Word Banks and Why You Should Have One
Writers are creatures of habit. They have their favorite writing chairs, special pens they use to jot down notes, specific times of day they prefer to write. So it’s no surprise when they use the same go-to words to describe their scenes, characters, and settings. These aren’t evocative words that elicit clear images in the reader’s mind. They’re the low-hanging fruit. The words we reach for to quickly and efficiently describe the world of our manuscript. The words we use when we’re penning our first drafts.
Dark, cold night.
Deep brown eyes.
Tightly clenched hands.
Some are cliches or overused adverbs. Others are crutch words. The problem is that these words limit the power of our prose. Instead of creating fresh images in the mind of the reader, they remind her of something she’s read before. Instead of heightening the emotion in an important scene, they fall flat, leaving the reader dull.
The truth is, these words don’t work hard enough. Instead of building new melodies and rhythms, they utilize the same overused chord progressions.
So how do we get away from the habit of using uninspired language and lift up our manuscripts? Simple. Create a word bank.
A word bank is a collection of words or phrases that resonate with you for one reason or another. The words might bring about a picture in your mind, have layered meaning, or figurative value. Elementary school teachers use word banks as visual tools to support their students with their writing. If they work for first graders, I’m certain they can help seasoned writers, too.
You can organize your word bank alphabetically, by part of speech (adjectives, verbs, nouns), by topic (physical reactions, setting descriptors, personality traits), or any other way that makes sense to you. I know one writer who keeps lists of colors: carmine, caramel, cardinal…You can build your word bank in a notebook, in a word processor like Microsoft Word, or by using an app like Vocabulary.com, which lets you create quick and easy vocabulary lists.
By keeping a word bank, you’ll find it easier to integrate evocative language into your manuscript. Your prose will be richer, more interesting, and infinitely more unique.
See below for a glimpse at the word bank I’m building for my current work-in-progress.