Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Word Usage Is Key To Making Your Writing Natural

One of the things that differentiates beginning writers with those who are more experienced is their use of words. Far too often, I will see or hear a great premise for a story, only to be discouraged once I read the actual manuscript. The author, in an attempt to tell the story "correctly" ended up forcing the language and relying heavily on jargon, euphemisms and forced sentences.

According to Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers in their book, A WRITER'S REFERENCE, they note "Language is appropriate when it suits your subject, engages your audience and blends naturally with your own voice" (173). The problem, however, is that far too many authors only try to focus on the first of these three elements. We see this in almost all of the genres out there. Authors seem to think that genre requires using certain words all of the time.

  • Romantic suspense heroes always have "Glocks"
  • Regency stories always have the characters saying "La"
  • YA's and New Adults dive into all of those stereotypical phrases found not on the street but only in other novels written by people out of touch with this population
  • Literary fiction reaches for the most extreme metaphors and similes just to "impress us" with the author's knowledge.
  • etc.
Look I could go on and on, and certainly don't get me started with the euphemisms we see in the sex scenes for those romance novels.

Strong, writers, however, move on to those other items Hacker and Sommers mention. The language they use draws the reader in and becomes natural. The characters say things, behave and act in the way a normal human would act in a regular situation. The author simply doesn't force the issue and uses the language necessary for that scene and that circumstance. The genre doesn't dictate the voice and the language, the story does so.

I do understand that authors believe readers want this language (and maybe there are a few out there who do). But in reality, what readers want are authentic stories told with authentic language. We don't want forced writing. I think this is what I really liked in a series Harlequin once had. The Spice line had the approach that stories should use langauge and describe those truly sensual and spicy scenes just like people would normally talk in a bedroom. They didn't want to see those stereotypical scenes and hear that stereotypical language.

If you want to check this in your own writing, read it as a reader, not as an author. Listen to the words you use. Would you use these terms if you were in that same situation? If not, fix it?


  1. A Glock is a brand name gun so it should be capitalized.

    Guns, unless you really know what you are talking about, should be avoided, or you need to find an expert who can vet your text and answer your questions.

    Fortunately, there are a number of sites and listservs that specialize in answering gun and violence question for writers. I recommend and .

  2. Marilynn,

    I appreciate your comment on that. Hopefully, you understood the bigger meaning of the post beyond simply that one typo.
    As far as avoiding guns, I am not in anyway saying that an author should avoid using these in their texts. These tend to be pretty essential items in most romantic suspense novels, thrillers and so forth. The argument I am making here is to say we choose the language, actions and certainly the devices in our text based on the situation within the story, not the genre.

    Again, thanks for catching the typo.