What Did You Learn?

October 9, 2009

General Writing: Be Picky

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , , , — ax20 @ 1:59 am

“Language has a feeling. Different words give different sense.” ~Melanie Braverman

This is sort of an extension of the Use Your Words post, with a slightly different focus. One of the things that I learned in my writing class is that words have power. (There’s a reason there’s the saying “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” It’s because names do hurt.) One of their powers is that they evoke feelings, emotions, images. The words a writer chooses to use play as important a role in the story as the story itself.

This is an area where poetry can teach you a lot about writing. In poems, each word is painstakingly chosen for the symbolism or image it invokes. In novel writing, your words should be considered just as carefully. You could write the same idea in more than one way but the way you write it changes your story. There’s a belief that no word is wasted in the Torah (bible). This is the way you should approach your book.

Some things to consider for your word choice: character’s mood, overall tone, age, personality. If you’re writing a scene from the perspective of a seven year old you shouldn’t be using big words because that isn’t their mindset. Unless that seven year old is supposed to be a genius, of course, then using big words makes sense.

The sound of a word plays as much part in the meaning and feeling relayed as the actual definition. They are what make up a lot of the tone and texture of the piece. “K” for example is a harsher sound while using a lot of the letter “S” may give things a snake-like sensation. Consider the following poem Dreams by Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Both the lines “broken-winged bird” and “frozen with snow” portray something sad and empty but how does each one sound. Broken-winged bird is cumbersome while frozen with snow is softer. What feelings does each one invoke? While poetry and prose are not the same, the principle remains the same. Every word evokes something specific, make use of that and choose your words carefully.

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