source
Good word choice
Good word choice | Source

Easy Fixes to Poor Word Choice

Now that we have some idea of common mistakes, it’s time to clean things up and make our words work for us and not against us. Here are some things you can do to improve your word-choice.

  • Embrace the thesaurus and dictionary. They are your friends. They may well be a writer’s best friends.
  • Read…..I firmly believe that nothing improves writing skills like reading the skills of others. Look at how others use the language to avoid repetition. Look at how they choose just the right word. The great writers of our times are great, not by accident, but by paying attention to details like word-choice.
  • Read your work out loud. Listen to the flow and listen to the sound of your words. Quite often your words will “sound” differently than how you intended them to sound, and you can only hear that by speaking those words.
  • Choose words that match the spirit of the moment. Words with a lot of consonants are harsh sounding words. Vowels tend to soften the mood. Short words portray action. Long words slow things up. Be aware of this when choosing your words.
  • Be willing to go to any lengths. This has everything to do with a willingness to improve.

And While We’re on That Topic

A willingness to improve!

What possible difference can word-choice make? I’m sure there are some who are rolling their eyes right now, convinced that I’m making too big a deal out of this. Who cares if that writer I mentioned earlier used the word “she” too many times? Does it really make any difference when judging her body of work?

Well, I’ll never know, because I refuse to read beyond her first page, and that refusal has everything to do with her word-choice.

So, what possible difference did her word-choice make? It was the difference between me buying her book and placing is gently back on the shelf.

Now Let’s See How It Is Done

See if you recognize the writer from these two paragraphs. While you are reading them, pay attention to the word-choices this author made.

“My worst dreams have always contained images of brown water and fields of elephant grass and the downdraft of helicopter blades. The dreams are in color but they contain no sound, not of drowned voices in the river or the explosions under the hooches in the village we burned or the thropping of the Jolly Green and the gunships coming low and flat across the canopy, like insects pasted against a molten sun.

In the dream I lie on a poncho liner, dehydrated with blood expander, my upper thigh and side torn by wounds that could have been put there by wolves. I am convinced I will die unless I receive plasma back at battalion aid. Next to me lies a Negro corporal, wearing only his trousers and boots, his skin coal-black, his torso split open like a gaping red zip-per from his armpit down to his groin, the damage to his body so grievous, traumatic, and terrible to see or touch he doesn't understand what has happened to him. “

That excerpt is from “The Tin Roof Blowdown” by James Lee Burke. What do you think of his word choice? How did he do? Do you see any repetition there? How about the flow of his words and the rhythm? It seems to me that he has done a masterful job, but then I happen to be a huge fan of Burke anyway. I’ll be interested in what you think.

Now it’s your turn! Grab your thesaurus and your dictionary and start choosing words wisely.

2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 2 years ago from New York, New York

      Bill, once again I bow at your writer's feet here as yes I couldn't agree more and your tips to achieve choosing the right words for your writing are definitely so useful and helpful, too. Thanks so much my friend and wishing you a wonderful weekend ahead now!! ;)

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 2 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Repetition is a pet peeve of mine. Especially when the same descriptive word is used in the same sentence!! Really? "Great article! I thought it was great and that you are a great writer who shares great ideas." I apologize to you Bill for my example of repetition, but I guarantee you had a good laugh! :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, get up please. No bowing! LOL

      Thank you my friend. Have a superb weekend, and thank you for your loyalty.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Linda, your guarantee would be right on. I hate repetition too, and it doesn't take me long to toss a book aside that has it...or a story or article for that matter.

      Thanks for being here and providing a laugh to start my day.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      billybuc

      She didn't have a chance with you, did she, she is only human, shouldn't she be given a break. What did she do to you? How she might have appreciated your constructive criticism. She might have benefited from feedback, that she could have used in a future writing endeavor. lol

      Seriously, my question is at what age group should your writing be directed, say in the case of an adult mystery?

      Newspapers write at the eight grade level, unless you read the Wall Street Journal.

      Another quesition

      In writing scene, Alancaster149 made a comment that using the vernacular didn't work all the time, but I thought average language was appropriate for the piece. She as mentioned in your hub doesn't have enough context for me to know whether it was appropriate to use the way people talk. When people talk, they are fast and loose with grammar, and repetition of words falls like raindrops in a heavy shower.

      So maybe in a future hub, you can give the pro and con of using the vernacular.

      In addition, he also suggested dropping the -ing.

      I really don't understand either of these comments, as I don't know much about writing fiction. That doesn't mean that I don't want to learn more about it.

      Most of my fiction experience comes from the movies, where the screenplay can be totally unrecognizable from the book version, if there was a book.

      Thanks

    • profile image

      DannoMan 2 years ago

      No edit of my own writing ever escapes looking for repetition. It is so insidious in creeping into my copy that it frequently goes unnoticed until much later. Like even, second or third edit later. But I have actually gotten a lot less anal about it than I used to be. I no longer feel I must eliminate every example that crops up. Twice in the same sentence, no. Twice within two or three sentences, maybe okay. But being aware of it is still critical.

    • Anna Haven profile image

      Anna Haven 2 years ago from Scotland

      You can't beat a thesaurus for a trusty sidekick. You speak wise words as usual and thankfully steer us clear from that dreaded page of I....I...I... fence-post sentences!

      The novel excerpt was interesting, gripping and didn't sugarcoat. It reminded me of your writing style to be honest.

      Have a nice weekend. :)

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 2 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Last I checked, the younger generations are not aware of Thesaurus and don't use an actual dictionary anymore. Yes, I was surprised on that! Seems like they are now passe' in the cyber world we now live in.

      However, thank you for this lesson Bill. Absolutely a useful hub!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Interesting and helpful to all writers and I think I have the same problem.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      DannoMan, I'm with you. I'm currently on my third edit of my latest novel and I'm still finding too much repetition. Oh well, the first step is realizing that it is a problem...at least then we can fix it, right? Thanks for your thoughts.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Anna. Burke has been a huge influence on my writing style, so I consider that a huge compliment.

      Enjoy your weekend, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Cris, that is actually a concern of mine as a former teacher. It does seem that they are passe' with regards to language, and I think that is a shame.

      Hugs from Oly, and thanks

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you DDE. It's only a problem if we aren't aware of it and don't care.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Brad, all great questions, and I have room in Monday's mailbag for them all. Stay tuned and don't give up hope. :)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I do not think many can say that they mastered these truths. I fall way short of the mark -- but it seems like progress rather than perfection is the goal here. Thanks for a great hub.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I have that same dictionary and it is open often. This was a great lesson. I will watch repetition more closely now. Thank you..

    • Gawth profile image

      Ron Gawthorp 2 years ago from Millboro, Virginia

      A special thanks for including an excerpt from James Lee Burke. He is indeed the Masterful Master.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      billybuc

      Not a problem.

      It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

      Now that writer is either ambivalent, or sees two cups of water. lol.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Eric, my entire life is an example of progress rather than perfection. :) carry on my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Ruby. At the risk of sounding too negative, I will say that too much repetition is just lazy writing.

      I guess that does sound too negative. LOL

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Gawth, thank you. Any follower of Burke is a friend of mine. The man is indeed a master of the written word.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Brad, one of the classic lines in literature, and one I dislike. LOL What's he saying? Is he satisfied or not? Could he possibly make up his mind about anything? LOL

    • Chris Neal profile image

      Chris Neal 2 years ago from Fishers, IN

      Very well put! It's amazing some of the bad writing that not only gets put on the shelf, but that becomes popular! I wish more writers would embrace a thesaurus!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Chris, I do too! I'm seen quite a few novels published by major firms that really are not worth the cost of their print....I hate to say this, but I think the quality of writing is deteriorating in the world today.

    • Froggy213 profile image

      Greg Boudonck 2 years ago from On A Mountain In Puerto Rico

      Thank you for this great advice Bill. Now I need to go back and check all my material.

      You are correct in saying that the world of writing is deteriorating. It is much like some of these shows that show people thinking they can sing, but when they do, it makes us all want to laugh, cry, or both.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      I like the extract you used. It might take me a whole day to present something like that, but it is worth imitating. Willingness to improve? That I have. Thanks for another among many effective lessons.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 2 years ago from Lakewood New York

      As always Bill you leave no stone unturned, very useful and helpful information. Thanks

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      I'm a firm believer in the dictionary and thesaurus. I have both on my desk and consult them (or the online versions) when in doubt or when I'm stuck for a word. Just today, I looked up 'evoke vs. invoke' to verify I was using the right word in context. My choice to use 'evoke' proved correct, but I needed to be sure. The last thing I want is someone to whom I'm querying for freelance work (I was writing an email query to send to ad agencies) to see me as a literary idiot. Not a very good way to get hired, is it?

      Same with books, stories, articles, etc. I always proof my work at least four times before finalizing. One of the things I look for first is redundancy. What a turn-off. Not to mention it shows laziness and a lack of creativity on the writer's part.

      Great post, Bill!

    • social thoughts profile image

      social thoughts 2 years ago from New Jersey

      What a great hub! How funny that I am talking about this, constantly! Word choice is a frequent task of mine when I edit other people's writing.

      In college, one of my least-favorite professors made me fall in love with thesauruses. Don't worry, he wasn't my least-favorite because I was bad with word choice, but his lectures on it were some of the only rants of his I enjoyed.

      On a side note, I know someone who uses the same word whenever they are disappointed with something; I joke that someone needs to get them a thesaurus or that we could flag the particular page for them!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Greg. I can see why the deterioration has happened, but the only way I know to fix it is for me to raise the level of my writing and hope others do the same.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dora, about that excerpt....if I can write one sentence like that in a day, I've had a pretty good day....I guess that's what separates the greats from writers like me. :) Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, it really does. People don't want to hear that, but I believe it is lazy and lacking creativity...with emphasis on laziness. LOL Seriously, my thesaurus and dictionary are both right above the computer on a shelf within easy reach. How could a writer write without either of those books?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Social, I am rarely negative, but to me that is just lazy writing. Using the same words constantly shows no creativity and it shows no willingness to grow as a writer. I'm glad you realize that...I can rest well tonight knowing that there are still young writers, like you, who understand that this is an art form.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Yes, a thesaurus and dictionary are a writer's best friends! (They are right next to my computer.) Word of caution, of course, is that when picking a synonym from the thesaurus, one picks the right one. Shades of meaning can make or break. It's always obvious when someone has plucked a word from the thesaurus and plunked it where it doesn't belong. Good reminders as always. Happy Weekend!

    • seraphic profile image

      Seraph 2 years ago from Canada

      Great Hub! Very funny! Useful information!

      I have a friend who published a book, forced myself to read through the first chapter and I thought, oh my, how can I go on? I simply lack the heart to tell her ... the truth.

      Even on here, I can not rate other people's work badly, I end up feeling terrible, loaded with guilt... so I just browse!

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 2 years ago from Reno NV

      Great rules to live by. Thank you for this great informational hub. Jamie

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 years ago

      Bill, of all your writing pieces that I’ve had time to read, this one has got to be my favorite, probably because it is so near and dear to my heart. Since I came from the advertising and broadcasting world, I had to learn to write past the “kiddie” level, or shall we say that I am learning. The hardest word usage for me was not pronouns but attribution. The “he said,” or “she said,” can become too repetitious. Mr. B told me that I drove him up the wall with attribution in a research paper that I did for my master’s class. That is when I started researching new ways of attribution.

      Word usage gets very interesting in the legal publishing field. As an editor I sometimes edit the administrative assistant’s minutes from a committee meeting. She had a bad habit of using “Rep. X then pointed out ….“ One day I had to tell her, “don’t do that unless the speaker actually used the words, “I’d like to point out,” during his argument. She did find other ways to attribute the other speakers.

      We editors got a big laugh recently from a word usage in a bill. The sentence read “… and the agencies shall commiserate with each other on ….” Fortunately, we caught it and changed it to “commensurate”, although “commiserate” was probably more accurate considering what they were going to be doing.

      I’d like to express my opinion on the usage of vernacular. I think in both nonfiction and novel writing it is necessary to put the vernacular into your character, but know what you are doing. In the movies and on TV, I’m seeing far too many Southerners speaking like somebody from Los Angeles. I would also advise that if you are using dialect, keep the conversations short because dialect can quickly become tedious.

      You are a good teacher, Friend Bill. Keep it up.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Thanks for the reminder Bill, I do make a conscious effort to avoid too many repetitions in my writing, and makes good use of the dictionary, but forewarned, as they say, is to be forearmed. I'll have to take another look at the work I've done so far. Sorry I haven't been around much of late, suffering badly with the flu, the bugs are mutating fast, treating this season's jab with utter contempt. :)

      My best always.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I mentioned that, Heidi, and it is an important point, especially for our foreign friends for whom English is a second language. Thanks for reiterating that point and Happy Weekend to you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Seraphic, I do the same thing on HP. I figure it's not my job to tell them what they are doing wrong. If they want my honest opinion I'll be glad to give it, and I'll help any way that I can, but for the most part I just try to be supportive. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You betcha, Jamie, and thank you for the visit.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, I'll be laughing over the commiserate line all day long. How very true. I'm glad you caught that mistake.

      As for vernacular, you are right on of course. In no way do I want it to sound like this is easy. Heck, writing is an art form, so it shouldn't be easy. Maybe that's why there are so few "great" writers. :)

      Thank you as always, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jo, feel better soon and please take care of yourself. That flu is a nasty one or so I've heard. Luckily I'm in no danger, tucked away in my writing studio...or so I hope.

      Thank you for shaking off the flu effects long enough to comment. You receive bonus points for that. :)

    • Richard-Bivins profile image

      Richard Bivins 2 years ago from Charleston, SC

      I'm more of an intellectual reader so Burke's words flow for me but I'm also an above average reader. In my own writing, I try to utilize a Pulp Fiction method that can be understood and grasped by every level of reader. I don't want my readers getting lost in a flowery imaginative world so I choose language that keeps the reader grounded but also intrigued. I get inspiration from Elmore Leonard, Louis L'amour, Erle Stanley Gardner(Perry Mason), Dashiell Hammett(The Maltese Falcon), etc. but I don't come anywhere close to using their vernacular. I use their methods of dialogue, pacing, and story structure. I chose pulp fiction style because it is perfect for the Kindle minded readers that are eating up fast, short, serial types of fiction. Plus they are so much more fun than writing non-fiction.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Richard, those are great thoughts and I thank you for sharing them. I understand why you choose that style. I've read the works of all those authors and your rationale is a good one. Like you, Burke appeals to me on an intellectual level, but I'm sure he does not appeal to the masses as well as Leonard has. Great thoughts my friend.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      I'm not familiar with this author (Burke) but those paragraphs are absolutely spell-binding....did I use the right word here? lol It's so vivid, I feel like I can see exactly what he's describing, my senses are both shocked and invigorated. I want to write like this, to 'paint' rather than write...

      Did you take any writing classes Bill? Do you think you can be a great writer without any formal training, or even a degree in English? Obviously, we have examples of great writers who never studied writing as a craft, but sometimes I feel like a writing program can do me a lot of good...Or is it just insecurity? Anyway, great hub, as always!

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I love the way you send us reminders of things we do by nature, but sometimes can forget. You do it in such refreshing style. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Oops! There is that repetition again. Sorry! ;-)

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      The only thing worse than "she" all the way through is "I"! That is a hard one to get away from too when writing in first person!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kalinin, isn't he a remarkable writer? On a good day I can write one sentence that good. He does it paragraph after paragraph. You said it perfectly...he paints rather than writes.

      Did I take writing classes? A couple in college. Do I think someone can be a great writer without formal training? Yes! However, I do think writing programs or workshops are worthwhile, as are writing groups. We all have insecurity my friend. Don't give up and keep working at your craft.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, that's the thing with most of these rules...we all know them, but either we forget them, or fall into bad habits, or whatever. I'm reminding myself as I remind all of you because I figure we all need a refresher course from time to time. Thank you for being here and Happy Weekend to you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Jackie. I write in first person most of the time when I'm writing my novels, and it is an easy trap to fall in. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Good guidelines. Applying them is difficult and takes judgement and compromise. After more than half a century of striving, I am still a beginner at choosing the 'mot juste'. Sticking to the 850 words of Basic English increases the chances of a well plotted novel being at the top of the best seller lists. Having all of English as your word palette increases the chances of using a word that, in the context you give it, means and has the impact you intend and thus that the work will have the effect you intend and be lasting. Word choice is at times a matter of how much weight to give to a word's familiarity and how much to its conotation and denotation.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill - thank you for addressing an issue that drives me absolutely crazy! As a writer, the Thesaurus should be one of your best friends.

      My younger daughter majored in Journalism and minored in Creative Writing at WWU (2004-5 Editor and Chief of campus newspaper, 2006 grad, Deans list--yes, I am bragging).

      My point is that she has always loved reading and writing. When she was 10 we asked her what she wanted most of all for a Christmas gift. She asked for a Roget's.

      There are so many creative ways to say something (unless you are just too darned lazy!). Or you could write in Greek. No, that isn't a joke. The Greek language is so much more colorful and descriptive than English. Much of the English language is a corruption of other tongues.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Linda, you should be bragging, and I love what your daughter wanted for Christmas. How cool is that?

      I opt for lazy....either that of a complete misunderstanding of the language, in which case why is that person writing and publishing?

      Sorry, I have little patience with this topic. Work the craft and raise it to an art form.

      Have a great weekend, Linda!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Brian, that is beautifully stated. I wish you had written this article and not me, because you summed it up in a paragraph and it took me 1200 words. :) Thanks my friend.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very useful and interesting tips on word choosing. You have explained the common mistakes so beautifully and splendidly with your examples . Thanks for these tips. Voted up.

    • profile image

      lovedoctor926 2 years ago

      A very good hub. Useful tips. Word choice is important. I agree with you that repetition bores the reader and that there is no excuse to use the same word over and over. It sounds like she didn't use an editor, but then again maybe she did. I always keep a dictionary and thesarus next to me when I write. I think you have mentioned the importance of using these tools before. Good writing is all about proper word choice. also think Burke did an excellent job in his choice of words. The paragraphs flow freely from one sentence to the next. No repetition.

    • Sandra Eastman profile image

      Sandra Joy Eastman 2 years ago from Robbinsdale MN

      Thanks for another great learning experience that we can all take to the bank. I once had a writing instructor that insisted her students read the dictionary on a regular basis as a method of enlightenment. It is interesting how many word choices really exist and how important to a story that the right words are used. Repetition is so difficult to catch on the first read but it's a must to eliminate if the prose is to be effective.

    • profile image

      Ethan Digby-New 2 years ago

      As someone who has experienced unwanted repetition too many times in the past month alone, I could not agree with you more. I noted many of your points, and I applaud you for your tremendous work on this article; it was a piece of literary art in it's own right. You were very helpful, thank you.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Reading great literature and reading your work out loud are 2 of the things that often help me improve my work. I fail to do it all the time, I have to admit. Thanks for these really useful tips.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      AMEN! I would like to suggest a piece of legislation that demands that anyone who goes to the thesaurus for a synonym must then go back to the dictionary to look it up to see if it really matches their context! That is one of my biggest pet peeves.

      Your experience with the mystery book reminds me of some advice another writer, you know, just that Steven King guy, gives. He said a paragraph shouldn't just sound good; it should look good too. I've been working on the aesthetics of my writing. As I've done that I've noticed just what you said, that the beginnings are often the same.

      It's tricky to find words and ways of saying things to fix that. But hey, we're writers. That's our job.

      I've bookmarked this post. I have developed a habit of reading a short list of writing tips from Steven King every day. I'm adding this post to my daily practice because I am both peeved and plagued by these poor writing techniques. Your advise will keep me on track!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for the praise, Venkatachari M. I appreciate it greatly.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Doc. Word choice is not difficult, which leads me to wonder why some people fail to use it. Oh well...the old saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. :)

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Sandra. I usually miss it on the first edit...oftentimes I miss it on the second....but sooner or later, if I'm diligent, I will notice repetition. Thanks for your thoughts.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ethan, thank you very much. I really appreciate your kind words and following.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you aesta. Reading our work out loud is a very useful tool and more writers should do it. You can definitely "hear" poor word choice when you read it out loud.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Cristen, you aren't alone. I'm very aware of it and still I'll do it. I caught myself yesterday on the third reading of my latest novel. It was right there in front of me all along and still I missed it twice. Grrrrrrr!

      Happy Weekend my friend.

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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      In that passage you don't notice anything about the writing because you forget the author is writing. I think the great writers, like that author obviously is, make the words flow along so that they seem to be coming out of the soul itself. This is great advice. When I am writing my constant companion is the thesaurus, and now that they have online versions it is even better. Awesome hub, my friend, I hope you had a great new year!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, Mel, and you are right of course. The really good writers do this effortlessly, and it shows in the writing. Love your description...coming out of the soul itself.

      Hopefully one day I'll experience that.

      Happy Weekend to you.

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      Jim 2 years ago from Kansas

      Very useful information. I always learn from your writing tutorials. They are sometimes painful though. When you point out commons mistakes, I usually make them. If I want to improve though, I must face facts, and correct things that need correcting. Thanks.

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      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Absolutely, bill; there's no excuse for repetition. Neither is there any excuse for using words which don't fit the meaning. If you're not sure, it's easy to check.

      I proof-read my work for exactly those things (and I find some!). My guess is that the work you read was probably self-published; surely no publisher would permit such things?!

      Looking for great writing in a book is a good exercise; finding it is exciting and exhilarating. We feel the emotions, see the scenery, get a good idea of character, when apt words are used to good effect.

      It's great that you bring up these important distinctions which make for good writing; though obvious, this is not one that people often think of, I believe.

      On a completely different note, how much have you heard about the French killings at 'Charlie Hebdo' in Paris and the ensuing events? It's a big thing in Europe at the moment but I'm wondering how much it has impacted on the US.

      Enjoy the rest of your Saturday, bill!

      Ann

      'Je suis Charlie. Solidarité.' (I am Charlie. Solidarity.) - This is the message spreading all over Europe and beyond and we all feel it deeply.

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      Daphne D. Lewis 2 years ago from Saint Albans, West Virginia

      A thesaurus and dictionary are the best tools for everyone to have and use whether they are writing professionally or not. I am new to Hub Pages and look forward to seeing more of your hubs.

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      Free Macon 2 years ago

      That was an very informative article. My hubpage days are few, and when trying to compose a hub, I can't help but think to myself, " damn I shouldn't have tried to weasel my way out of all those English papers". It definitely shows when I read my own writing, and your tips for writing are spot on to many of the errors I continue to make. I'm going to have read this one again there is no doubt about it.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Daphne, welcome to HubPages and thank you for stopping by my site. If I can be of any help to you feel free to ask questions.

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      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Bill, this is a great topic. I actually think about this whenever I am writing a travel article. Using the same word over and over just rubs me the wrong way and has led me to rewrite more than a few paragraphs? Wonderful advice Bill. Have a great weekend.

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      Daphne D. Lewis 2 years ago from Saint Albans, West Virginia

      Thank you so much!! I'm slowly learning...

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      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Hi Bill,

      I haven't been visiting Hubpages recently, but came back after starting my new job. Found your article useful as ever. Now I need to get back to start reading and writing again.

      Thanks for sharing.

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      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi Bill. Repetition is something I try to avoid. Often when rereading a hub before publishing I discover that I have used the same word to begin a number of sentences. I quickly replace them and the hub then reads much better. An author only has the first page to impress me as well. If I find repetition like you did or spelling mistakes etc on the very first page they have lost me as a reader. A mistake say 100 pages in of a 400 page novel is unerstandable. Even editors aren't infallible, but they should be good enough to make sure at least the first page is perfect. Thanks for this.

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      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      A great article about making the right word choices. Repetition of words can irritate the reader and the reader will lose interest. The dictionary and the thesaurus are great companions when we write. Great tips and guideline, thank you for sharing and not doubt James Lee Burke has done a fantastic job.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      PawPaw, we all need reminders. This one was as much for me as for everyone else. Thank you for being here.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, thank you for the visit, and although I'd love to talk writing, after what happened in France, it really seems silly to do so. It is huge news here. The government is in heightened alert, and I would say the American people are convinced this is not over and we will see similar acts here fairly soon. Yes, we mourn here for the French. I just wish I felt it was an isolated incident, but I fear it is not.

      Blessings to us all, Ann. I think the worst is yet to come.

      bill

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Free Macon, thank you. I had a girlfriend write many of my English papers in college. True story. You are not alone.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Bill. I wish I could think of a gentler way to say it, but repetition is just lazy writing.

      Happy Sunday my friend.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, Daphne! Thank you!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Suhail, you have been missed, and I'm glad you finally found your way back to us. Thanks for spending time with me.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      John, I was flabbergasted when I saw the repetition on the first page. Unforgivable in my humble opinion. Heck, we all do this, but most of us are aware enough to catch it.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Vellur, you said it perfectly. Our job as writers is not to irritate our readers, and this is such an easy fix if the writer is willing.

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      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      I have the same fears, bill. We are waiting for something similar in Britain. I'm trying to pen something meaningful but it's difficult.

      Ann

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, let's hope we are both wrong. :)

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      Laura Smith 2 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      I'm having such a hard time with that now. I've started a new novel which is written from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl who is writing in a journal. Kids tend to repeat words in their writing because their vocabulary and spelling are not fully developed yet. I want my character to be a good writer, but I don't want her to seem too mature in her writing. I feel like I have to intentionally make those mistakes while still telling a compelling story. It's not going to be easy.

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      இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу 2 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

      Again, I take my hat off to our writing guru! I will hoard every tidbit of information you pass our way and appreciate all the help you send along to each of us. Thanks, Bill.

      Have a great day, Kim.

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      LisaKeating 2 years ago

      I totally agree with you about the importance of word choice. I would also add the importance of varying sentence length and structure. However, I hesitate to recommend a thesaurus to a writer, especially one with a good vocabulary. Chances are that if you choose a word that doesn't come naturally, it is either the wrong word or you will use it incorrectly. Instead, try using your inner thesaurus to see what alternate diction you already have stored in the recesses of your brain.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 2 years ago

      Thanks Bill for double blessing: pointing to "bunch of garbage" as well as tiresome and boring mistakes caused by repetition the same words on one side, while on the other instructing us how top correct them by using right "tools" Dictionary and Thesaurus.

      To master connotation and have clear understanding of precision for some of us might take a bit longer time even with intense desire to improve...( Constantly using Google Translate, and listening to computer's "special" sound and tone back reading.)

      ( So help me God .)

      Voted useful and beautiful.

      Good night and God bless you.

    • Molly Layton profile image

      Molly Layton 2 years ago from Alberta

      This is so useful! I'm going to be using this extensively when revising the repetitive parts of my story. (My characters have habits and I need to make those habits less boring to read.)

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Laura, I wish you luck. You have bitten off quite a challenge, and it would be difficult to write as a ten-year old. Thanks for sharing that....great comment.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Kim. More than anything else I'm just tossing out reminders for all of us.

      Happy Sunday to you and again, thank you.

      bill

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Lisa, all great suggestions. I've written often about varying sentence length and structure...not an easy thing to do but so worth it. Thank you for your suggestions.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Michael my friend, connotation is tough...very tough...especially for those for whom English is a second language. This is a very difficult language to master....my goodness, many of the natives haven't mastered English yet. :)

      Have a blessed week my friend.

      bill

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Molly and I'm glad you found this useful. Best wishes on your writing journey.

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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Interesting thoughts and some very useful advice, as always, Bill. Thank you once again for sharing your ideas.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Alicia. I hope you have a marvelous week.

    • itsmesudiksha profile image

      Sudiksha 2 years ago from Nepal

      thank you billybuc for this hub. as you know i love writing but not all of my turns to become good due to my mistakes and i thank you for your sugesstions!!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      itsmesudiksha, you are very welcome. Thank you for the visit.

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      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      I agree with you on word choice. A painter would never use the same colour over and over again so why should a writer limit themselves with a narrow palette?

      When I sit down to write the first thing I do is bring up Dictionary.com before opening Word. I refer to it constantly and even look up words that I know the definition of just to make sure that's the word I want. Then I check the thesaurus to see if there might be a word that's a better fit. Time consuming? Oh yeah. Worth it? Definitely.

      Your anecdote reminded me of a passage I read once were the authour was describing an interaction with two females. The writer used the pronoun 'she' so often that I completely lost track of who was doing what to whom. It was a shame because it disrupted the flow of the story and left me frustrated.

      These hubs are so useful. Please keep them coming.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Zulma, thanks for that great analogy about the painter using the same color...perfectly stated.

      I've seen interviews where the person continually uses the same word, and I'm right there with you....very distracting to listen to.

      Well, you've been a constant visitor this morning, Zulma, and I thank you.

    • Emese Fromm profile image

      EmeseRéka 2 years ago from The Desert

      I would have done the same thing - put the book back on the shelf, but also I would've been ranting to everyone all day about it. Sure, we all make mistakes when writing. But to actually get a book published with the word choices you have described sounds terrible. You got me intrigued, also. The excerpt you chose at the end makes me want to go out and read “The Tin Roof Blowdown” by James Lee Burke. A few good words can do that to us readers. Thank you for a great article!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Emese! Word choice can make or break a book, and in this case, it broke the book after one page. I hate to sound like a writing snob, but that was unforgivable. :) Try Burke...you'll love him if you like mysteries.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      When I look for word choice, I look for what allows me to picture the scene in my mind. If I can't do that, that I try for something different. Your recommendation to read the text aloud has always worked for me. If I stumble over words when reading aloud, I know that the words need to change.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great points, Denise. All writers could benefit from reading their work out loud. I'm surprised all writers don't do it.

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      Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

      Reading what we have written out loud does help us to evaluate whether it is where we want it to be or if we need to continue to tweak.

      One thing that puzzles me is that some writers who have sold gazillions of novels and made bucket loads of money use the same words, again and again and again often within a few pages of their first use. If not that often they are definitely repeating their thoughts with identical words at least once per chapter. They do it and it is accepted and they sell books. Figure that one out???

      Bookmarking this to refer to later...

      As usual....your writing about writing (o, my, I am being redundant) is spot on, Bill.

      Have a lovely evening Angels are winging their way to you all with many blessings coming along as well ps

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      PS, I really don't think it is that surprising. Once an author is famous, they just pour out book after book after book to meet deadlines and fulfill contracts. I've seen good writers become mediocre writers over time.....I do think quality suffers, in many cases, once fame is reached. Great point, my friend.

      blessings coming your way on those busy angel wings

      bill

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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Bill, thanks for the practical and useful points you've made here. I think of writing as a kind of sculpting. When we chip and carve our stories and articles, it is done with the addition, subtraction or changing of words. I was finishing my latest article last night and read it out loud to a friend. I couldn't believe how rough it sounded. There was no cadence, no flow of thought. I chipped and chopped some more until I had an acceptable sounding article.

      Your examples of word choice mistakes and the story of the mystery novel were very helpful. Thanks for sharing your expertise. It is working for many of us.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Cam, and I love your analogy. I'm going to head to your site now to see how you did on that latest article.

    • Doris Dancy profile image

      Doris H. Dancy 2 years ago from Yorktown, Virginia

      Billy~ ...Words, words, and more words are available to writers, as you have noted. Too bad some only use a very few. Hopefully, your valuable lesson here will make us all cognizant of when repetition is a problem and how its use can be powerful. The way we use words can bring a reader to tears with both passion or boredom. You have demonstrated, with mastery, how boredom can cost. What a great lesson you are teaching. Voted up useful, funny, and interesting

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      I'm almost pleading guilty. I wrote a piece I was reasonably comfortable with and then realisation - I had used the same word many times over in several paragraphs - my only consolation I realised before it left my hands. How wise your words are and I for one will be fervently watching my word choices. With thanks, Maj

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Doris. I never want to sound like I am preaching. I only want the best for writers and the art of writing.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh Maj, we all have been there. My goodness, I do it in almost every piece I write, but like you said, at least I catch it most times. Carry on my friend, and thank you.

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      Victor W. Kwok 2 years ago from Hawaii

      Bill, you are right that repetition can make reading a story a turn-off. I try to avoid it as much as I can.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      vkwok, you do well. I have never noticed blatant repetition in your stories.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      I really am reading this post everyday. What strikes me today is the reading out loud. I got into that habit when I was doing a lot of public speaking. I still do it sometimes but not enough.

      It just occurred to me that I should have someone else read my articles (especially the ones I want to submit for publication) out loud to me. Do you ever do that?

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I do do that, Cristen. Bev will read my articles out loud, but more importantly to me is when she reads my novels when they are in the editing stage...that is really helpful.

      Have I told you lately how much I enjoy you? :)

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Ah shucks, Bill. Ya make a girl blush and ever-thang. I enjoy you too. You always make my brain work. I really love that.

      Jim and I have been dying to take a road trip and I was daydreaming today about driving to WA in the summer and dropping by to see you and Bev. I was thinking that it would just be great to hang with you and talk for a while. I feel that we are kindred spirits.

      I think it's wonderful that Bev reads them for you. I'm going to ask Jim to do the same. It will really help me be a better writer.

      You're awesome, Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Cristen. The feeling is mutual. I think it would be fantastic if you and Jim take that road trip. We'll leave the light on for ya. :)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed this and wholeheartedly agree. When the author saw you taking a look at her writing did she perhaps ask you what you thought? That would've been an interesting conversation to overhear.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Fortunately for her, she wasn't there. It was just a display in the store. It would have been a very interesting conversation, Flourish!

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      Melody Byron 2 years ago from New York, NY

      That toilet seat makes me uncomfortable

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      helpmeinpoor...LOL...I know what you mean.

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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This is the simplest of advice and it comes packed with a powerful punch. When I was a kid, we had what the teacher called "word drill." She gave us a word from the dictionary, and the student that found the word fastest in the dictionary got to read the meaning. It was the best way to enrich one's vocabulary. Next time after dinner and the table is cleared, have a word drill with your family. I'll bet that you will all benefit.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Deb, oddly, I have never played that game. How did I ever miss out on that experience? Well thank you. You can bet we'll be doing it this weekend.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 2 years ago

      One of my high school english teachers harped (meant in a good way) on this over and over and every time I write something I go back and make sure that the same word is almost never repeated in the same sentence or even paragraph. Sometimes it's not easy, but boy does it make a difference and I'm sure I still do it more than I think I do. This is right on the money Bill and an awesome reminder. Have a nice weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glimmer, I do the same thing. Probably 90% of my editing is in word choices, making sure I haven't repeated a word in each paragraph. Your English teacher was right on!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Thanks for yr advice, i need to check on my words too

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you peachpurple. It's such an easy mistake for all of us to make.

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      Ethan Digby-New 2 years ago

      I do believe the first page is arguably the most important, otherwise a reader may be tempted to put the book back. I think that writers, including myself, would gain value from paying more attention to word choice. Nice article.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you again, Ethan. I can only speak for myself, but if that first page isn't a winner, I'm not going to read the book.

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