4 Tricks for Picking the Perfect Word

picking the perfect wordOne of Charles Schulz’s incisive “Snoopy at the typewriter” strips from his Peanuts cartoon features poor ol’ Snoopy laboring away, sweating and smacking himself in the forehead. Finally, he turns to his typewriter and taps out, “The.” With a lofty look, he explains, “A good writer will sometimes search hours for just the right word.”

At times, that search feels like groping in the dark. How do we know which word is the “right” word?

Ultimately, the answer depends upon you, as the author, and the demands of whatever sentence you’re writing. There’s no such thing as the “right” word; there are just good words appropriately used.

4 Linguistic Techniques to Help You in Picking the Perfect Word

Today, let’s explore four sophisticated linguistic techniques for picking the perfect word in a way that won’t cost you all the sweat and labor our pal Snoopers had to endure.

1. Alliteration

What is it?

Repetition of beginning consonant sounds.

How is it used?

I used alliteration in the title of the post (“4 Tricks for Picking the Perfect Word”). I could have said “4 Tricks for Choosing the Perfect Word” or “4 Tricks for Picking the Right Word.” Both choices would have been more than sufficient. But neither would have given me the pleasing phonetic significance of alliteration. Remember, alliteration doesn’t demand words begin with the same letter, just the same sound.

For example:

Cara kept the chimera at bay.

2. Assonance

What is it?

Repetition of vowel sounds.

How is it used?

The post title contains assonance in its rhyming words (“4 Tricks for Picking the Perfect Word”). However, assonance can be just as powerful—sometimes more so—in non-rhyming words.

For example:

The red heifer looked left as I set down the lemonade for the referee.

3. Consonance

What is it?

Repetition of internal consonant sounds.

How is it used?

Again, we find an example in the post title (“4 Tricks for Picking the Perfect Word”). But, again, the possibilities aren’t limited to rhymes. We can use the technique to gain a more subtle (and often subconscious) effect through non-rhyming words.

For example:

Suspicious as ever, the assassin sussed out the mafia bosss safe house.

4. Onomatopoeia

What is it?

Representation of sound through phonetic imitation.

How is it used?

I wasn’t able to find a suitable use of onomatopoeia for the post title (kablooey, snap, and meow just didn’t quite fit). This technique can easily become overbearing if used incorrectly. The whampow-holy-barking-dogs-Batman! approach of comic books isn’t often appropriate in written fiction. However, when used with a little more restraint, the accessible power of onomatopoeic words can infuse sizzle into your prose.

For example:

Whapping its wings against the cage, the parrot squawked at the annoying cackling of the neighboring magpie.

These four simple techniques can instantly raise your writing to a new level of effectiveness. For all their subtle power, they’re easy to implement, and they offer some fun and original solutions to Snoopy’s agonized hours of word searching.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever consciously used these techniques in picking the perfect word? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I must be totally honest with you. I did poorly at high school and like a race horse out of a starting gate, I left as fast as humanly possible. So these things you talk about are sheer honey to me. I am self-taught, and far from being good, I consider myself to be average, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the creative process of writing.

    Thank you so very, very much for all these wonderful, insightful nuggets of advice, broken down so perfectly for the likes of myself (although I’m paranoid as to how many faux pas’ I’ve already committed?).

    I’m in love with your web site, and marvel at your knowledge, and command, of the written word we so readily take for granted and accept without question.

    Thank you so much, once again.

  2. Thanks so much for stopping by! I’m glad you’re finding the site useful. As a homeschool alumnus, I consider myself, in large part, to be “self-taught” as well. Sometimes it’s the best way to learn!

  3. Great tips! Use these all the time… 🙂

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