Five Ways to Boost Your Writing Through Word Choice
A Guest Post by Victoria Grace Howell
Writers often spend hours or even days finding just the right words for their sentences, ones that capture what they really want to say. Why do we spend so much time making sure each word is carefully chosen and strung together to create a novel or short story or etc.? Is the time spent worth it? I’m here to tell you it definitely is.
1.) Smoother Prose – When a reader consumes your story, you want the words to flow, whether they read it out loud or in their heads. What words you use and don’t use affect this greatly. Some words to keep down to a minimum are: was (“is” if you’re writing in first person), that, which, there was, and most adverbs. Now, I’m not saying that these do not have their purpose—all words in the English language are there for a reason—but allow me to show you the difference.
Sandra was running down the street which was dark that her car was parked in. She opened the door fearfully and sat in the driver’s seat. There was a note on her steering wheel that said: Look behind you.
This isn’t ideal. It’s clunky and lacks flow. Now, let me reword it a bit.
Sandra bolted down the shadowed street to her parked grey Toyota Camry. Panting, she jerked open the door and planted herself in the driver’s seat. She pulled the door closed and locked it. Scotch tape held a note to her steering wheel, reading: Look behind you.
Do you see the difference? By eliminating ‘was’, ‘that’, ‘which’, ‘there was’, and the adverb, you get a cleaner read and a more vivid picture . . . which takes us to our next topic:
2.) Clearer Description – The magic of stories lies in their ability to transport you into the scene. Some words are more powerful than others and can make the picture come alive. Let’s get back to poor, frightened Sandra.
A black figure sat in the backseat. He was really thin with a hat and coat and gloves. He leaned forward and said softly into Sandra’s ear, “Drive. They are coming for you.”
This is mediocre. Let’s use that dictionary Webster took the time to put together for us.
A gaunt figure sat in the blackness of the backseat, a hat tipped over his brow and the high collar of his trench coat obscuring most of his face. He gripped Sandra’s seat with his gloved hand and leaned in. Sandra caught a whiff of minty fresh breath as he whispered, “Drive. They are coming for you.”
Doesn’t the extra wording and the rearranged sentences make this come alive more than the previous paragraph? Do you feel more involved in the scene? This is what you want for your readers, but make sure not to go overboard with description. That’s called dumping. Tolkien is notorious for that. Basically don’t shy away from using that thesaurus.
3.) Mood and Tone – General description is one thing, but it can be taken to another level to convey what the character is feeling in the moment. Changing wording to show what the character feels can immerse your reader even deeper into the story.
Happy: Sandra drove down the street. Sunlight shone through the window, warming her cheeks. A cross walk lay ahead with middle schoolers clustered on one end. She stopped and let the kids in their rainbow of clothing trot across the street.
Sandra smiled. So cute.
Angry: Sandra gripped the steering wheel as she gunned it down the street. Sunlight stabbed her eyes. She swatted the visor in front of the windshield to block the rays. A cross walk lay ahead with a bunch of middle school brats clustered on one end. She braked and let the entitled little nose-wipers scurry across the street.
Sandra scowled. If it wasn’t illegal, they would be pancakes.
Not once did I said upfront Sandra is mad or happy in the excerpts yet you can totally get what she’s feeling by changing her perspective on how she see things according to her emotions. Let me show you a way to get even closer to the character in your writing.
4.) Character Voice – Speaking of characters, what words you use to describe things and how they phrase their interior monologue can convey much about who the point of view character is.
Sandra: Sandra walked into the office onto the plush, red rug, careful to keep her footfalls quiet. Streetlights bled into the large office. Old books lined the wooden shelves and a cherry desk lay in the center with a high backed leather chair behind it. A silver Dell laptop rested in the exact center of the desk.
She smirked. There it is.
Clyde: Clyde walked into the large office his loafers stepping lightly on the burgundy Karastan rug. Golden yellow light seeped in from outside. Sets upon sets of vintage tomes in wonderful condition resided on the mahogany shelves and a professionally polished cherry wood desk lay in the center, with a leather Wingback behind it. A gray, flat computer rested atop the desk.
He sighed. This man had taste. Now how to get the information off that confounded computer.
The characters are seeing the exact same things yet they view the scene through their own unique perspectives. Now, we just have one more thing to discuss:
5.) Author Voice – Last but not least, the word choice also depends on the author. I haven’t even mastered this completely. I think voice is one of the toughest things to master in writing, but basically, some people are more straight forward and some are more poetic in their prose. Your voice must stand out. Yours + the characters. It’s complicated, but possible.
By using all of these techniques together, you can turn okay writing into amazing writing. It’s more work, but everything worth doing is. Thank you, Rebekah, for inviting me on the blog!
Do you have any questions about word choice? Do you have any advice to add? Do you know of any tidbits that used some great word choice?
Victoria Grace Howell is an award-winning, aspiring writer of speculative fiction. In 2014 she won the Teen Writer of the Year Award at the Florida Christian Writers conference and in 2015 she won the Beyond the Steeple Award. She also edits for the Christian site Geeks Under Grace. When not writing she enjoys drawing her characters, blogging, learning Kung Fu, cosplaying, and a really good hot cup of tea. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and her blog! On her blog she posts about writing tips, geeky things, her books, her journey as a writer, and tea reviews.