Have you noticed using the same words to describe certain things in your writing? Do you struggle writing powerful prose and do you feel like you just can’t describe a certain matter with a powerful word simply because of your lacking vocabulary?
I had this exact same problem a few years ago. Even though I am a fluent English speaker, I still found myself using the same weak words. Simple words can quickly become a hindrance to your storytelling, for they lack the clarity and power a wider vocabulary can offer to you.
It is indeed simple, a larger vocabulary allows you to write better and more powerful prose, but how do you actually achieve this power?
Instead of suggesting you sit down in front of a dictionary, I’ll share with you an easy exercise that will help you expand your vocabulary.
Why Consider Expanding Your Vocabulary And Is It Even Necessary?
I am sure you have heard many writers say not to use the dreaded word “very” when describing matters. I agree and there are at least two reasons why using very in your descriptions is a handicap at best.
Let’s say you are writing a scene where a character finds himself in a dark and gloomy mansion. You most likely wish to describe the atmosphere to the reader and express the mere darkness the character finds himself in.
Thus, you describe the atmosphere as follows
The room was very cold. No matter where he looked, it was very dark and the room was very grey
Not only does the presented word choice indicate a severe lack of vocabulary, but it also does nothing to truly create an immersive scene.
I do not say this on a pedestal, for I used to write just like this. Yet this sort of writing is easy to fix, though it will take some time and practice, but so is the art of writing.
Expanding Your Vocabulary By Reading, Writing, And Repeating
I believe it to be obvious that in order to write better, you must read a lot. It is a self-explanatory matter and I won’t spend time discussing the benefits of simple reading.
Instead, I’ll offer you an exercise you can use to start expanding your vocabulary fast and effectively. What is the key to this, you might ask?
The key is to use new words immediately when you have read them in their true context and to use them as much as possible.
Let’s say you’re reading an old classic and you read a full chapter, in which you find a ton of new words that just stick with you and seem powerful to you. This is excellent and precisely what we want.
First, write down the words you have found to be powerful and interesting, after which finish the chapter. This is the reading part done and now we move on to the important part.
In order to truly learn new words, we must use those words. We can’t simply sit in front of a dictionary and read a thousand words and think we can now use them, though I must confess there was a time when I did this very thing. I suggest you not fall into the same trap as I did.
A key component to expanding your vocabulary is to learn the words through context. For example, a few months ago I read an old classic The Scarlet Letter, in which I found a ton of older words that just spoke with power. I wrote these words into my notebook and after I finished the chapter, I sat in front of my typewriter.
With my notes close by, I started writing a story. My goal was not to write a full story, thus I did not worry about matters of plot and character. My goal was to use the words I had picked as much as possible. Basically, I wrote a story around the chosen words, which gave me the chance to use them a lot.
By writing a story you learn to use the words in their right context. You’ll get a stronger connection to the words, which allows you to start using them fluently in your own writing.
The context also assists you with remembering the word, for it is easier to remember the deeper meaning of a word than the word itself.
The key is context
Through reading, you not only learn new words, but you gain knowledge of the important context. This makes it easier to remember the individual word, but it also makes your entire writing more fluent and natural.
Let’s return to the example of a character finding himself in a cold mansion. Instead of seasoning our descriptions with very bad words, let’s try something else.
The room was frigid and bitter. No matter where he glanced, it was murky and the room owned a sombre tone.
The mere removal of the word very makes the writing much more fluent. Each word, frigid, bitter, sombre, owns much more descriptive power and they jump off the page, painting an immersive picture in the reader’s mind, which is the entire goal of writing.
In addition, the use of powerful words makes your writing seem more professional, which is naturally a great improvement.
To conclude this article, I’ll offer you a short step-by-step list to help you on your journey to expand your vocabulary.
- Read an older book one chapter at a time and pick out the most powerful words
- Write down the words you’ve picked
- If necessary, assure yourself of the meaning of the words
- Write a short story around your chosen words. Focus on using them as much as possible
- Read the next chapter, the next book, and repeat these steps
- Your vocabulary is growing and you shall notice the positive effects in your own writing in no time.
Hopefully, you have found this article helpful. I have found this approach to yield great results, even if it does take a bit of time to get started. By writing, we remember the words and as authors, we need to remember a lot of words.
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Have a good writing day and remember, writing is the key to being a writer.