Tuesday, March 26

Liz and Nan Talk Words

Words, words, words! Liz and I talk about a lot about words and why not? We’re writers. Words are our bread and butter, the tools of our trade. Without them, well, we wouldn’t have much to say or at least, a way to say it.

It’s funny how, as an editor, I can usually tell what someone’s favorite word is or should I say, the one that they overuse in their writing? Liz’s is “though.”  I’m not sure what my overused word is—probably “then.” I’m a big one for “something happened, then...” I dunno, I guess I just like the concept of “then.”

But a recent g-Chat conversation about “though” and “then” immediately went to words we love and words we hate. Do you think that seems odd to anyone who isn’t a writer? I mean, are we the only ones who have a love/hate relationship with words?

I’ve always loved words and in my family growing up, words were sacred. It wasn’t at all unusual to hear “good word” from someone if I used a word that was different or not my usual vocabulary. I passed that tendency on to Son, and Husband picked it up by osmosis (good word, huh?), so the three of us saying “Good word!” to one another at any appropriate opportunity is pretty common. DIL got a little miffed the first time Son said it to her until he explained that it was a compliment, not condescension. Now, she’s all in. I’ll bet I’ve used “Good word!” on Liz more than once because she’s got a pretty cool vocabulary and I respect the heck out her extraordinary use of it.

We’re sharing this post this week, so there’s going to be some hopping from Nan to Liz and back again—if nothing else, you’ll get an idea of what one of our daily conversations is like.
Okay, I’m going to pass this to Liz, but before I do, here are a couple of words I love—intoxicating and incandescent. Don’t those feel luscious on your tongue?

Over to me – Liz
I love words, too. (Especially though, but that’s already been covered.) I love to play Scrabble and, while I’m not sure I’ve ever won it, I have come up with cool words. Just as it’s always about the journey and not the destination, it’s also about the playing and not the game. I think it’s a personality flaw.

One thing I love about reading on my Kindle is that it’s easy to look up words in books. Usually the context will give me a good-enough definition, but occasionally something will jump out at me and I can’t go on until I find out exactly what it means.

Which is something that can create a slippery slope. Just as I never intend to “dumb down” what I write, neither do I want to alienate readers by using more syllables than the story or the characters within call for. A challenging term here and there in a book is fun for writer and reader alike; a “big word” on every page is pretentious.

Before I switch the conversation back over to Nan, let me share a few of my favorite words, too. I love excruciating and one I already used here, slippery. Excruciating because it paints such vibrant pictures and slippery because it’s versatile, covering everything from the side of a hill to an eel to a personality.

Back to you, Nan!

It’s me—Nan...
Excruciating is a fabulous word, Lizzie! I agree! So is slippery.

I want to speak to what Liz said about challenging readers with words versus pretentious use of big words. You are so right! Again, here’s Editor Nan speaking, but I often find myself highlighting words that seen unnecessarily obscure and offering simpler alternatives to my authors, especially when I find words that the writer has clearly gotten from a thesaurus. 

Now, I love my thesaurus and I confess to being a frequent clicker of the Synonyms button in Word when I write, but here’s the thing. If a reader has to stop reading to look up a word they don’t know, you’ve taken them out of your story. Once in while, that’s fine, but the more times they leave the story, the less engaged they are. Simpler words are often better, even in beautiful prose because the whole point is to make your reader want to turn the page.

Still, I’m a sucker for a great word, particularly words that sound like what they mean. For example, despondent—that word sounds sad, doesn’t it? And how about befuddled? Sounds like confusion to me. Impetuous is another one that sounds like exactly what it means.

As for Scrabble, dare I confess that I suck at that game? I love to play it, but man, oh, man, I’m terrible at it. I invariably lose. My sister figured out it’s because while I’m working on creating great words out of my seven letters, she’s working on a strategy to score points. I think she’s nailed it. I don’t think about points when I’m playing, I think about glorious words. Liz, have you and I have ever played Scrabble before? Should the Scrabble board come along on our next writer retreat?

Back to you, Liz...


  1. fun post! I think finding the exact right word is so much fun...it's also EXCRUCIATING which is why my drafts a filled with "she thought it sucked - FIND A BETTER WORD - but kept..." That is my overused word. That and just...

  2. That and just and look seem to be fairly universal, don't they? We had fun in this conversation!

  3. I always struggle finding just the right words to use at times.

    1. We all do, Janine! It's easy to get stuck on a word. Thanks for stopping by!!

  4. When my self published series was edited, my editor pointed out several words that I overuse. Some I kind of knew about, like 'just' (just love just), but many I had no idea I'd been using too much. Replacing them with different words was EXCRUCIATING (good word!) but it's important to be aware of them and try to ALLEVIATE (another good word!) the problem. Fun post, ladies!

  5. Thanks, Jana--surprising how we don't see them, but other people can, huh?