Writing Fundamentals: Definitions


Today I want to talk about definitions, and about that most dreaded and feared of dinosaurs: the thesaurus.  I have seen some prodigious vocabularies of late.  People are trying out a lot of new words.  Now generally I have no problem with using varied and large words, but there is something that everyone who writes needs to know.

You see, there are actually at least two meanings for every word.  The denotative meaning is the definition you find in your dictionary.  But words also have a connotative meaning.  Hulking and enormous both mean big.  But usually when somebody says ‘hulking’ they mean big in a bad way.  Enormous can go either way.  If you want big in a good way… well how about generous, or um… big.  Ooh, how about tremendous.  Let me give you another example.  Green generally means fresh.  Having green (fresh) lettuce is a great thing.  Having a green (fresh) pilot isn’t.  In this case, he’s inexperienced.

The point is, you can’t just pull a word out of the thesaurus and expect it to work in every sentence.  Your hero may have a grin, a smirk, or a leer.  All are smiles, but they aren’t all the same.  There’s a fine line between sexy intense and intense creepy, after all.

If you’re going to start using a word in your writing, try it out a few times in your spoken language.  See if you get punched in the face.  Once you feel comfortable, then you can use it in your writing.  Then your writing will be jake, sterling, superb, or at least satisfactory, acceptable, not bad.


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