Don’t generalize. Use specific images.
Avoid abstractions. Be concrete.
There is one thing
that makes [Sinclair Lewis’s] books classics,
makes them absolutely memorable.
It is his imagery—his very specific images.
It makes his writing readable
because you can feel the restaurant [Billie’s Lunch Counter]
with the sticky oilcloth on its tables.…
“Thick handleless cups
on the wet oilcloth-covered counter.
An odor of onions
and the smoke of hot lard.
In the doorway
a young man audibly sucking a toothpick.
An aluminum ashtray labeled,
‘Greetings from Gopher Prairie.’”
This is your time to get out those “crackly words” you’ve been collecting, “the good words, the juicy words, the hot words.” (Priscilla Long, The Writer’s Portable Mentor)
Priscilla Long urges writers to avoid approaching language passively.
She encourages us to sidestep “using only words that come to mind, or words [we] grew up with, … general, conventional diction [word choice] that has little to offer in the way of echo, color, or texture.”
Words that don’t require a dictionary.
Words that are not overused.
“Be specific. Not car, but Plymouth” says Laura Davis. “Not dog, but Yorkshire terrier. Not the flower in the window, but the geranium in the window.”
When you polish your memoir, replace common, generic words with precise words, descriptive words, nuanced words like “Chanel No 5” instead of “expensive perfume.”
If your favorite aunt had a red mailbox, call it a crimson mailbox.
If you’re writing about a hilarious moment, use words like chortle, snort, giggle, hoot, snicker, snigger, guffaw, cackle.
Are you writing a story about your Great-grandfather’s Model T Ford? Did you know it was also called The Tin Lizzie?
If you’re writing about a VIP, consider one of these words: a pooh-bah, big cheese, big shot, heavyweight, high muck-a-muck, bigwig.
If you’re writing about an insignificant person, try: a lightweight, a nobody, a nonentity, a whippersnapper.
Did your father wear jeans? How about Levis? Or were they called dungarees back then?
If your grandfather drove an old, cheap car, call it a jalopy, a rattle trap, a clunker, or a flivver.
Get out your rough drafts and work on generating excitement, energy, and curiosity.
For more ideas, look over Ted Lamphair’s Wild Words (he’s a veteran VOA reporter and essayist).
At the Daily Writing Tips blog you’ll find resources such as a list of three-letter words that pack a punch, 15 words for household rooms and their synonyms, and much more.
Go back to the Judy Delton quote above. Take it in. Savor it.
Then, using her quote for inspiration, revise your stories so they’ll be “absolutely memorable.”