How to expand your vocabulary for vivid writing

I’m aware of using the senses, using specific language, verb choice etc. What I’m stuck on is that I simply don’t have a very complex descriptive vocabulary in my head. How can I improve?

Sarah Bowman
Sarah Bowman, attended workshops, writing groups, read & write constantly, novel-in-progress

There are a number of tricks. An obvious one is to expand your vocabulary by studying words. A natural way for me to do this, that has worked wonders, is to read and read and read much more. The wider you read, the more words you encounter, the greater becomes your vocabulary. I think it’s the most fun way to do it.

And when you encounter a new word, look it up. Then memorize it by using it in sentences until you have a solid feel for it. You could even practice your vocabulary while doing chores.

Another practice exercise is when walking down the street, instead of texting, take in the sights and sounds and in your head describe it all. Write little stories in your head about the people and activities you see, describing them in detail. Don’t forget to describe the colours. If you see something—a colour or object, etc.—that you can’t verbalize, look it up on the internet or elsewhere till you find the necessary words. Ads are wonderful sources of description and names for items we see. Of course, if you look up an advertisement for an item to get its name and description, your computer is going to think you’re interested in buying the item and will show you all kinds of ads in that category, but I consider it a small price to pay for free research sources. Google Images is another great source. Describe what you’re looking for and narrow your search till you find what you want, then click on “visit page.” Sometimes this leads to more information/description. You’ll soon learn.

And the satisfaction of finding what you’re looking for, of learning to clearly articulate what you mean so that any reader can see and hear what you do, is worth all the work. At that point, honestly, I want to tell the world about the great achievement I’ve made. I keep a blog to express and record some of this. Any writing exercise is helpful. That’s one reason I write on Quora.

Before I forget, I also use the synonym function on Word Document if I can’t think of the right word. Or I brainstorm on the internet, typing in a word that comes to mind, hoping related terms also suggest themselves. The thesaurus is the writer’s friend, every bit as much as the dictionary; it brings up words meaning nearly the same as the one you can think of. There must be many Thesauruses online. Here is a Google Search to get you started.


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