Ten-Dollar Words vs. $2 Words Vs Purple Words–& A Giveaway!

First off, comment on today’s blog post for a chance to win a copy of Becoming Your Own Critique Partner, by Janet Lane Walters! I’ll draw on Friday, Nov. 12.

My crit partner and I were IMing last night while we were supposed to be writing (coughs) and talking about word choices: specifically, when to wax poetic, and when to say “hell” instead of “nether realms of the satanic provinces.”

Admittedly, both Critter and I are journalists by training so we’re hardwired to use $2 words. But I did get that pesky degree in Victorian literature, so I always fear there might be some nether realms of satanic provinces lurking in my manuscript.

To check it out, I plugged my WIP (all 97,000 words of it) into the Word Frequency Calculator and did an analysis of the words I used, subtracting things like “and” and “the.”

WFC found that I used 7,195 words in my 97K document. Of those, 5,061 were unique words, or used only twice. Yay! That’s pretty good, I think, because lesions, peephole, roadkill, and sociopath probably only deserve one use in a novel. It also means I have some serious word repetitions so I need to go back and see what they are and where to fix them.

Because words matter. Here’s my take on it. If a word is unique enough to evoke an emotion or clarify a mood, it’s a perfect word. If a word is so unique that it draws attention to itself, I don’t want to use it. I want people to read my story, not marvel at my impressive vocabulary.

Then there are the purple words. You know which ones I mean. They’re the particular thorn-patch of romance writers because there are only so many ways to say “breasts” without being repetitious or sliding down the slippery slope of creamy mounds and heaving bosoms. And, really, can ANYBODY read phrases like creamy mounds and heaving bosoms without much eye-rolling? (Or would that be lust-driven swiveling of one’s dark and passionate windows to the soul?)

So, talk to me about word choice. When you’re writing, what process do you use in deciding on the words that make it to the final manuscript? When you’re reading, does flowery or dense wording help set the mood for the story or distract you from it? When it comes to purple, how much is too much?

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

5 thoughts on “Ten-Dollar Words vs. $2 Words Vs Purple Words–& A Giveaway!

  1. This post brings to mind the days of yore when my dorm-sisters and I would spend countless hours (okay, a few minutes once a month) critiquing (I know I misspelled that, but I’m on a roll here) the erotic stories in PlayGirl magazine. This was when I first developed a taste for alliteration, and began the pursuit of the perfect Rock Hard Rod (at least a literary pursuit. I wasn’t THAT slutty).

    Seriously. I first noticed words that bug me in Nora Roberts work. Guys always had their “hands fisted in her hair”. Maybe I’m just a little jaded because I first heard the term “fisting” (fist as a verb) in relation to a controversial Robert Mapplethorpe photography exhibit, but still. She may have only used it once per novel, but it seemed to be in every one I read.

    And “tips of breasts” bugs me. I dont’ know why “peaks” doesn’t, but “tips” makes me think of the end of a pool cue. Just sayin’

  2. Yes! Love scenes I think in particular are very bad with using ridiculous with purple words. It’s a thin line between an eye rolling phrase and something very interesting! Flowery language distracts me from the story and is a huge turn off for me in books.

  3. When I pick up a romance novel to read, I skim through until I find a love scene. I put it down at the first hint of the ridiculous purple stuff.

  4. When I consciously choose a word, I factor in three things:precision, rhythm and atmosphere. This is particularly the case for “free indirect” narration in which the third person narration takes on the quality of the POV character’s thoughts. This is a delicate choice: the narration must reflect the character’s dialog patterns, but not so much that it draws attention to itself.

    Characters with an informal, agile way of speaking get short sentences and mostly straightforward, common words. Characters whose speech is formal or somewhat ponderous get narration that has a dialectic quality, and a wider variety of very precisely chosen words. Free indirect narration for characters in the grip of strong emotion should have an almost poetic cadence; I choose words that make the narrative subtly (I hope) more rhythmic and alliterative.

    Sometimes I choose words for satirical purposes. For example, “to blench” is a borderline archaic word which means “to flinch, to draw back from.” Likewise “despoil” means “to plunder; to deprive of something valuable by force.” I wouldn’t use these words unless I was *consciously* lampooning H. Rider Haggard era adventure writing..

  5. Once adjusters get that package thing from a lawyer with paperwork, photographs and other papers and etc. How much time does it normally state in the letter to reply? Do adjusters genuinely reply by or on the date? Just how do they respond by telephone, mail, letter or fax?