Getting to grips with alternative diction.

by N J Thornton   Feb 27, 2007

The penultimate question is, are you getting tired of using the same descriptions?
Likewise, are you getting tired of reading the same descriptions?
If the answer is yes, read on.

In general, poets tend to stick to one or two genres when writing. This is because we find these subject areas comfortable for our style. In effect, we begin to use the same descriptions and images over and over. In turn they become comfortable and it's a cycle that’s hard to break.

So I ask you to join me in breaking the cycle, and quitting the addiction of overused ideas.

What poets can do -

The next time you feel a "comfortable" poem brewing, jot it down in accordance, but refrain from posting right away. Instead, grab a thesaurus or go to
In your poem, you may notice your usual description words, only this time you may want to look up a more creative way of expressing it. However, before you jump in with a random complex words ensure you know the meaning (a dictionary is great for this) and that it fits within the context of your poem.

Furthermore, you may want to use concrete comparisons and metaphors instead of vague descriptions.
So, "we grew apart" could become "our kisses became the nettles" And "I want to cry" could read as "my squint beckons the river."
Please do not use these examples in your own poems, as they are copyright of Silver J.

An extra hint is, if you're using a description and think, "I've read this before, so I’ll use it as I know it sounds good," that's a bad move. If you've read it before, it's probably been used many times before, thus isn't original. An honest reader should pick this out in a comment.

A simple exercise you can do with a dictionary is to pick a letter or two and find random interesting words (it sounds odd, but it’s fun.) Then try to weave them into a new poem, but make sure you know the meaning and correct context in which it should be used. It should be an interesting piece, and it probably won't be the greatest gift to poetry, but it’s the start of getting into a new habit - using new words.

It is easy to let your ego get in the way of receiving constructive criticism, however, this type of feedback is crucial if you want to improve. It indicates your strengths as well as weaknesses, which in turn enables you to become an "expandable" poet.

What readers can do -

Some "words" are unavoidable, though most aren't, and it is your job as the reader to inform the poet that alternative words could be used. You must be constrictive when offering criticism, stating what and how the problem could be improved, but at the same time ensuring the poet knows you're only expressing your opinion.
It isn't necessary to provide examples as I did above, but a general idea of what the problem area is lacking would be beneficial for the poet. Don't forget to praise good use of description and imagery also!
If a poem is unoriginal, and the reader doesn't state this, it's only inevitable that more poems of this nature will be posted and left to lay sweet.

So, all in favour of expanding the diction of poets and readers on this site, say aye!

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