Developing character studies is a technique that writers use to hone their skills or to prepare for an upcoming work. Within the analysis of the character are many adjectives, words that communicate the outward appearance or the substance of the personality.
Some adjectives tell us how a person looks: The old man was as thin as the cane that supported his wobbly legs. Others tell us how a person sounds: Like a barker at a carnival with sharp, clear tones that penetrated the crowd.
It is when writers examine a character’s soul that we have to be particularly careful with the words we select. Connotations can change over time but all words convey specific meanings. A word may have several synonyms and they do not necessary all have the same basic definition.
For example, the word “religious” has several synonyms, including faithful and pious. One of the synonyms for “pious” is sanctimonious. A synonym for “sanctimonious” is smug. Among the synonyms for “smug” are self-righteous and arrogant.
The more I work with words, the more I understand why my editor insists that I be careful how I use them. Her caution applies to all of us, whether student, journalist or mystery author.
If we’re not careful, the path to “religion” can take a turn to “arrogant.”