Vocabulary

As writers, we all know that words are powerful. Words facilitate expression of emotion and ideas but can just as easily hinder our ability to move forward. Oftentimes when writing, I have a perfect visualization of the scene and the series of events that are about to unfold as if I am watching a movie or even recalling details of a memory. However, I cannot always seem to get that perfect image into words. Imagery roadblocks are frustrating and can quickly end up ruining inspiration and the motivation to write. Just as a painter will use a mixture of colors to paint more elaborate displays, words are the colors of an authors mosaic masterpiece.

Let me start by saying how personal this issue is for me. There was a time when I loved to write because I was good at it, but books were not my best friend. I hated reading, because everything my grade-school teachers assigned was dull or lacking in some way. I spent six years dreading reading assignments, especially the ones with implied conceptual reasoning questions to follow. It took 6 years and the right teacher, but I finally figured out my problem. I did not like those books because I had no interest in them, but I did not hate reading- not truly. Honestly, I cannot imagine my life without books and I can agree that reading has definitely improved my vocabulary in more ways than one. Every author has something unique to share, and what I love best is the obvious difference in vocabulary between individuals. Words are the voice of your characters personalities, and every personality has a different voice. Try imagining your character speaking to you, how do they sound? Is there an accent? Tone in their voice? Perhaps you want to set the mood so that your readers will better understand the situation but you are not sure where to start. Should the wind be blowing or is it stagnant? Can you hear the rustle of autumn leaves across the lawn? Are there any other peculiar sounds to take note of, or is it silent? The best way to learn about transforming images into words, in my opinion, is to read, read, read. Read anything and everything, don’t be afraid to try new authors or genres because diversity is what is going to eliminate that which does not work for you. Now, suppose you did not get the chance to fall in love with books, and reading is still a dreadful thing to you. There are still ways to improve your vocabulary that do not require the opening of a book. My brother for instance used to love reading, but as he got older and his eyesight got worse, reading started causing headaches and not even prescription glasses helped. Perhaps your problem is that staring at words on a page puts you to sleep. Have you tried audio books or oral recordings? Hearing words can be just as effective as seeing them and serves as convenient entertainment on road trips or the trek to and from work. I, preferable to reading for long periods, also enjoy audio books for long drives. If everything I have previously suggested does not work for you, I have one more idea that might. Even if you loathe reading, even if you are not much of a writer but you are seeking to improve your vocabulary, then I suggest you consider the one tool to rule them all. A dictionary/thesaurus. In this advanced day in age, these tools are very easily accessible online. I am partial to dictionary.com because of the versatile interface between the dictionary and thesaurus specifically suits my needs. Whenever I come across a word I do not understand- in books, face-to-face conversation, or even on television- I resort to this. Likewise, when I need a better idea for a description- because I have already used a particular word a lot or the word isn’t quite fitting for the situation- I always make sure to evaluate the synonym options. You might not retain words as quickly in this way, but over time it can certainly help improve your vocabulary.

For those who do not want to sift through the paragraphs above, try these quick tips:

  1. Find a genre or author you can enjoy and read, read, read!
  2. Listen to audio books or other recordings and pay attention to words you don’t know.
  3. Use a dictionary or thesaurus as a resource for alternate word options.
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