Counting Words

I’ve been getting the word a day from Merriam Webster and am shocked at all the words I haven’t been using in my day to day. My recent favourites –  skosh, concatenate and torpedo not because I’m particularly violent but because it comes from the latin torpere, meaning to be sluggish or numb and I was amazed to learn that. I mean how the heck did that happen? How do you get something that zooms through the water to blast away your enemies from something that means sluggish? I know, right – That’s a head-scratcher.

As artists, whether we take it into account or ignore it all together – the business end of art, exists. For writers, one of the components of that is word count. There are rules. When is a novel really a novella? When does flash fiction become a short story? How do you determine the suitable word count for certain age groups, or genres? And readers have expectations.  Anyone wanting to have a cozy read on vacation, may torpedo the idea of a 480 page tome, but for some Epic Fantasy readers, bring it on.

So word count is not something to dismiss lightly. And if that is your concern you should head over to Writer’s Digest. They’ve got it laid out for you – well don’t go right now because I’d really like you to read the rest of my blog and you’re here anyway and that post isn’t going anywhere… But there you have it: a reliable source. So why did I start my post with talk about the dictionary? I’m getting to that.

I remember a heated conversation about word count during a critique group session, and I said – it’s not about word count. It’s about making your words count. I was being both sincere and flippant. In reality, for every rule about word count there are outstanding books, ones that everyone knows, ones that sit smugly on bestseller lists, ones that naysayers, debating the validity of said heretofore standardized word count, will present to argue the point – and frankly – they ain’t wrong. So while Writer’s Digest is an invaluable source of information for writers and I would never question their authorit-ae, sometimes our emphasis is on the wrong syllable – if you get my drift. So it bears repeating.

It’s not about the word count. It’s about making your words count.

Yes, I like to make up words, but I also respect the value of the ones already available. I noticed that getting the word-a-day into my email, made me think about and even play with words more often than I did in the past.  Then, actually using these new words, helped to plant them more firmly into my vocabulary.

Let me add a skosh more on the subject of making words count. Word choice is key. Let’s take ‘walk’ for example. Walk is such a vanilla word. But if you thesaurus it up, you get all manner of choices.

He walked slowly towards the car.
He trudged towards the car.

In my example, not only have I reduced the word count by one, I have described the action of the character more specifically. You can imagine the character trudging, perhaps with exhaustion or despair. Walking slowly, on the other hand, could imply so many things as to become almost meaningless.

So how to begin? Did I mention Merriam Webster? Dictionaries and Thesauruses; obvious tools. Make them evident, conspicuous, obnoxiously available in whatever form you desire. Pop helpful links right up there on your favorites bar. Do the same for the Urban Dictionary because… hilarious, for one. And two, you never know what’s going to inspire you to think outside the box. I’ve already been able to use Resting Murder Face in conversation. Yay, me!

Now, if you’ll excuse me – I have to go write some flash fiction using the word concatenate.


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