Monday 2 October 2017

The Writer's Lexicon: Descriptions, Overused Words, and Taboos by Kathy Steinemann (Book Review)

About the Book

You’re a writer. You just read your manuscript and discovered your characters nodding like marionettes in every chapter. When they’re not nodding, they’re rolling their eyes.


Time to slash the Pinocchio strings and turn them into real live people. Award-winning author Kathy Steinemann will provide the tools. She cuts through the so-called rules and offers simple solutions.

Too many repetitions of “little”? There’s a cure for that. Do you rely on “very” too often? There’s a cure for that too. You’ll find the remedies in this book’s dispensary.

Should you ever use anything other than “said” to attribute dialogue? Are exclamation points taboo? The answers might surprise you.

Learn how to harness body language, cut hackneyed adjectives, and draw on the environment for ambience. No more wooden characters. You’ll transform them into believable personalities your readers will learn to love. Or hate.

Get in the driver’s seat, relax, and enjoy your journey—with Kathy Steinemann’s book as your GPS.

My Review (4 / 5 Stars)

An exceedingly useful, if not indispensible, writing guide.

This book goes deeper than probably any I've read so far on the subject of writing. The first half consists of words writers should avoid or use sparingly, from the obvious "very" to the less obvious "sat". There is one chapter for each of these words (And there are lots of them), and each one contains loads of examples for adjectives, nouns, and verbs to use instead. "Before-and-after" example paragraphs abound, and each chapter's also packed with writing prompts to help get your creative juices flowing.

After these "Words to Avoid" chapters, we move into things like when to use certain punctuation marks, how and when to incorporate swearing into your story, and things to avoid when writing in the third person.

It's definitely a book I'll be keeping on my device to refer to again and again.

Having said all that, there was something ... off about the writing. I couldn't immediately put my finger on it, but it affected my enjoyment of this book.

After thinking about it for a while, I realised what it was. It's very "teachy". It feels a bit like the author is a doctor who's really good at what she does, but her bedside manner leaves more than a bit to be desired.

There are example paragraphs, before and after certain changes, and the author will say something like "The second paragraph is much stronger." or maybe "Don't you think the second paragraph sounds so much better?

That's a rhetorical question, and it can come off as patronising.

She also refers back to the two big style guides quite often - "This is what the Chicago Manual of Style says on the subject." As if that's an end to it.

Sure, she SAYS that everyone's different, and you should write what works for you, but the tone of her advice is less advice and more instruction. "This is the way you should do it. Now do it this way and no other."

I guess when you've been an editor for as long as Ms Steinemann has, you develop a thick skin. Much like that proverbial doctor.

That may not be a bad thing for you. If you want to learn the correct way to write, this book is definitely for you. 

If you like to make up your own mind about things, you might disagree with the author on a couple of points, but you'll hopefully agree with her on a lot more. Either way, this book is for you, too.

Click here to find out where you can grab a copy.

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