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Let These 7 Perfectly Placed Words Be Your Muse For NaNoWriMo

By Ashley Austrew

The month of November is a big deal for writers. It’s time for NaNoWriMo! What is NaNoWriMo, you ask? It’s an abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month, an event every November during which writers all over the country attempt to write 50,000 words of a new novel in just the 30 short days. If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, chances are that you’re already deep in the preparation stages for writing your work in progress. In fact, you may even be seeking a little extra inspiration. We’re here to help with that.

Sometimes the best place to look for inspiration is inside the works of your favorite authors. We all have the same number of words to work with, but the best authors wow us with their ability to always choose the exact right word in the moment. This is called diction, or the “style of speaking or writing as dependent upon choice of words.” Studying the author’s diction can get you thinking deeply about why some words work better than others and how that might apply to your own work. To help you get inspired, here are seven times authors chose the perfect word.

1. budded

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”
—Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner (2003)

Where do feelings come from? In this sentence, Khaled Hosseini explains them as small, simple things that grow slowly, just as a flower does. The use of budded is the perfect, subtle word to convey his meaning. Budded means “to begin to develop.” As one reads this excerpt, they can almost picture forgiveness opening up like the buds on a tree in the early spring. Great words can plant images in the reader’s mind, and this word choice creates a multi-sensory experience that makes Hosseini’s point both poignant and crystal clear.

2. terror

“The terror, which would not end for another 28 years—if it ever did end—began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”
—Stephen King, It (1986)

There are many words Stephen King could have chosen to open his iconic novel, It: panic, fear, worry, fright. He chose terror, an “intense, sharp, overmastering fear.” This word choice tells the reader something about the story they are about to read. It isn’t just that something scary happened or that people felt panicked. Terror implies intense, prolonged fear in the face of something dangerous or evil. By choosing this word, King is letting readers know they are about to experience something deeply horrifying and piquing their curiosity to find out what it is.

Channel the waves of fright that terror can cause by understanding its difference from horror.

3. predator

“The future haunted but kept her alive; it remained her sustenance and also her predator.”
—Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland (2013)

The use of predator here is very smart. It’s not referring to any animal or hunter, of course. It’s referring to the character’s complicated relationship with the future, and the way it both keeps her going and makes her anxious. Predator means “a person, group, or business that exploits, victimizes, or preys on others.” It comes from the Latin praedātor, which means “plunderer, pillager.” In this sentence, the idea of the future stalks the subject, strikes fear, and robs her of a sense of calm. It functions very much like a predatory animal, and the use of the word predator helps the reader understand what that feels like.

4. half-life

“The half-life of love is forever.”
—Junot Diaz, This Is How You Lose Her (2012)

Writers are always searching for new ways to capture universal experiences. In his short story collection This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz succeeds when he uses half-life, a physics term that means “the time required for one half the atoms of a given amount of a radioactive substance to disintegrate,” to describe the permanence of love, even after heartbreak. The result is a poignant metaphor that feels both fresh and timeless.

5. rumpus

“’And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!’”
—Maurice Sendak, Where The Wild Things Are (1963)

If you thought impeccable word choice was limited only to adult fiction and poetry, think again. With his choice of rumpus, Maurice Sendak crafted one of the most iconic lines in literature, and it works simply because there’s no other word quite like it.

A rumpus is “a noisy or violent disturbance; commotion; uproar.” It was first recorded in English around the mid-1700s; however, its exact origins are unknown. Synonyms for rumpus include disturbance, commotion, and brouhaha, but rumpus is unique in its ability to capture the spirit of whimsical rebellion that sits at the heart of Where The Wild Things Are. It has a gentle sound that makes a rumpus seem less foreboding and more like a roaring good time. The line triggers fond memories of youthful unruliness.

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6. infinite

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
—Stephen Chbosky, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (1999)

Infinite means ​​”unlimited or unmeasurable in extent of space, duration of time, etc.” We don’t often think of people as being infinite, but in this sentence, it’s the perfect word to describe what the character is feeling. Many of us have had moments in our life that felt memorable, free, and inspiring in a powerful way that we knew would stick with us forever. Infinite is a way of capturing that immeasurable feeling. It’s a feeling that’s hard to put into words, but Chbosky chose the exact right one.

7. incremental

“And this is how it started. Just with coffee and the exchange of their long stories. Love can be incremental. Predicaments, too. Coffee can start a life just as it can start a day.”
—Tayari Jones, Silver Sparrow (2011)

Looking for a master class in powerful word choice? Here, Tayari Jones uses a single word to describe the complex nature of love. Incremental means “increasing or adding on, especially in a regular series.” In this example, Jones uses incremental to succinctly convey the idea that love is born of small acts, that it grows slowly over time, and that it can be found in the most simple circumstances. Jones could have used many words to explain this, but she only needed one. The single word incremental functions as a means for the reader to interpret the entire passage.


Ashley Austrew is a freelance journalist and writer from Omaha, Nebraska. Her work has been published at CosmopolitanScary MommyScholastic, and other outlets. For more by Ashley, read: 8 Tips & Tricks To Ace National Novel Writing Month | How To Write A Great Hook That Grabs Your Audience Hook, Line, And Sinker!“Teacher” vs. “Tutor”: Why Most Kids Need Both | Make Your Writing The Star Of National Grammar Day With These Tips | How To Create Atmosphere & Mood In Your Writing To Engage Your Readers

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