4 Ways to Develop Strong Vocabulary: A Writer's Guide

dumbing down
The Dumbing Down of Literature
March 19, 2017
learning to edit
Learning to Edit: Simple Guidelines for Better Writing
April 4, 2017

4 Ways to Develop Strong Vocabulary: A Writer's Guide

strong vocabulary

When writers lack strong vocabulary skills, they miss opportunities to create compelling writing that pulls readers into their story and keeps them there. Do your word skills need sharpening? Don’t worry if your English teacher skipped the memorization and quizzes. It’s easy to take matters into your own hands.

Before I share some resources for building a fantastic word set, I’d like to show you a little example that will demonstrate the importance of having a rich and varied vocabulary.

Why a Strong Vocabulary Creates Writing That Works

The Inuit people have at least 100 words for snow. Why? Snow is such an important part of their culture that nuances among types of snow are extremely important. There’s snow that doesn’t stick (noontla) and snow that is crusted on the top (tlacringit). There’s wet snow, dry snow, slush, large flakes, packed snow — you get the idea. Each word to describe snow ascribes to it a slight difference from other types of snow. Not only does this wordsmithing allow for distinguishing between different states and uses for snow, but it makes snow, in general, a hell of a lot less boring.

Let’s take an English word and try to “snowball” it–that is, see if we can find some strong vocabulary words to put variety in our writing. I’m going to use the word “red”.

There’s a red wagon. 

Awesome, a red wagon. But what if you now have a red horse hitched to it? And the driver of the wagon is getting over a hangover? And he’s also wearing a red rose in his riding jacket?

The chestnut mare swished her tail as she waited for Gareth to finish hitching her to the cherry-red wagon. Gareth was moving slowly, his bloodshot eyes reflecting the crimson of the rose he’d tucked in his lapel-button this morning. As the sun glowed russet through the soft blush of blossoms in an early-blooming tree, a scarlet bird shrilled a tune, making Gareth’s already inflamed head hurt even more.

All of the bolded words are synonyms for “red”. While some, like “inflamed,” are not used to replace the word red per se, the synonym still helps the reader get the impression of redness. If you wanted to create a scene that made a reader feel heat or anger, using a lot of “red words” would help you.  And at least your sentence wouldn’t read like this:

The red mare swished her tail as she waited for Gareth to finish hitching her to the red wagon. Gareth was moving slowly, his red eyes reflecting the red of the rose he’d tucked in his lapel-button this morning. As the sun glowed red through the soft red of blossoms in an early-blooming tree, a red bird shrilled a tune, making Gareth’s already inflamed head hurt even more.

See the difference? Okay, on to the resources!

Resources for a Strong Vocabulary

Easiest: Read more. Word choices, language nuances and grammar skills are all improved through voracious reading. Get to it!

Easy: your local thesaurus. Free online.

Fun and Games: Here’s a list of 7 mobile apps that will help you have fun and learn words at the same time.

Interactive: Vocabulary.com will help you get up to speed fast with its adaptive learning game. Account required, but it is free.


The next time you’re feeling lackluster, give Bored Panda and Buzzfeed a break and try one of the websites or apps, above. Or, you know, pick up a book by a fellow writer and give it a read. What you learn will surprise you!

See you on the next page!


Help an indie author and improve your vocabulary at the same time.                                                                                                             Pick up Salt in the Blood, only .99 on Amazon right now.

 Click the cover below to start reading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *