Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Word Choice

I was writing a video script for my day job and it got me thinking a lot about word choice. I'd have the added benefit of visuals which books do not (unless we're talking picture books). Still, the visuals would be dictated by my words and the client decided to forgo a narrator. That meant my words were all the more important, not only in what they said and what story they painted but also which synonym I chose.

The sound of the words in succession needed to create a certain flow, a rhythm as they were read. I couldn't lean on a narrator's voice to provide that for me.

In short, every word had to have a purpose. It had to move the story forward and it had to be the perfect word. And because in these things time really is money, I had to consider whether three words could do the job of six and so on.

It's like creating an army of words. You don't just want word counts for the sake of words count or to take your reader down the detour path; you want to take the most direct route, use your Navy Seals Black Ops words in your arsenal to drive the action.

It's kind of like what I learned in my communications master's about signifiers. Every object and every word has associated meaning for the reader/viewer. Some are loaded down with reference, some may have similar connotations for many people, or some may just have special meaning for you.

When we write, we need to take all of this into consideration. It's not enough especially in today's crowded publishing world to have a good story idea that's fairly well told. It has to be expertly executed. You have to ask yourself if something is really necessary in getting your character closer to where they need to be in the plot line. If it's not then decreasing--rather than increasing--the words in your WIP may be the best action. And when it comes to line editing time you need to consider not only what word is the most poignant but also realistic for your character. This is particularly true for first person narratives.

My current WIP is told in a male POV and there are times I'll write a passage and think, "Hey that's pretty good." It may be well written BUT does it really work for my character or am I being inconsistent with voice? The answer varies. Sometimes I'll create a paragraph or even just a sentence and while there's nothing grammatically incorrect, it doesn't feel authentic to who is telling the story. The WHO we have to remember is just as much a driving force in your word choice as anything else.

Consequently there are times where I'll be on a writing roll and from first glance may think, "That's full of slang" and assume, perhaps, that it's not as well written, however, for my character it may be perfect. It may be exactly the word or phrase he would be thinking at that precise moment in the story.

When we're working on first drafts of our WIP we often just want to get the story out...on paper, in the world, out of our heads. When it comes time to edit, however, we really need to comb through the piece and always ask ourselves,

-Can I say it better?
-Can these words better serve my purpose?
-Is this consistent with my other word choices?
-How does this affect my flow?

When we consciously consider these questions in revisions, we'll be so much more effective in self editing and that much closer to having a truly polished piece.

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