Use of Language

 In Blog

The most important tool for story tellers is our use of language. The words we choose to tell our stories with reveal much about our training, our values, and our priorities. Each writer will have their own mental checklist of what matters most to them and my checklist is therefore by no means definitive. However, although my criteria for using language will not resonate with everyone, I share it with you in the hope that it will help you to formulate your own list and consolidate your thinking about what matters in the writing process.

These are the ten language-based checks that I try to be mindful of when I am writing and editing.


I try to avoid clichés as much as possible, as I believe they weaken or dilute the writing (ie., nerves of steel, the calm before a storm, cold as ice).

Over-used Words

Your writing may feel tired, or boring, if you revert to using words that are commonly over-used in our lexicon (ie., breathtaking, tremendous, honestly, nice).

Precision and Clarity

Tempting though it may be to use your thesaurus to experiment with new words, it is important to communicate your message precisely and clearly. There is no point using an impressive word if it confuses your reader or detracts from the direction of the narrative as a whole.


Effective descriptive writing includes sensory details that create a vivid scene or mood. These might include sight, touch, smell, taste and sound. For example, I am not a particularly tactile person, and often leave out the importance of texture and the feeling of surfaces. In this respect, as in other aspects of description, I try to check my work for evidence of all five senses.


Finding a way to use language in a way that is impactful is one of our great challenges. I recently used the word “disremembered” in a short story to describe an abandoned farm field. Disremembered seemed to me to be fresh and potentially redolent with meaning.


When I am editing my work, I look for careful opportunities to strengthen the voice by substituting lovely, poetic words and phrases, when appropriate. For instance, when describing a cold winter’s night in a short story, I referred to “the sapphire light of winter”. I hoped, in this way, to evoke a mood or trigger a visual memory for readers.

Loaded words

I try to ensure that words loaded with emotional connotations are used intentionally and try to avoid words that will potentially distract the reader from my main meaning and purpose. Many of these types of words are vulgar and/or violent and should be used sparingly and carefully as opposed to “gratuitously”. Our words should only contribute to the trajectory of the narrative.

Conventions of language

This is an important editing check-point for me. My first drafts often contain sentence fragments or long, rambling sentences. I believe that readers relax when they read something that has been carefully constructed. The conventions of language include layout, spacing, spelling, grammar and punctuation. There are many guides available to assist you with these things. The trend these days is to under-punctuate, I know. I am someone who has loved nineteenth-century British fiction for the entirety of my adult life and, as a result, I see the traces of stylized over-punctuation in my own work, which I try, however poorly, to guard against (this last sentence, Dear Reader, is an example of what I mean).


Consistency matters to me in terms of evenness and tone. I strive to make my finished work seamless, so that the reader is carried along without becoming jarred by a lack of transition, an unexpected change in tone, or voice, or a deviation in the type of language being used.

Tongue Twisters

I always, always read my work aloud once I have finished editing. If there are too many multi-syllabic words too close together, or if my tongue has difficulty with a turn of phrase, then I know more editing is required. I believe that the sound of the written word can help to convey meaning.

I hope this is helpful for your own writing. Send me a message and let me know!