Failure to understand that words have both a connotation AND a denotation.
A word’s denotation is its dictionary definiton. For instance, the word ‘incite’ means to stir or prompt some kind of action. Therefore, to pair it with any kind of prompted action might be technically correct, but you also have to think about the connotation.
A connotation is a word’s cultural baggage, essentially. It’s a set of ideas, associations, and images that a word has gathered over time. When you’re choosing the right word for the right situation, you need to take both sides of the coin into account if you want to make a precise selection.
Going back to our example, ‘incite’ usually connotes some kind of VIOLENT or UNPLEASANT action—i.e., inciting a mob or a riot. One may also incite a revolution, or hostilities. The word is explosive, a powder keg, and meant to be used in cases where such references are appropriate. It’s closely tied to words like provoke or instigate, both of which have similarly strong connotations.
Therefore, coming across a phrasing like “happy memories that always incited smiles on the chimera’s lips” is jarring as fuck, because this usage disregards the word’s connotative context. The fix is easy—just use a simpler and more direct word, like ‘brought’—it’s not as unusual or vivid as incite, perhaps, but it’s correct, and it keeps the flow intact. Flow is one of the most important subtleties of good writing. A story is a dream in words, and you don’t want to do anything to wake the reader until you’re ready for it to happen.
Remember: the difference between the wrong word and the right word is the difference between a lightning bug and lightning.