Have you ever noticed that as a result of the English Language absorbing so many foreign words that we frequently find that we now have several words to express the same idea. For example: ‘sympathy’ (Greek), ‘condolence’ (Latin), ‘fellow feeling’ (Saxon). ‘rapport’ (French)
Also the clear difference between words of a similar meaning? For example: ‘boyish’ and ‘puerile’, ‘human’ and ‘humane’ and between, ‘hanged’ and ‘hung’.
What about words that gives shape and sound to their meaning. For example: ‘Ghost’ looks a ghostly word, and ‘phantom’ gives me a sense of something transparent. ‘Death’ is a very dark word, full of mystery and power, ending in a shadow. ‘Triumphant’ is colorful and suggests a fanfare. ‘Magnificent’ and in its very appearance this Latin word appears ‘magnificent’. ‘Silver’ has a distinct gleam; ‘gold’ soft but rich and powerful; ‘lead’ sounds soft and dull.
Finally, why do we call the hippo a hippopotamus instead of a ‘river cow’? Is it because this Greek word is more like the hippo itself-huge, clumsy, and ugly?
A good Dictionary/Thesaurus is essential and should always be in reach when reading and writing. Its use is obvious: Correct spelling, correct pronunciation and it gives us the meaning of any new word that we encounter.
But as writers do we sometimes abuse it? Do we use a word simply because we personally like it? Do we repeat words for the sake of it? Do we sometimes use words and phrases that are redundant or ambiguous or indulge in bombastic or flowery language which is as bad as showing off in company?
For me when I read a novel for pleasure the words have to be like a transparent medium through which the incidents are revealed. When I become conscious of the words being used the story loses its clear focus and I start to yawn and quickly discard the book as boring and not worth the effort.
A well written novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a badly written novel tells us the truth about its author.
In my experience the greatest weakness of all new writers, is in their characterization. The usual idea is to give the characters one quality apiece: the heroine is usually all sweet innocence and beautiful, the hero, manly with incredible chivalrous virtues, the villain duplicitous to the nth power. In real life every character is an uncertain amalgamation of many qualities. None of us can be represented by a single guise; we are all full of mingling shades of color. So remember flat characters cannot be taken seriously, because they do not exist in the real world.