I find the example Francine Prose gives in Reading Like a Writer (a Guide for People Who Love Books And For Those Who Want to Write Them) to be helpful. Prose points to the first paragraph of Flannery O’ Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find, and in particular the first sentence: The Grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. “The first declarative sentence could hardly be more plain: subject, verb, infinitive, preposition,” says Prose. “ There is not one adjective or adverb to distract us from the central fact. But how much is contained in these eight little words!”
As teacher, Prose further instructs, The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. The first sentence is a refusal, which in its very simplicity, emphasizes the force with which the old woman is digging in her heels. It’s a concentrated act of negative will, which we will come to understand in all its tragic folly—that is the foolishness of attempting to exert one’s will when fate or destiny (or as O’Connor would argue God) has other plans for us. And finally, the no nonsense austerity of the sentence’s construction gives it a kind of authority that—like Moby Dick’s first sentence , “ Call me Ishmael” - makes us feel that the author is in control, an authority that draws us farther into the story.
As writers, where do we find help in choosing the right word ? In becoming lightning, not just the lightning bug. The dictionary and a good thesaurus, of course. And by constant reading, both the classics and contemporary books. Compile a word list. You might consider keeping a small notepad nearby the book you’re reading to write down new, and interesting words you come across. Also by listening to others, and the words they use in describing an event, or person in their life. And as Prose suggests, to simplify, by using words that give a kind of authority.
Here is an easy exercise for you to consider, read through some favorite books and underline the type of sentences Prose and Rosenblatt highlight, or for practice, write several of your own first sentences by using words that give a kind of authority.
Referring again to Unless It Moves the Human Heart The Craft and Art of Writing, “If you’re going to write, you must think about words more seriously than you ever have. Learn to pick your spots, to chose when to use ordinary language, and special heightened language. But every word must be the only one for its place, and it must function in every way, not just adequately.”