How to Use Adverbs Effectively

Here are two sentences. Both with adverbs modifying the word “cheer”. Which one is more effective? 

  1. Paul cheered sadly for his team during the championship game.
  2. Paul cheered gleefully for his team during the championship game. 

Since cheering is already associated with happiness, we can say that sentence one’s usage is more impactful. If you remove the adverb from sentence one, you change the entire meaning of the sentence. If you remove the adverb from sentence two, there’s hardly any difference. 

Human emotions are complex. Using adverbs to direct an action away from its common interpretation helps create more dynamic characters and is a great way of applying it in your writing. 

If an adverb isn’t effective, removing it would be inconsequential. Often, removing it will likely improve your sentence altogether

Alternatively, instead of using adverbs to modify the meaning of your verbs, choose more specific verbs as replacements. 

Instead of: 

Paul cheered loudly for his team during the championship game.

Try: 

Paul howled for his team during the championship game.

It’s not always easy finding the right words, but when it comes to adverbs, there is a way to determine whether it’s necessary or not. 

When editing your writing, ask: is this adverb essential? Is it changing the meaning of the verb? Is there a specific word that is more effective? 

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Creativity Highlights of 2021

2021… has been a challenging year in many ways. What was supposed to be gone by two Easters ago is still present — with tensions tightening on every front. I’m genuinely surprised I got through it. Big thanks to my wife and my dog! Also a big thanks to being creative. 2021 was a good year for my creativity because it was therapy. 

Here are the creative highlights:

Learning new/old skills: Animation and illustration

My first dream job was to be an animator. In Grade 5 I took a summer school class to learn stop motion animation. I was 11 years old. I pursued this dream all the way up until high school where I decided to switch my interest to theatre, you know, because it was cooler (lol!) 

This year, at the age of 32, I rekindled my interest in animation. I started drawing Pokemon to practice digital illustration and incorporated animation to my video-making process. There is a lot of improvement left to be made, but it’s been satisfying (and therapeutic!). A part of me wished I never stopped when I was a kid, but I’m glad I got back into it now. There’s no time to waste.

Watch my first animated short “I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party” here!

Recorded an audiobook

Like I mentioned in the paragraphs above, I used to be a theatre student. It was something I enjoyed doing, along with stand-up comedy (haha). I rarely find myself on stage anymore, however, I am in meetings.

The thing is, if it weren’t for meetings, I hardly talk to anyone — just my wife and my dog, Michael. To keep the practice, I decided to record my rendition of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Narrating a whole story and recording it was a terrific challenge in reading, enunciating, and performing. All areas I wanted to practice in, especially since I hope to be reading my own stories soon. 

Read an article about my full experience recording the audiobook here!

Still writing

Writing has been my top priority. Before I work on anything else, I must — eat the frog and — work on my writing, whether it’s drafting or editing. This year, I finished the second draft of my novel and am currently working on the third. Additionally, I found breaks in between that to write eight short stories, including writing four in four weeks

Nothing major happened this year in terms of my writing, but I stayed consistent on both big and small projects. That’s worth a pat on my back. *pat pat

Favorite book

The book I read this year that made the biggest impact is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Amazon). Not a new release by any means, this book was both gripping and relevant, as, for a few months after I finished reading it, the United States pulled their military out of Afghanistan after a twenty-year war. It’s a novel that felt so close and so far away, about a situation that we are still living through, the continuum of the same crisis. 

Bam! There I did it. Ending on a somber note, the way 2021 did.

Generally, I feel melancholy about the end of a year, because I feel guilty that I haven’t done enough. While that feeling still persists, by writing this post, I could really come face to face with what I’ve achieved this crazy year… and under the circumstances of the world, it is enough. 

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Optimistic Nihilism and Creativity

Okay… let’s go there right away: What is the meaning of life? 

Is it to multiple? Is it to find happiness? Is it to save people from an eternity in hell? 

For many of us, the answer is to be creative. To make something, leave it behind, and be remembered for it. 

But look around you. Hear all the music. Read all the books. Watch all the videos. You can spend the rest of your life consuming other people’s creations and not even come close to enjoying it all. There is so much out there that it calls into the question our answer to the meaning of life: to create… for who? Who will see this? Who will remember this? 

We now know how unlikely it is for us — regardless of talent — to have our creative works enshrined in a pantheon for all of history. There is too much out there! There are too many different tastes, genres, languages, cultures, and traditions. The only hope for you is to pave your own path and be the first or get lucky and hit the market at the perfect time. But there’s still hope. 

However, know this: regardless of what you make, how great it is, how wealthy you become, how revered you are by your contemporary — none of it matters.  

As Conan O’Brien recalled from a conversation he had with Albert Brooks, where the late-night host lamented to the filmmaker that movies have the sustainability to last forever, while his late-night shows are forgotten and never seen again. To which, Albert Brooks responded: 

“What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.”

As a creative, it’s helpful to be an optimistic nihilist. I remind myself that there is no meaning. There’s no great thing that I need to create — and in the meaninglessness — I’m free. I look around and see all these people moving purposely as if they know the answer. There is no answer, except the story we tell ourselves. Their creative stories are as valid as mine — they might not be writing, drawing, or making music, but their creativity might be raising a family, starting a business, or traveling the world. Everyone is creative; a creator of experiences. Everyone’s choices are valid. And it’s because of all these experiences spinning in all directions, hitting off of each other that new stories and new creations are generated. Surely if there was a meaning to this life, and we know it, there would be some order by now.

When we think of nihilists, we think of cynical assholes or depressed alcoholics, and while there are some, those who are nihilistic have found an escape from the pressure of existence. Sure, some people thrive under pressure. Some people sell big businesses, some people hit home runs, and some people launch bombs at civilians. However, for many of us, the pressures are fabricated for ourselves by ourselves as guidelines to follow. 

We are supposed to graduate, get a job, get married, have a family, and retire. We are supposed to pass on traditions. But why? No, there is nothing wrong with those pursuits, inherently, but those are not necessarily the only pursuits worthy. In fact, there are no pursuits worthy. 

We can be vegetarian. We can travel to space. We can have children. All of these are worthwhile but none of it will change the outcome of the universe. This is doubly true for the novel you’re writing. This is doubly true for the movie you’re making. This is doubly true for the painting you’re painting. Don’t do these things to alter the universe. Do these things for yourself. Do these things for those who are present. Don’t worry about legacies. Now is the only moment there is. Creativity is a small acknowledgment of this moment. To set something in a time and place. To merely wave back at the abyss. 

Optimistic nihilism is the hopefulness that you can make a difference and it’s the knowledge that it doesn’t matter. Life is an exhibition game. And while we’re keeping score. It’s not going to count for anything other than our participation. Go for it. Write that story… make that video… paint that painting, because as Albert Brook said, “Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter.” 

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To Write Confidently, Cut These Out…

These are verb qualifiers: 

  • Sort of
  • Tend to
  • Kind of 
  • Must have 
  • Seemed to 
  • Could have 
  • Used to 
  • Begin to

They allow you to present a level of uncertainty for your character’s actions. Use them with caution, because verb qualifiers may only add little information and cause confusion.

When I’m writing action sequences, I simply ask myself: Did the characters do the action or did they not? 

Take a look at this modified paragraph from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (Amazon): 

Chipper sort of fell silent. His eyes kind of went around and around his plate, but he must have not been provident and there was nothing on the plate but woe. He began to raise his glass and silently half urged a very small drop of warm milk down the slope to his mouth. He stretched his tongue out and seemed to welcome it. 

Notice how there is a lot of uncertainty in that paragraph? These little sprinklings of doubt spoil your credibility as the author and mess up the flow of your story. Take a look at the original version without any of the added verb qualifiers. 

Chipper fell silent. His eyes went around and around his plate, but he had not been provident and there was nothing on the plate but woe. He raised his glass and silently urged a very small drop of warm milk down the slope to his mouth. He stretched his tongue out to welcome it. 

Your first draft is often loaded with these verb qualifiers. This is understandable. You aren’t certain of every detail when you write the first draft. But now that you know how it all ends, be more confident and remove those pesky verb qualifiers and give a more assured image of the story. By removing them, you’ll see how much more clear and precise your writing becomes. 

Writing with confidence doesn’t mean your content needs to be bold or dramatic, it can be done by merely trimming off the excess that fog up the details. Don’t let your important words be overshadowed by verb qualifiers. Keep an eye out for them and cut them out. 

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I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party (an animated short)

At the start of the pandemic, I decided to buy some long books (600+ pages) to read. The thinking was that by the time I finish, the pandemic will be over. Well, I completed Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (Amazon) this summer and the pandemic is still going strong. In fact, during the summer the virus got a second wind with all those variants spreading, so bring out Tolstoy, there is more time left. 

Still, that didn’t diminish what I’ve accomplished. I read a big book. Infinite Jest was a tough read, not something I’d recommend for bedtime or at the beach. There were some very good parts, sure, but overall, it’s not one I’ll reread soon, at least not again during this pandemic. 

Also during this pandemic, I’ve found time to revisit my childhood passion for animation. When I was a kid, before I wanted to be a comedian, I wanted to become an animator. As an adult — thanks to technology and free time in the evenings — I could. 

Wanting to commemorate the achievement of finishing a book while seeking an idea for an animation project, I decided to pair the two together and present a scene from what I’d imagine a moment at an I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party would be like. 

Please enjoy my animated short: I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party

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Writing and Submitting 4 Short Stories in 4 Weeks

In October 2021, I decided to challenge myself to write 4 short stories (between 2000-4000 words), polish them to quality, and submit it to a credible publication. What inspired me to pursue this project was after reading a passage in Ray Bradbury’s writing memoir, Zen in the Art of Writing (Amazon):

All during my early twenties I had the following schedule. On Monday morning I wrote the first draft of a new story. On Tuesday I did the second draft. On Wednesday a third. On Thursday a fourth. On Friday a fifth. And on Saturday at noon I mailed out the sixth and final draft to New York. Sunday? I thought about all the wild ideas scrambling for my attention, waiting under the attic lid, confident at last that, because of “The Lake,” I would soon let them out. 

In addition to 4 completed short stories that I’m proud of, I was also hoping to develop a repeatable process where I can produce a piece under a strict timeline. If you are interested in seeing how my experience went, please check out this video here:

Participating in writing challenges, whether it be something like NaNoWriMo or a 30-day writing prompt, has been a fantastic way of overcoming writer’s block and pushing myself to produce something. We, as writers, often overthink what we are creating. Writing challenges like these get us going and keep us going. There is no time to contemplate whether or not I am a good writer… there is only time to write.

If you are currently in a slump, I encourage you to try your own version of this Ray Bradbury writing challenge. Can you do it? Can you write a draft on Monday, edit it during the week, and submit it on Saturday? Give it a try and let me know how it turns out for you!

If you are interested in another writing challenge, try writing the same thing every day for a month. This is a great practice to get over a plateau in your creative writing.

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Why Squid Game Episode 2 Is So Interesting and Important

When Squid Game was first described to me, I heard comparisons with The Hunger Games. After watching it. I understood. Both had the word Game in the title. Both shared some themes: poverty, control, survival. Both were global successes and tapped into the zeitgeist of what we were all thinking about which was killing each other. 

I’ve seen these types of every-person-for-themselves action dramas before. After watching the first episode I was satisfied. It could have ended there and have been a chilling end to an intriguing short film. Of course, it didn’t end there. There were eight more episodes in the season. And sure, the writers could have kept the story going with each episode being a game, with characters being sacrificed, and the protagonist making it to the end. That’s all easy to predict. But then Episode 2 happened. 

If you haven’t seen Squid Game yet… I must warn you that there will be spoilers. With that being said allow me to quickly sum up Episode 2, Hell: 

After surviving the first game of Red Light, Green Light, the remaining 201 players vote to decide whether they want to continue playing or forfeit the money and return to their normal lives. With one person left determining the vote, the old man, number 001, votes to go home. Back in Seoul, the contestants attempt to survive a different game. In addition to the protagonist, Gi-hun, the story now follows an additional five other players from the Game, as well as establish a B plot with the police officer, Jun Ho. The episode follows the characters as they confront the challenges of their lives whether it’s getting money to pay for surgery, evading arrest for fraud, getting a sibling out of an orphanage, avoiding unpaid debts, or fleeing after horribly mutilating a corrupt boss. In the end, all six characters decide that their only choice is to return to the game and try their luck. 

Episode 2 is pretty straightforward. It’s the characters jumping out of the pan, but into the fire. It’s one of those episodes where we follow multiple characters’ storylines with multiple story arcs. However, this episode is critical for us to continue to watch Squid Game. It’s this episode that made it an international phenomenon. Without this episode, it would be another gimmicky violent thriller, a derivative of many others. So while I understand the comparison with The Hunger Games, it is this episode, for me, that makes Squid Game something unto itself. 

Enhance the Viewer’s Participation

We might not be the VIPs, but every one of us watching Squid Game is making a bet subconsciously. We wonder who will make it to the end. We can safely guess that Gi-hun will be there; he’s the protagonist, after all. But who would challenge him in the finale? 

Like the tale of the tape, we need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the contestants before we can make a solid decision. That is why before we watch a boxing or MMA fight, we often follow the little documentaries and listen to the interviews of the fighters to see what drives them. 

Episode 2 branches out, and allows us to examine the five other contestants in a familiar environment. What are their values? How risk-averse are they? What do they have at stake? How do they treat others? 

This is what makes the show so appealing because it taps into the psyche of so many of us during these trying times. Some of us have made bad decisions, some of us are feeling vengeful, some of us are desperate, but all of us are struggling. We can all relate to one of the six characters that the show follows. We all see positives and negatives in these characters that we can attribute to ourselves. 

This episode, allows us to make an educated guess and understand these characters. Yet, this episode still retains the unpredictability of the story and keeps the viewer invested, as much as a sports fan would when cheering for their team. 

Present the Alternative

Episode 2 shows us a completely alternate show. If they were to never return to the Squid Game, we could continue following these characters in this hellish world, and it will probably still be entertaining. 

Would it be an international sensation? No, but it would still be a respectable show with complex characters surviving thrilling scenarios. 

Episode 2 doesn’t only show the characters how terrible their realities are, it shows us, the viewers, something we are familiar with. Episode 2 has rules we all understand. Episode 2 cleanses our palettes before we start the main course. Episode 2 prepares us for all the violence and bloodshed that the show has left to offer. Episode 2 gives us time to tell ourselves… “Okay… I could stop here… this isn’t my thing.” 

By allowing this little moment for us all to breathe, we can brace for all the drama and tension to come. If you open with a bang… you don’t follow up with another bang… you follow up with a breath. Episode 2 is a lesson in pacing.  

Reinforce the Theme

Squid Game is a show about making choices. Making choices to join, making choices during the games, making choices with alliances, making choices to give mercy or kill. 

Episode 2 maintains that theme. It’s all about characters making choices. In the beginning, they choose whether to leave and in the end, they choose whether to return. Scene after scene, in between, we witness characters making key decisions.

Yet… wait… at the beginning they ask to leave and at the end, they return? Wasn’t it all kind of pointless? Does any of the choices even matter? 

One of the greatest questions in philosophy is whether free will exist. Is everything already pre-determined? Are we merely floating through space and time at the whim of the universe? Does any of it matter? 

At the end of the season, we hear the contestants being referred to as horses in a race. This reminded me of a saying I heard once — and I consider it when I think of free will: Horses don’t know we want them to go faster, they just know they’re being whipped.

Episode 2 is so brilliant because like all great philosophy it’s a bit of a contradiction. 

If you like Squid Game, Episode 2 probably wouldn’t be your favorite episode. But Episode 2 is the summation of the story’s thesis. Episode 2 is the one episode you can skip and you wouldn’t miss any of the trademarks that make the show. However, you’d lose a layer of character development that takes the show from another gimmicky concept to a multi-layered character piece. And with that, the audience feels as though they are involved. 

How did you feel about this episode? Do you think another episode was more critical? Let me know in the comments below.

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How to Write Better Sentences and Paragraphs | The 2-3-1 Rule

The position of words in a sentence matters. Generally, you want to place the most important words or images at the end, so the idea hangs with the reader. Consider examining your work through the lens of The 2-3-1 Rule, where you have your most important part at the end, the second most important at the beginning, and the next most important information in the middle. 

Take this example and see how the order of words and images affect the tension of the story

The door was locked and after knocking two or three times he was sure the apartment was empty. He had rapped loud enough to make someone on the floor above rap back, like an exasperated ghost. But he would have to go in and make sure, and he didn’t have a key. He turned to go down the stairs to Mr. Freeman’s apartment, and that was when he heard the low groan from behind the door. The Stand, Stephen King

The 2-3-1 Rule is great for building suspense, but it can also be useful when you’re trying to evoke emotions such as fear, shock, and hopelessness: 

I was alone and orphaned, in the middle of the Pacific, hanging on to an oar, an adult tiger in front of me, sharks beneath me, a storm raging about me. Had I considered my prospect in the light of reason, I surely would have given up and let go of the oar, hoping that I might drown before being eaten. But I don’t recall that I had a single thought during those first minutes of relative safety. I didn’t even notice daybreak. I held on to the oar, I just held on, God only knows why. Life of Pi, Yann Martel

The 2-3-1 Rule can be used in many ways, regardless of what you’re writing. However, what I believe is the most powerful use of the rule is in misdirection and humour: 

For thousands more years the mighty ships tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came across — which happened to be the Earth — where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Have you tried The 2-3-1 Rule? Did you find it useful? Let me know in the comments below. 

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This article was inspired by the tip from Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark (Amazon)

How to Write Clearly: Right-branching Sentences

He replaced the receiver in its cradle without answering her, turned off the ringer, and pressed his face into the doorframe. 
– The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

This is a right-branching sentence, where the subject and the verb are at the beginning. Right-branching sentences are great for guiding a reader through an idea with clarity and narrative energy.  

Check out this 76-word sentence: 

He’d solved the problem of family Christmas gifts on the last possible mailing day, when, in a great rush, he’d pulled old bargains and remainders off his bookshelves and wrapped them in aluminum foil and tied them up with red ribbon and refused to imagine how his nine-year-old nephew Caleb, for example, might react to an Oxford annotated edition of Ivanhoe whose main qualification as a gift was that it was still in its original shrink-wrap. 
– The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (Amazon)

Because it began with the subject and verb, we were able to follow along through all the descriptions and details, without losing track of what the character was doing — solving the problem of family Christmas gifts. 

It’s common to keep the noun and verb separate. Many times, we’d begin by describing the subject and then moving to the verb much later on, but by separating subject and verb we increase the possibility of confusion. This delay in important information can be risky depending on the length and complexity of the sentence. 

However, you should not rely solely on right-branching sentences. By using a structure where the subject and verbs arrive at the end, aka a left-branching sentence, you create suspense. 

Here’s this one for example: 

Earlier in the day, while killing some hours by circling in blue ball-point ink over uppercase M in the front section of a month-old New York Times, Chip had concluded that he was behaving like a depressed person.
– The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Try putting your subject and verb in different spots in your sentence and see how that changes the clarity, tone, and pace of your writing. Feel free to share it in the comments below! 

This article was inspired by the tip from Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark (Amazon).

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What Is Pejorative Language?

Cynthia was on a work trip. Everyone at the office knew it was an exclusive trip to an International conference with their CEO Lou. This was a big deal for those in the paper clip industry. That’s why her best friend at the office, Emily sent her a message, asking about it as soon the conference started. 

“Well,” wrote Cynthia, “the hotel is in a ghetto. You can tell by the lack of restaurants that it’s a complete wasteland.” 

“Oh my,” replied Emily, “that’s sucks. 😆” 

“On the other hand,” wrote Cynthia, “Lou is consistent: he’s as much a Nazi here as when he’s at the office.” 

“ Heh heh! That’s good lol 😋” 

“Yes,” typed Cynthia, “he keeps insisting that I do the presentation for these foreigners,” 

“Hahahaha well,” replied Emily, “I look forward to you having you back next week.” 

“My husband will be glad too,” wrote Cynthia. “He’s such a loner without me.” 

How did this conversation make you feel about Cynthia? Perhaps you thought she was funny. Perhaps you thought she was cynical. Perhaps you thought she was raw and truthful. 

How did this conversation make you feel about Emily? Maybe you thought she was impressionable. Maybe you thought she was overly polite. Maybe you thought she was completely ignorant. 

Pejorative languages wear many disguises depending on the person speaking those words and the person listening. Sometimes called slurs and sometimes called insults, these derogatory words have the ability to morph between the journey from mouth to ear. But seldom does it leave the story untainted, unbiased, or open for criticism. Pejorative languages are blunt blows of words that carry with them the weight of history. Of course, the past is interpreted by the listener and the impact can be weak or it can be excessive. 

 Pejorative language is not kind. Even when made in jest, it’s designed to give a negative impression of the subject. 

  • The ghetto
  • The wasteland
  • The Nazi 
  • The foreigners 
  • The loner 

Pejorative language acts as a negative filter you can place over your text to criticize, disregard, or slander without going into details. One pejorative word, phrase, or clause is all you need to let the listener or reader know exactly how you feel. 

Calling a place a ghetto gives a certain impression of poverty. Calling a person a Nazi is so much more than just saying the person is bossy or authoritative. Calling a person a foreigner is to exhibit a general disregard for them, saying that they’re the other and are unworthy of being recognized. Calling a person a loner is to say that they are pitiful and pathetic. 

These loaded terms are heavy. They say a lot with little. Like a bullet, they are small but they could do a lot of damage. Depending on who’s aiming these words and whose these words are directed at, it can do more than leave a negative feeling. 

Emily sat there reading Cynthia’s message, influenced by her words. Cynthia became a victim of all the horror and oppression of the world around her. She had propagated Emily’s viewpoints. The city she visited was terrible. Her boss was unfairly demanding. The clients were unworthy. And her husband was inadequate. While this conversation, in the grand scheme of things, won’t affect Emily’s perspective on life. However, it will change her perspective for the convention city, her boss, the overseas clients, and Cynthia’s husband. 

There are no wonderful ghettos. There are no terrific Nazis. There is no genuine basis to call someone a foreigner when you are a foreigner. There is no way to speak of loners without attaching a sense of mental ineptitude. Each of these words lands somewhere upon a scale: some are deeply offensive and some merely ignorant. However, one cannot deny that they always leave you with a certain image

These images rest uniquely within each person. These words can trigger the intensity of these images. We all know derogatory terms for people of different races and we know they are not all equal in weight and firepower. Some barely make dents. Some are explosive. 

So when should you use pejorative words? Simple, when you want to insinuate negativity without any control. When your speech or writing requires an emphasis where a punctuation mark won’t do. When you need to sway a viewpoint in a negative direction. When you need to gain sympathy at all costs. 

How do you feel about pejorative language? Do you use it in your writing and speech? Let me know in the comments below. 

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