So you’ve finished your first draft. Hurrah! You’ve had your cookie, IM’d your IM buddies, and now you’re ready to get back to work. You’ve got plot holes to fill, story arcs to track, typos to fix, transitions to smooth and floating body parts to ground.
Editing’s a daunting task. There’s this whole big picture and you have to concentrate on so many elements it’s easy to overlook the basic element that can add humor, help you show instead of tell, strengthen your voice and heighten characterization in deep POV—word choice.
Words may be the most basic ingredient for crafting our stories, but they can also be the spice that makes the flavor pop for the reader.
My favorite example of word choice taking a scene from functional to memorable comes from the movie Toy Story. After discovering that he is merely an action figure and not an intergalactic Space Ranger, a hopeless and dejected Buzz is found by the little girl, dressed in an apron, and set into a tea party, which includes a headless doll. When Woody finds him and asks “What happened to you?” Buzz’s answer could have been:
Instead, Buzz replies:
I have no idea what the rough draft of that bit of dialogue looked like. “Hey, Pixar? This is Shan. Can you dig through your archives and fax me over a first draft of Toy Story?” But I’m going to assume even the creative geniuses behind Toy Story and Cars aren’t slapping brilliance onto that first blank page. (And if they are, I don’t want to know.)
Here’s the good news: brilliant word choices don’t have to flow magically from the tips of your fingers. The right words can (and arguably should) be deliberately stirred into that completed shitty first draft, taking your writing from blah to brilliant.