Shannon Stacey

LB&LI Workshop: When Only the Right Word Will Do—Part 3

Click to read Introduction
Click to read Part 1
Click to read Part 2

In the introduction, I wrote: “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.”

Twenty or so years ago, I baked my first meatloaf and when it came to the oregano, I might have applied more of a dumping than a dash. The fact the mere mention—after two decades—of that meatloaf can still tickle my sister’s gag reflex is proof you can add too much spice. And, just as my sister wouldn’t eat my meatloaf on a dare now, if you tickle your reader’s gag reflex, she’s going to pass on your next book.

DO: Find stronger verbs to cut some of those adverbs. Use “stalked” instead of “walked menacingly”.

DON’T: Have your characters gasp, cry, whine, shout, growl, snap, spit or groan through their dialogue. It’s exhausting.

DO: Choose words that reflect the character’s background/education/occupation/etc. (See Part 1.)

DON’T: Put too much oregano in your meatloaf.

As the woman crossed the garage, Gabe watched her over the top of the car. She looked like a Beetle in a lot full of big-block Chevrolets, wearing a pink t-shirt and white shorts, but the way they hugged her curves really revved his engine. Her hair was the color of a good chamois cloth, and it bounced a little as she walked, like a tuner with a tricked-out hydraulic suspension. Then she was idling in front of him, her blue eyes looking straight at him, firing all his cylinders.

It’s a little strong, isn’t it? You want flavor, not cheesy cliches. Exception: if you’re writing romantic comedy, you might dive over the top purposely, but it’s a very fine and yet indefinable line.

DO: Go here to read an excerpt from Alison Kent’s 11/06 Blaze, Infatuation, which features a hero inspired by Jesse James (the bike guy, not the bandit) and the following passage, which I think has the perfect dash of oregano:

He’d made his way in the world, and then he’d come home, belonging here, comfortable here, employing men who shared his background and his belief that there was no such thing as a job that was too dirty when a little muscle and degreaser made cleanup a breeze.

Go to Part 4


  1. Thursday Thirteen: LB&LI - Kristen Koster

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