Have you ever read a book or story and wondered why the author chose the words they did? If you have, then the author failed. You popped out of the story because of questionable word choices. I once read a book that compared a kiss to a fishhook snagged in the character’s lower belly. That sounds so painful. I’m sure that’s not what the author intended. Still, that’s what I got out of that comparison. So I will repeat myself, word choice is important.
As writers and authors, we have the job, and duty, to pick the words we use as carefully as possible. We need to do our best not to repeat our words too many times within a few paragraphs. Unless you want to repeat a word for effect, it’s a good idea to vary them as much as you can.
John peeked into the first room he came to. It was empty. He moved next door and poked his head in to find no one there.
You get the idea. But, if your character is calling for help, it makes sense to repeat the word, mayday.
“Mayday, mayday!” John called into the mike. “We have a man down.” It’s the reason we have to be careful when choose words. Yet, repetition is not the only reason we need to choose our words with care.
“It would be most beneficial if you were to vacate these premises as fast as possible. This edifice is afire.” This is a perfectly understandable sentence. But, if your character is trying to get people to leave a building that’s on fire, it falls flat. It’s far too formal. You need to be more urgent. So you have the character say, “get out! Get out as fast as you can. The place is on fire.”
There’s a place for formal writing and that scenario isn’t it. Mixing formal words with casual speech isn’t good either. It sounds wrong. If you aren’t sure about it, read the sentence aloud. If it sounds wrong to you, assume it will sound wrong to your reader and try to find another word.
Choosing the right word depends on what you want the word to do. In my first example, the words were to or show urgency. They fell short because the words were too formal, too removed from the emotion of the moment. That’s not to say they were bad words; they weren’t the right words for the task they needed to perform.
Our word choices should be transparent. That is, the reader get the gist of the story without popping out of it. Choose your words wisely and you will achieve that goal. When writing a piece, try to be careful when choosing words, but get the words out. You can always think about the words after you get the story written. That’s part of what revision is for. In other words, while writing the first draft, go ahead and use the first word that comes to mind. If it sounds wrong when you read it, then consider changing it. It’s as simple, and as hard, as that.
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