Climb Out of the Vague Swamp!

That’s Mr. Swamp Thing to you.

Writers tend to throw around generalized words as if they were bird seed. We try to convey a particular idea, then sabotage our own efforts by weighing down our prose with words that don’t pull their own weight.
Writing Tip for Today: General words are fine in many instances: See? I just used the word many to qualify my statement. But too many (I know, right?) of these result in the reader becoming mired in a vague swamp. Here are a few words to watch for:

  • Intensifiers: Words such as huge, big, very, large, many, a lot. These are relative terms. Instead of the general, try comparing a size with a readily known object. EX: The rock was huge. The rock was the size of a Volkswagen.
  • Diminishers: little, tiny, small, some. As with the intensifiers, try comparing  with an easily recognized object or quantity.
  • Vague: thing, stuff, problem, situation, circumstance, stage. These are more likely to be nouns. Substitute particulars for these generalities. EX: He bought the thing for five bucks. He bought the toupee for five bucks.
  • Dialogue Caveat: When you write dialogue, characters often use these vague words when conversing. In my opinion, it’s better to use a generality if both characters know what they are talking about. EX: Mack said, “I have to know this stuff by tomorrow.” Sounds more natural than “I have to know the Robert Rules of Order by tomorrow.” Characters don’t tell each other info they both already know.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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