>Engage Readers With Concrete Words

>It’s always been my impulse to write in vague, generic language. In my older works (especially going way back), I had little to no concrete language. It can still be oh-so-tempting to choose the blanket expression rather than spill blood to get the word that conjures a concrete, sensory image. But the more specific examples you use, the more enticing and engaging your writing will be.

Take a paragraph from a story I wrote a while ago. The first version uses generic words:

The following afternoon, Saphira escaped outside to collect flowers while her
mother directed household matters, preparing for the banquet they hosted that
evening. Meat roasted on a spit since the day before. Servants gathered
vegetables from the kitchen garden while others set up tables in the main hall,
adorning them with candelabras brought in from the private chambers.

What would you do to improve this? Take a minute to think about how you could make it more concrete.

What did you come up with? Here is the version used in the story:

The following afternoon, Saphira escaped outside to collect flowers while her
mother directed household matters inside, preparing for the banquet they hosted
that evening. A wild boar roasted on a spit since the day before, and chickens,
geese, and lamb roasted since the morning. Servants gathered carrots, parsnips,
and asparagus from the kitchen garden while others set up tables in the main
hall, adorning them with candelabras brought in from the private chambers.

Can you see the massive boar spinning over an open fire? If you’ve ever smelled a pig roasting, you no doubt remember it. And now with the list of other animals and vegetables, you get an idea of the size of the banquet. Even this version needs improvement. It’s been a while since I read the story, and the first thing I wanted to know was what kind of flowers? If you wonder, so will your readers.

So say Honda Civic over car. One-level ranch over house. Golden retriever over dog. Do you see the difference? Readers will get more out of your writing when you give them concrete images to go on. Sweat and bleed for those specific words. If you make it a practice, you’ll soon find concrete comes just as easily as generic.

Get Writing!
Take one paragraph from a story you’re currently working on. Read it and circle every generic word. Then replace those generic words with concrete substitutes. Your goal: To focus on writing (and thinking) in specifics.

4 thoughts on “>Engage Readers With Concrete Words

  1. Shawn Michel de Montaigne

    >This looks like a great blog–congratulations!I’m a big, big, big believer in editing: my novel has seen thousands, in all likelihood, since I started it five years ago. It’s how I spend the vast majority of my time whilst working on it.Thanks for the tips. I look forward to reading more soon!

    Reply
  2. amy

    >Thanks! Yes, editing can go on eternally. I can be a bit OCD about it. Eventually, you just have to let it fly.All the best with your novel!Amy

    Reply
  3. Makita Jazzqueen

    >Wow! I loved this post!From now on I will take care about writing concrete things, it’ll be tough, but I want to improve… : )And by the way, your blog is excellent, I really find help with my writing! = )

    Reply
  4. amy

    >Thanks Makita Jazzqueen! Writing in concrete terms is definitely a challenge but it will get easier.Just a tip: If you’re writing a first draft and you can’t think of a specific word, use the generic but mark it (in all caps, italics, etc.) so you don’t forget. Then go back to it later and replace it. I find that helps so you don’t inhibit your creativity trying to think of a specific word.Thanks again!Amy

    Reply

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