Three Ways to Make Your Words Work

Words are wondrous. Like music, when sung by a great voice like Placido Domingo’s or played by a master, words can impel you to action or to tears or to laughter.

As a writer you want to create the desired effect:  a smile or laughter when you think you’re being funny, perhaps a higher pulse rate when you’re creating a scary moment.

What you don’t want is for your words to make someone laugh when you’re trying to make a point. Or to irk them so much they stop reading.

Three mistakes can cause you to lose your audience or reduce your desired impact.

  1. The first is not knowing who you are writing for.
  2. The second is too much reliance on spell checkers.
  3. A third may be caused by rushing your words into print or pixel before you’ve made sure they make sense and don’t have glaring errors.

Know Your Audience

Even fiction writers, I propose, should know their audience. The success of Janet Evanovich (ONE FOR THE MONEY through SIZZLING SIXTEEN) owes in part to her understanding of who her audience is and what they expect in a humorous novel. She knows they want a funny, romantic, absurd romp with a happy ending. She knows her readers expect Stephanie Plum to get into trouble and to lose at least one vehicle, they expect Lula to be hungry and Grandma Mazur to be totally off the wall.

She knows that if you create an expectation in your audience and then change the rules, you’ll disappoint them, and lose readers. That expectation is created with your first words and you should deliver on the promise until you stop writing.

It helps to keep your language and style the same throughout, and to use vocabulary that won’t have your readers constantly thumbing through the dictionary.

Great marketers advise you to know your customer. I suggest knowing your reader and to write for that “ideal” reader.

Don’t Rely Too Much on Spell Checkers

Spell checkers look for misspellings, not for misuse. Ignoring that reality can get you into all kinds of trouble.

The first trap will be homophones, or homonyms, words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings. Steal/steel, their/they’re/there, cubical/cubicle, principal/principle, reign/rein, neigh/nay, caret/carrot, lead/led, are some of my favorites.

Another spell checker oversight is the use of the wrong word. If it’s a word, spell checker doesn’t care. I often interchange from and form. I’ve seen massage in place of message, costumer instead of customer, defiantly instead of definitely, sigh language, with out instead of without. Some of these are simply amusing but some may lead your reader to a wrong conclusion. Or to conclude that you are not the genius you thought. I once saw a full-page ad in a local paper with a checklist to ensure safe holiday driving. When stalled, it advised, “stay with your vehicle and try to converse fuel while maintaining warmth.”

Don’t Rush

That’s a tough piece of advice. Maybe it would be more acceptable to simply advise you to be like Santa and check twice. Or thrice. It’s a good idea to have someone who knows something about your topic check your work.

I once visited an upscale home’s open house. The Realtor’s detailed color flier assured me that Wayne, not Vince or Fred, had done some extra work in one bedroom. I had to giggle. And groan. “Wayne’s coating in one bedroom”? The wainscoting was nicely done. Why not the flier?

I’ve been invited to enjoy “taught lean turkey” sandwiches and to “committ to fitness.”

I received a flier in the mail that touted “Quality at Affordibility!” Not only did they spell affordability wrong, what did they mean?

Simply put, write in clear language that your reader will understand, set your readers’ expectations and meet them, and check your work more than once. And have fun while you do it!