Using Engaging Language

The other day, I had one of my favorite compliments on my writing style. The gist of it was my reader enjoyed the fact that my tale was an easy read while remaining engaging. This is my favorite compliment because that is exactly the style I have striven for. While a more literary style has its place in the world of books, it’s not my cup of tea, as a reader or a writer. I’m genre fiction all the way, and not in the least apologetic about it.

The idea that writing has to be fancy, and has to have a fancy vocabulary, in order to be excellent is presumptuous. Mark Twain, one of my favorite classic writers was the opposite of fancy. He wrote of important ideas in plain language so that everyone could enjoy them, not only those with a fancy vocabulary. From all accounts, he spoke in the same manner. He was an educated man who decided, at one point or another, that he did not want to sound like a dictionary.


I could say this view is pulchritudinous, or pretty, or glorious.

I am not, in any way, comparing my writing to that of Mr. Twain. I should be so lucky. However, I too made that decision, when I was quite young, that I didn’t want to sound like a dictionary. I didn’t want to sound like I was trying to show off, or talk above people.

Now, I am absolutely not saying that all people with an advanced vocabulary are show offs. Of course they aren’t. However, we’ve all met those people who are. We’ve all met those people who can’t help saying something is malodorous when they simply mean it stinks. The people who act as if they have won something when you don’t understand what they’ve said.

It’s a fine line though, between using simple language and using boring language. A vocabulary that is too limited ends up flat and lifeless.

“A rabid wombat stood around the corner, clicking it’s teeth together as it waited for someone.”

“A rabid wombat lurked around the corner, gnashing it’s teeth as it anticipated its next victim.”


A lurking wombat.  I wonder if it’s rabid?

You can see the difference. While I don’t want to use a ten dollar word when a twenty-five cent one will do, it pays to chose verbs and adjectives with care. The difference between “stood” and “lurked” is enormous. There is much more meaning, and more specific meaning, in the second word choice.

That’s the biggest piece of the puzzle. Get specific. Don’t say “ran quickly” when “dashed” is such an engaging choice. “Clicking” is a perfectly adequate word, but “gnashing” conveys more meaning. There are times when people may only need to stand up, but other times they might drag themselves to their feet or launch themselves out of a chair.

Picture the scene that you are writing in your mind, like a movie. What exactly is your character doing? Is he standing around the corner, or is he lurking, fidgeting, leaning against the wall in exhaustion, or eager to be away from that foul corridor? What is he feeling as he waits there? Does he smell the fumes from someone’s latest chemistry project, or the overpowering spices of someone’s take-out Indian food? How long will he wait before he gives up in disgust?

Don’t spend hours looking through a thesaurus for the fanciest word you can find, unless that’s your style. Do take the time to chose words with care and attention. Give simple language the care it needs to become engaging and provocative.


It’s time to vote!  I submitted my book, Descending, to Kindle Scout.  Descending has to get nominated to be noticed by the Kindle editors.

What to do:  If you have an Amazon account and you want to help, go to this link   and nominate Descending.  Each Amazon account holder gets 3 votes for books they’d like to see published.

What’s in it for you: If Descending is chosen for publication, every person who votes for it gets a FREE advance copy of the e-book, and an opportunity to review, if you wish, before anyone else.

How you can help: Vote, if you can.  Share this post with friends if you are willing.  Vote now!  Get a free e-book!  Voting ends 12/16/16.

About JulianneQJohnson

I am a writer in Indiana who lives with two cats, two ferrets, and one fiance. I enjoy cheap coffee and expensive chocolate.
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