Wednesday, May 2, 2018

It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It (Thoughts On Word Choice)

Writing, at its core, is all about communication. It's trying to take the image in your head, and translating it in such a way that anyone who reads the words you put down will see what you saw. As any writer knows, though, it isn't just the description of what's on the page. It's also how you present it, and what words you use in the process.

Particularly if your story has some WEIRD stuff in it.
This sounds obvious, but your particular word choice can have a huge impact on your style, the feel of your work, and even the impression it leaves on the reader.

The Unspoken Meaning of Words

Every word has an explicit meaning. That's kind of their whole job; representing and communicating ideas. However, that's only one facet of the communication process. Words have a flavor, a tone, and often subtext that you may not think about when you use them, but which will still be communicated to the reader when they go through your work.

And if you're trying to create a certain dish, you want to make sure you use the right spices, in the proper amounts.

Let's do a simple experiment, here.
As an example, say that it's raining in your book. How do you make sure the rain you're picturing in your head is the same rain the audience is picturing when they read the scene? One way to do that is to add an adjective, such as a gentle rain, or a chill rain. While those will create a clearer picture of what's happening, sometimes you need to use different words altogether. You might want to refer to what's going on as a deluge or a drizzle, for instance.

The words you choose will also figure into tone, feel, and character. For example, there's a clear difference between:

The storm was rolling in, and the hard rain had already started.


A black storm roiled in the firmament, shedding sharp tears as lightning tore at its innards, trying to escape.

Neither of these two descriptions is wrong, but they give two entirely different impressions. And there are certain times where one will be more appropriate than the other. The former could work in most general fiction, ranging from detective stories to YA. The latter, though, creates a more gothic feeling that's more appropriate in a horror story, or an old-world tale. Of course, it will sound ridiculous if it's the kind of story where no one uses the word "firmament", so even if you like the poetry of the second option, you need to make sure you're using it appropriately.

Does It Really Matter What Shade of Blue The Drapes Are?

With all of that said, it's important not to sweat the small stuff when it comes to your writing. If it doesn't matter what color shirt your protagonist is wearing, or what the interior of his car smells like, then don't bother including it. Perhaps just as importantly, though, if there's no need to elaborate on a description you've given, then don't. If your character is sitting under an old oak tree, you don't have to go through every bough, leaf, and lightning scar on the thing if the audience doesn't need that information. Ditto if a tablecloth is red. One reader might picture deep crimson, another bright scarlet, and a third a kind of waxy, candy apple color... but if the exact shade doesn't matter, then don't bother with it.

Readers have a limited supply of attention, and goodwill... do not squander it!
So, before you declare your latest project done, stop and ask yourself if your prose did what you wanted it to. Because laying out a story people can follow is important. However, you can prepare a meal by the numbers, and still have it be pretty dull. Make sure you include the right flavor, in the right amounts, in order to create a balanced, enticing end product that will leave your readers hungry for another serving.

That's all for this week's installment of Craft of Writing. Hopefully it got the wheels turning in your heads! If you'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and consider stopping by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio to hear all about the world of Evora that I and some other creators are putting together. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support my work, then drop some change over at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or just Buy Me A Ko-Fi!

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