Author Topic: Word Choice  (Read 587 times)

Qwerty

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Word Choice
« on: November 30, 2020, 08:43:00 PM »
I was invited to post writing-related threads to attract a bit more participation at BWF, but my Why Do You Write? thread didn't result in any answers to the question. So I decided to give it another try with this. Perhaps it will get feedback on how you choose words...

« My Thoughts on How to Choose the Right Words »

Synonym are words you use when you can't remember the right ones. [Baltasar Gracián]

Stories are made of words, not feelings, and words are only handles to carry the idea of a feeling from the story to its readers — not the feeling itself. So the words we select and how we use them can draw readers in or push them away. Find the right words so you can say exactly what you mean, with all the obvious and subtle richness of the English language. Delete those which do not carry their weight, and be careful how you put them together. "Words go together in zillions of ways;" wrote James Dickey, "Some ways go deep and some go shallow."

Tips for Word Choice

Synonyms are semantic fiction. Every word is a commentary on what all the others leave unsaid.

So enrich your vocabulary to make it more likely you can choose the right words and use them correctly in different contexts. William Shakespeare had an operating vocabulary of over 40,000 words, whereas Ernest Hemingway used about 400 in his writings, yet both used the words they had very well.

Words aimed at the body give your readers sight, sound, smell, taste and touch so they can experience what you are saying with their senses.

Words aimed at the brain give your readers perspective, context and meaning so they can interpret what you are showing them with their own understanding.

Create sharp, focused, dynamic images of real things in action: "The orioles pecked the strawberries." is active, and matches actor and action specifically, whereas "The fruit was eaten by the birds." is abstract, passive and not specific.

Use verbs that don't need adverbs to convey action: "The rabbit jumped." rather than "The rabbit jumped suddenly."

Use nouns that do not need adjectives to be specific and sensory: "She touched the bark." rather than "She touched the rough bark."

But adjectives can limit the number of associations. "The boy rode his sister's bicycle—the one without a seat and bent handlebars." makes it less likely that readers will conjure up every bicycle they rode when they were a child.

You want your readers to fill in what you don't supply with their own imagination. But you must set limits to their imagination by not being too general or too specific.

Being too specific is like walking your dog on a short leash: your readers won't be free enough to bring your words to life with their own imagination.

Being too general is like walking your dog on a long leash: your readers will entertain too many associations and drift away from the path you want them on.
Words go together in zillions of ways--some ways go shallow and some ways go deep. ~ James Dickey

rewh2oman

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Re: Word Choice
« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2020, 10:50:48 PM »
My vocabulary is much closer to Hemingway's than Shakespeare's. Although I understand more words/meanings than my mind can actively retrieve and use correctly when I write.

I write many short stories and look toward synonyms to liven them up as I grow tired of spewing the same old, same old. Sometimes I succeed.

I expand my internal dictionary by things I read and by things I watch and listen to. I've also lived on earth a fair amount of years, so life experiences come into play too. Some words I can recall much goes by the wayside. I struggle to match words that aptly convey my intention and am in awe of those that can. I also look for emotive words. Sometimes I surprise myself.

My words are often simple and not literary in the least. Being I lack that talent, I like to think more readers can connect to straight-forward as opposed to more flowery or aureate (aureate is a synonym of flowery) language. I figure if I don't understand the word I shouldn't use it.


Mrs N

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Re: Word Choice
« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2020, 10:23:33 PM »
My vocabulary is much closer to Hemingway's than Shakespeare's. Although I understand more words/meanings than my mind can actively retrieve and use correctly when I write.

I write many short stories and look toward synonyms to liven them up as I grow tired of spewing the same old, same old. Sometimes I succeed.

I expand my internal dictionary by things I read and by things I watch and listen to. I've also lived on earth a fair amount of years, so life experiences come into play too. Some words I can recall much goes by the wayside. I struggle to match words that aptly convey my intention and am in awe of those that can. I also look for emotive words. Sometimes I surprise myself.

My words are often simple and not literary in the least. Being I lack that talent, I like to think more readers can connect to straight-forward as opposed to more flowery or aureate (aureate is a synonym of flowery) language. I figure if I don't understand the word I shouldn't use it.



Simple and straightforward is not a lack of talent. However not using a word you don't understand is surely a sign to find the meaning, put it in a sentence and expand your knowledge.  ;)

Mrs N

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Re: Word Choice
« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2020, 10:27:16 PM »
I choose my words by knowing my characters and putting the most appropriate in their mouths!!  ;D It doesn't always work.

Synonyms are good starting points when looking for alternatives but are not always an accurate replacement.

One more thing. The silence between words are important, too. To my mind, the combo of words and silences certainly stir feelings.
« Last Edit: December 08, 2020, 10:37:28 PM by Mrs N »

Jo Bannister

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Re: Word Choice
« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2020, 09:38:07 AM »
I'm not sure if it's a sign of increasing professionalism or increasing age - though I know what I'd like people to think! - but I find my vocabulary becoming more limited and certainly less flowery as time goes on.  All the obscure, complex, over-thought words have given way to simpler ones.  I like to think it makes my writing more accessible.  I'm fairly sure it reduces the appearance of showing off!  At school we're praised for using words most people don't know; in the real world, not so much.

At the same time, I have few reservations about using words in a less conventional way.  If they convey my meaning and don't put up a barrier to readers, I take occasional liberties on the basis that English is still a living language and it can be used in any way that  achieves a consensus. 

I am thus the bane of publishers' editors' lives.  They don't like anything they haven't seen first in Widgett's Guide to Correct English Usage.  But hey, life's for living, yes?  I'll split any infinitive I have to in order to connect with my readers.


Gyppo

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Re: Word Choice
« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2020, 10:04:55 AM »

...At the same time, I have few reservations about using words in a less conventional way. 

...I'll split any infinitive I have to in order to connect with my readers.

1)  Words are our tools and if occasionally, as craftsmen, we use them unconventionally, we've earned that right.  If it doesn't work we learn from our mistakes.  Some people never learn these lessons.  These people probably aren't writers.  But they probably worship their spellcheckers and grammar checkers as if they were gods rather than advisers.

2)  It has to be safer than splitting atoms, even if it does cause more outrage, plus 'numerous alarums and excursions' in some circles.

Gyppo