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December 30, 2013

Pick Your Words Carefully and Make Them Count

In WRITE A MARKETABLE CHILDREN’S BOOK IN 7 WEEKS, we advise writers to replace utility words with more concrete language that appeals to one of the five senses. What is a utility word? These are words we use a lot—wonderful, beautiful, good, bad, great, fine, and things. Unfortunately, they don’t enhance one’s prose.

They tell us nothing really. They are vague and weak. Useful, yes. Effective, no. They will not impress a busy editor. Utility words will not make your book manuscript stand out from the others piled on an editor’s desk.

Consider this sentence: Tommy could tell by the funny look on his mother’s face that she was mad.

Can you picture the expression on Mom’s face? Probably not—words like funny and mad are utility words, but they aren’t very clear or concrete.

Rewrite it using more specific diction: Tommy could tell by the (stern, scowling, stiff, pinched) expression on Mom’s face that she was (annoyed, angry, disappointed, furious).

Look at this sentence: Penny had a nice birthday party with lots of cool games and fun food.

The utility words nice, cool and fun may be suitable for an every day conversation, but not in a book manuscript. What made the birthday party nice? What kind of games did the kids play? Did Penny serve pizza or make-your-own ice cream sundaes? Editors love details. So do kids who read books.

You’re becoming a wordsmith now. Make every word count!

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