The Words I Use; the Words I Don’t Use

Apr 9, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Karen McCullough

Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win ebook copies of the first 2 books in the Market Center Mysteries series, A Gift for Murder and Wired for Murder, and links to purchase them from Amazon.

Few people other than writers really think about this. Like a house is built with wood and bricks, novels are built with words. They’re formed into sentences, then paragraphs, and chapters. But the fundamental building block is the word.

And, like the bricks in a house, you don’t want readers to notice the individual words themselves because, if they do, they’re not getting the picture. They’re not being swept up in the story dream.

Authors have to notice the words because that’s what we’re using to create that dream. We choose them with care and place them exactly. But each author uses their words differently.

I recognize a lot more words than I use in either everyday speech or in my writing. Disembark, invocation, halitosis, tertiary, megalomania, conscription, emesis. I know what all of those mean, and they may appear, very rarely, in one of my books, should it happen to be the exactly right word for the situation.

Normally I try to use simpler, more common, more direct words. Those bigger words can stop a reader short if they aren’t used precisely or aren’t recognized. The last thing I want to do is stop a reader short and pull them out of the story.

There are some more common words I use entirely too often, and I have to try to eliminate as many as possible – really, very, then, kind of, etc. I have a list and I check each book for the number of times I use each one before I send it out.

Other words just don’t seem to suit me, so I don’t use them. I’ve written several romance novels, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a male protagonist call his potential partner, “baby.” “Babe,” yes. “Baby,” no. It’s all about the connotations.

And some words I just refuse to use because they’re derogatory, too crude, or too ugly. For some of my sweet romances or cozy mysteries, the publisher doesn’t allow four letter words. In situations where a particular character would be likely to use those words, instead of having them say something that will sound ridiculous in the circumstances, like “oh, darn,” I just have them curse under their breath. Occasionally, I have a character “utter a slur.”

I’m not opposed to using four letter words when the situation calls for it. In the first book of my Market Center Mysteries amateur sleuth series, my heroine, who is generally a nice, even-tempered sort, finds a body in a dumpster at the end of the first chapter. She doesn’t say, “oh darn it.” She says, “Oh, s**t.” And repeats it several times. Nothing else would properly convey her state of mind at the time.

As an author, I’ve learned to consider every word I use carefully. I read my stories out loud so I can hear how they sound. After forty years of writing, it’s become such an ingrained habit that I no longer have to think much about it as I write. A wrong word just rings in my head like a badly tuned string in the violin.

The Gifts and Home Decoration trade show provides Heather McNeill with the longest week of her hectic life. As assistant to the director of Washington, D.C.’s, Market and Commerce center, she’s point person for complaining exhibitors, missing shipments, and miscellaneous disasters. It’s a job she takes in stride—until murder crashes the event.

To enter to win ebook copies of the first 2 books in the Market Center Mysteries series, A Gift for Murder and Wired for Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “market,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 16, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. BE SURE TO STATE WHICH ONE YOU PREFER. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode went up this week.

You can use this link to order A Gift for Murder or click here. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the Amazon link:

Karen McCullough is the award-winning author of almost two dozen published novels and novellas in the mystery, romance, suspense, and fantasy genres, including the Market Center Mysteries Series, originally published by Five Star/Cengage and reprinted by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery Library, and three books in the No Brides Club series of romance novels. More than a dozen of her short stories have appeared in various publications. A member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, as well as local chapters of each, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society, she is also a past president of the Southeast chapter of Mystery Writers of America and served on the MWA national board. Website:
Blog: kmccullough/kblog

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.

1 Comment

  1. We have a winner!


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