Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.
C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
Finding that perfect word that says the thing I mean, what I really mean, is a struggle for the writer — and I know all writers experience it constantly.
But it’s not just a writing problem; it’s also an editing problem
As an editor, my job (especially at the copyediting phase) is to make a manuscript sing. If I read your story or essay or article or devotional, I’m looking closely at the sentences and the words — and I’m asking if the words I see are the best words. Sometimes something I read makes me stumble. I have to go back and understand the sentence, or visualize the scene, or simply try to comprehend what the author means to say. I stumble because something isn’t working.
And if it isn’t working for me — the editor — then it isn’t going to work for the readers either.
Maybe I need to replace a blah verb with a stronger verb — or better yet, an adverb and verb with a strong verb. “He slowly walked across the street.” Ugh. Adverb. Not helpful. Many strong verbs can picture a slow walker, but the verb needs to be the best verb for the scene. Does he amble? trudge? shuffle? Amble sounds like he’s carefree . . . trudge sounds like he’s sad . . . shuffle sounds like he’s elderly or injured perhaps . . . I have to study the scene and suggest a strong verb, the right strong verb.
Or maybe the descriptor isn’t quite there. A “shiny” item might better be described as shimmering or glittering or glistening or gleaming or glossy (wow, lots of “g” words there).
At times, I look for a word that will add some alliteration — if it works with the tone of the piece.
It takes a writer, a reader, a word lover to be a good copy editor, to massage the message, to tame the tome (see what I did there?).
Some sentences just make me stop in wonder. Some words string together like the notes of a beautiful melody. They take my breath away. (I gave a few examples in this post called “Word Power.”)
It’s hard work, this writing, editing, and trying to say what we want to say or trying to help authors say what they want to say.
But when a sentence sings, when we “say the very thing [we] really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what [we] really mean” as C. S. Lewis writes, it’s all worth it.
We live for those moments.
Ever have one of those times when it all came together?
2 thoughts on “That Elusive Perfect Word”
I value your posts, Linda, and your appreciation for the power of words!
Lovely post, Linda. I think of the search for the right word as the search to bring beauty into the world. Maybe that seems grandiose. But it’s part of what makes a sentence sing as you mentioned. 😁 In a small way, it gives glory to God.