The Power – and Joy – of the Right Word

Many writers write for the love of story.  Many for the love of language.  But the best writers are those who strive for beauty in both the story and the language.  The story is not sacrificed for lyricism. It is told with language that serves the story, but that also often surprises us.

I’m currently reading Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic, and as did his National Book Award- winning Let the Great World Spin, TransAtlantic reminds me over and over again of the power of the right word.  His descriptions are so clearly drawn, his word choices so strong and inventive, that it takes my breath away.

A few of my favorite lines so far:


“Sometimes it withered him just to keep his mind steady.”

“…an incidental skim of words across the surface of the day…”

“The children appeared marooned by hunger.”

McCann uses such beautiful, creative language.  It is the story that has drawn me in, that keeps me going on this journey with him.  But it is the way he tells that story – the language – that makes me love the ride so much.

When I read writers like McCann, I want to be better.  I want to challenge myself.  I begin to rethink my verbs, searching for stronger and more evocative ways of saying things.  I begin to play with my word choices.  And I remember again what is so much fun about writing.  I remember why I write in the first place.


3 thoughts on “The Power – and Joy – of the Right Word

    1. I couldn’t wait. I’m loving it so far. Have you ever read A Prayer for the Dying, Stewart O’Nan? If not, pick it up. The language and the story are beautiful. The subject matter is not happy – it’s about the plague – but he just does everything right in that book.

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