Just the Right Word

My “stated” writing methodology is not to edit on the first draft.  But that’s nowhere near what I actually do.  I don’t extensively polish–there’s too much chance that the words that I fuss over are going to change on the first editing pass.  But it is important that the writing from the beginning has the right flavor.  A richness of words.  A precision of expression.  To me that’s important, because that’s part of what makes my writing interesting.  At least to my niche audience–everybody else just yawns.  Oh, well.  If the story itself has to carry the novel, well, I might as well stop now.

But . . . one of the key of getting words on the page is not to dither.

Research is one place where dithering can get out of hand.  There’s a million things I don’t know about the period I’m writing about, and every time I dip into research I end up spending way more time than I should.  I’m OK with that, though.  Nothing screws up a novel for me than a writer who has no idea what he’s talking about.

Word choice is another.

I would like to say that I don’t spend a lot of time in the Thesaurus on the first draft, but again, that’s not really true.  What I INTEND to do is to use the Word Shift>F7 Thesaurus, take the best fit, mark it as a word that could be improved if not totally satisfied, and move on.  But sometimes, that simply won’t do.

I got caught up in exactly that time sink on Wednesday.

The sentence was: “OK, young squire.  Here is a mission worthy of your skills as a ___________.  My mental image was someone who skulks effectively, can slip into a shadowy alcove and hide effortlessly, move noiselessly.

My Dungeons and Dragons background speaks up. That’s a thief.  That’s what the class does.  Except ‘thief’ doesn’t mean that to the reading population at large.  Oswald’s not specifically going to steal anything, and he’s not really that sort of person.

“One who lurks.”  Except ‘lurker’ isn’t listed in the thesaurus.  Looking under ‘lurk’ yields nothing useful.  Lots of rich verbs, but nothing that can be converted into a noun.

“Prowler.”  That gets me into Section 483, Thief.  Well, OK; I hadn’t looked at that before.  But again, back to the problem that thief carries too many undesired connotations.  Again, lots of rich words: cutpurse, cat burglar, filcher, and grafter to name a few.  But nothing useful.

Finally, fully 10 minutes later, my common sense alarm went off.  I settled for ‘prowler’ and got on with my work.  At 10 minutes a word, writing 4 hours a day, it would take 11.4 years to finish a 100,000 word novel.  Isn’t it apocryphal that Flaubert took that long to polish Madame Bovary?  And yes, I’m being a little silly.  10 minutes for ONE word is not the same as 10 minutes for EVERY word.

But still.



4 thoughts on “Just the Right Word

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