Challenge,  On Writing,  workshops

Power Words

Time To Consider Them…

Power words, just their existence, baffles writers. Actually, most writers never consider them.

Writers who know how to use them, just use them. If you don’t know how to use them, it still happens by accident at times, just no control or focus.

Kris and I have been talking about doing a Power Words workshop for a long time, just like we talked about a Depth in Writing for a long time before we actually launched it. But the idea that it was too advanced kept us from even trying it.

Knowing about power words and using them in the right situations will jump your writing as far forward as the Depth workshop did.

So I put an example in the sales copy of the Power Words workshop. Here is that example and then I’ll talk about it some.

This is how an early stage writer would write a scene…

The full moon lit the desert in faint light, showing the rise and fall of the road ahead through the sand flats. Rock formations threaded through the Mojave, lit only by the three lights of my motorcycle and the moonlight. It seemed even darker than it was and I only caught glimpses of mesquite and other strange plants.

Okay, now how Dean Koontz wrote the same scene with power words and phrases in his book SAINT ODD.

Under a full moon, the desert was as eerie as a landscape on an alien planet. The great black serpent of highway undulated over a series of low rises and gentle downslopes, through sand flats that glowed faintly, as if radioactive, past sudden thrusting formations of rock threaded through in places with quartzite or something else that caught the Big Dog’s motorcycle’s headlights and flared like veins of fire.

In spite of the big moon and the bike’s three blazing eyes, the Mojave gathered darkness across its breadth. Half-revealed gnarled shapes of mesquite and scatterings of other spiky plants bristled and seemed to leap forward as I flew past them, as if they were quick and hostile animals.

Now first off, this is some fantastic depth. The early stage writer example wasn’t bad depth, it set the scene, gave a slight bit of opinion and only a touch of character voice. But good enough that most readers would stay with the story.

So lesson number one is great depth uses powerful OPINION words and phrases. You remember in the depth class? Opinion of the character?

And notice there was no plot, just setting for over 130 words.

So looking at Koontz closer, his first full sentence sets the scene by letting the reader do it perfectly, letting the reader imagine their own personal eerie alien planet.They have never been to one, so he didn’t need to give them his imaginary alien planet at that moment. Then in the second sentence, which is run-on and long, Koontz gets into exact details to describe what he had called an eerie alien landscape by describing the desert in exact details. EXACT DETAILS…

Notice that both paragraphs are only two sentences each.

Notice in the second paragraph, what had been a general desert Koontz narrows down to one desert on the planet, the Mojave.  And in the second sentence of the second paragraph he added tension without plot.

So what are some power words in this?. There are numbers, including phrases that act like power words.

Take, for example, the last sentence with one of the most basic uses of power words in this example…  The word “flew” is a power word. A lesser writer might have said, “drove” or “passed” or “motored” or “went” and so on. But Koontz used the word “flew” to give the reader a bunch of things. The sense that the character was moving so fast, he was almost off the ground, a sense of tension and danger, and a sensory detail of being on that motorcycle and flying. Plus creatures on the ground can’t get you if you are flying, but it still added tension for the reader.

Just that one word.

Also you get a sense of the character who is not afraid of real speed and danger on a motorcycle in the dark of the desert. Fantastic setting and characterization, all from one power word… flew…

All subconscious for the reader, all subconscious for the writer when he wrote it, but a stunningly well-set moment.

Now this look into just those two paragraphs can show a lot of power words, power phrases, and fantastic depth and characterization. But ask yourself, in your own writing, would you write the first example or closer to the Koontz example?

I had examples like this Koontz example from Crais, Roberts, other Koontz books, and of course King books as the ones I glanced at to get an example.

And, of course, if that Koontz example was turned into a beginning writer workshop, they would tear it apart as too wordy and overwritten.

And they would be so, so wrong. A reader will never notice the details because after one line they would be so far down in depth, the words will have vanished. But I am going to be studying the words, just as in the Depth Workshop, to try to teach the awareness of power words and phrases and what they do.

I suppose Power Words will be a super advanced-advanced Depth class. Going to be fun, that’s for sure.


  • Marsha

    I am pacing my office floor in anticpation of this workshop. I want it NOW, but will obviously wait as I have no choice. Power words are something I’ve started noticing and would like to increase my awareness of. Thank you and Kris for tackling them. I’m so excited for this!

  • Kat

    I am very very excited about this class, Dean. Thanks to you and Kris for tackling it. Fall and the start of the school year (when I still have 1 kid too young for the vaccine) is gonna be chaotic and scary, so I’m looking forward to a class this tough to sink into.

  • Britt Malka

    This sounds powerful.

    I’m doing the Pacing classic workshop right now, and oh, I wish it was still live.

    Where will you place the Powerwords workshop in the workshops learningorder? Other than after Depth.