Use a Simpler Word


Use a Simpler Word

This week's tip is:

Use a Simpler Word in a Complicated Word's Place

English has a wonderful dual heritage. At its core there is a duality, a choice, between its formal, official Latinate roots, with its information, transubstantiation, and nutrition; and its earthy, warlike, immediate Germanic roots, with its knowledge, God, and bread. The Germanic words often hit us on a stronger, more emotional level. They are words that are more connected to our immediate needs for survival. They are the words that tell us about blood, food, and love, not lacerations, nourishment, and amorousness. One teacher of mine called these words, the types that refer to our most basic human desires and instincts, as primordial words. They are words that were in us before words even existed. If you think that's a contradiction, just don't overthink it. The goal of this exercise is to stop overthinking.

At moments of great importance or emotion in books, you'll notice how everything gets simple, and writers return to primordial words to describe things. They are much more effective, more timeless, more human. The other words have their place, but they are fussy and distant. It's easy for you to switch them out at key points in your story, and they'll immediately give you a jolt of something both more vivid and more spiritual. These words feel more essential to our humanness. So when your character is dying or loving or weeping, remember these words, and use them liberally. Strike out the anxious, intellectual Latin.