Friday, September 24, 2010

Finding just the right word

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." --Mark Twain
Whenever I'm editing one of my reporter's stories, I start with a wide angle lens. I start by ask big picture questions. Are there any holes in the story? Did the writer raise any questions for the reader that he/she doesn't answer? Is the story fair? Balanced? Are all sides represented? Does the story structure work? Does the beginning hook the reader? What about the rhythm? Is there variation in sentence and paragraph lengths? And it goes on and on.
Eventually, I look at each word. I'm looking for precision. Is the word the writer used the best word to convey the message or meaning? Using the right word at the right time helps determine how a story is interpreted. One of the things I always look at hard are verbs. Too often people use weak verbs figuring that adverbs will save them. But watch the adverbs and adjectives.
What about you? Do you look for precision in your own writing? Do you circle all of your verbs and then go back and see if you can make them stronger?


  1. Precision is a good choice here, Buffy. Sometimes a word fits; it really does, but as you stated, "Is it the best choice?" Over the past months, I've collected words that I feel are strong, convey direct messages. I've written them on index cards and spreads those cards out while I'm writing or editing.

  2. Great advice. And verbs are often ones that can be fixed. Like Sheri, I sometimes write words I like on index cards. I also have a list of redundant words I check.

  3. Sheri and Nat, thanks for passing along your idea of using index cards. Good tip to share. Have a great weekend.