Dictionary and thesaurus apps. Etymology and word roots. Language study and interlinear Bibles.
Writing tools in this century are at our fingertips. Yet as I work on my first novel, the most unusual resource has resurfaced—a 1929 Hartrampf’s Vocabulary Builder. I call it my fat word builder.
I admit it’s been abandoned for a while on our bookshelves, possibly for ten years, but now—now it’s a rarefied gem in my eyes. Yes, it’s a single book. No, it is not digitized, but there are many newer editions.
Its genius resides in the collection of associated meanings, not just straight synonyms.
Let me give you an example from my summer editing work. In my novel's first draft, I have definitely overused certain words like come, wind, were, and a most heinous repetitive phrase--began to. Apparently my heroine Carina likes to begin things. She began to sit or stand. She began to crouch. She began to laugh. Goodness. I promise she finishes things. Really.
Now for the edits with Hartrampf's help. I look up the word "begin" in the back index. I'm delighted to find an entire page devoted to its use. The top of this page says to see other possible connections for "start" or "commencement." A handy list with additional pages is right there: birthplace, excite—rouse, change, opening—foreword, musical beginnings, time preceding, or cause. Which kind of "begin" do I want? I could flip to any of those or look below at the parts of speech:
And this is just one-eighth of the page. The word wonder continues with many family and neighbor words for "begin." For my character, though, I found that many times she was not truly beginning something. Instead of "With knife in hand, Carina began to crouch . . ." I realized she wasn't beginning anything. "With knife in hand, Carina crouched . . ." was more accurate and less wordy. Of course, I could have said, "She prepared herself." In reality "crouched" became the best fat word. Yes, fat. These words contain action and image and power.
As a writer, I can say in all sincerity that I have finally found a happy and pleasant use for the word fat.
IN THE PAST MONTH, I'VE TWEAKED A LOT. I’ve tweaked curriculum, articles, even the brightness of my book cover and its font size. I've tweaked my website, but I’ve also tweaked my closet apparently. Maybe I even tweaked my foot when I stepped on a backyard mole hill.
When it was first recorded in Old English in the 1600s, tweaking used to mean pinching, as in tweaking or tugging someone’s nose. Then it meant plucking, like picking lint off of a shirt. I don’t think I’ve managed to pinch or pluck anything I’ve written, but I may have plucked a few things from my closet that I don’t wear. Now that I consider it, I do pluck things from what I write so that I can add other words because in modern lingo, tweaking means to make a fine adjustment.
Tweaking really is refining, and refining is all about process, not perfection. It requires time and reflection and a good deal of plain old thought. I don’t want to be the fool described in Ecclesiastes 10:14 who just multiplies his words. That just implies empty quantity. A good word encourages the heart and strengthens it (Proverbs 12:25). Those words are agreeable and bring pleasure and make you stand taller.
Perhaps one of the most valuable parts of the tweaking process is that God can reveal His wisdom to us if we wait and rest without trying to fill a page just to fill it. In Proverbs 8, Wisdom herself says, I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength. And that is my hope and prayer for the words that I write. Let tweaking be a refining.
All the words of my mouth are righteous;
there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
They are all straight to him who understands,
and right to those who find knowledge.
Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.