Right Words vs. Mediocre Words

“It might as well say bing tiddle tiddle bong.  It’s complete jibberish.” – Dr. McKay on Stargate Atlantis

It is what they said Monday for me so I’m indulging my nerdiness.  The above is a quote from Stargate Atlantis by the geeky Dr. Rodney McKay.  I use it quite frequently to refer to times when people are being ridiculous. That and I just like to say the words bing tiddle tiddle bong.  It’s fun.
Anyway, the reason I am using the quote today is because it refers to things not making sense.  McKay is looking at a report and the words do not make sense.  They are the wrong words.  Specifically, they show that the universe is not obeying the laws of physics – because they are the wrong words.
Using the wrong words when writing is more than just annoying for readers.  Wrong words, whether just one or many, can be disruptive to the reader.  They can throw off the meaning of a sentence or just make it sound off.  In poetry, the wrong word may rhyme but not sound right or may not make any sense at all.
So how important are the right words?  Well whether you are writing scientific reports or stories or even poetry – the right words are crucial.  As Mark Twain said,

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

The right word in the right place can make a sentence exceptional as opposed to just mediocre.  A good example, as I discovered from another blog, is the word it.  Using it may be grammatically correct but it makes the sentence weak.
Let me offer an example:
  • If Dr. McKay were to say, “It is hovering around me.”
This sentence does not sound incredibly noteworthy.  It could mean any number of things.  It could be a mosquito, it could be a smell in the air.  It could be anything but the phrasing of the sentence offers no indication of urgency or emphasis.
  • If Dr. McKay says, “The menacing little insects are hovering around me.”
This sentence sounds more threatening, more urgent.  This sentence is stronger and carries much more meaning.  The key was which words were used.  The word it was grammatically correct but not very meaningful.  The words menacing little insects were much more effective at conveying what was going on in the scene.
The same substitution and use of words applies to the use of other vague terms.  In many cases the use of adjectives or adverbs helps convey the appropriate level of emotion – when used correctly.  Overuse, as I mentioned in my Saturday post, is annoying.
Let me offer some more examples:
  • When a character says, “There are bodies lying around.”
The sentence is grammatically correct but lacks any real emotional impact.
  • If the character says, “There are dead bodies stacked in the corner,”
The use of certain words like dead and stacked in the corner make all the difference.  Not only do we now know the bodies are deceased, we also know they aren’t just around.  We are told exactly how they are lying and where –stacked and in the corner.
Now you are starting to see what I mean by the use of the right words.  Choosing which ones to use and how to use them in sentences is the key to extraordinary writing.  Why let your writing be mediocre when it could stand out?  Also – if you go by Stargate Atlantis – the use of the wrong words could incidentally mean that the universe is not obeying the laws of physics.  So be careful when throwing words around.
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