Posts Tagged ‘words’

Last week I talked about purpose in writing and this week I thought I would expand on the idea and talk about how word choice impacts on perception.

We see examples of this every day – from politicians to journalists and even in the most mundane conversations we might have at work or in a shop.  Word choice can make someone feel good, or leave them deflated, unsure, or scared.

It makes sense, therefore, to think hard about the type of language a character will use.

Maybe you have a cheerful, happy go lucky character who always sees the possibilities of a situation.  In conversation they would be upbeat and positive, and using a phrase like ‘I hate her’ would would be completely out of character.

That’s not to say they can’t say it – it might be a reflection of the extent to which another character should be disliked or distrusted – but that it wouldn’t be a throwaway comment like it might be for a teenager complaining about their classmate.

Of course language is also more subtle: a description of someone as being ‘unlike my friends’ instantly makes them an outsider, something other, and puts up a barrier between the narrator and the person.  A description of a group as ‘infesting’ somewhere makes them a plague or like vermin.  When your narrator says someone is ‘worn at the edges’ it tells you that the person they are describing is a little scruffy and tired looking, and your narrator is making a judgment on that basis.

There are countless examples in every book so it’s worth reading with the word choice in mind.  Change a few words in your head, and see the impact.

Word choice can fundamentally change the perception of the reader and it is incredibly important to get it right. If you want a character to be likeable, don’t make them use mean or unpleasant language.  If you want someone to be mysterious, don’t make them verbose.

The same principle applies to all elements of writing: scenes, descriptions, expositions all need to be approached with a clear view of how to convey your message, your story, through the words you choose.

That is the best way possible to share the world you imagine with your reader.

Happy writing,






Read Full Post »

I have found my writing mind wandering rather a lot over the last few days, seeking out the perfect words to start a story.

It comes, of course, from studying the importance of language and the need to find the right word.

I don’t have a story, as such: what I want is an opening line.  A selection of sounds that creates a rhythm, a selection of ideas which form a substance.  A selection that say exactly what I want them to say.

But I am torn, because I know this urge to just write has to be contained in some way: I jump into writing with no plan too often and struggle to build a back story to support my beginning.

So I am going to try a new writing exercise, an experiment in control.  I am going to work at writing a great sentence, honing it and moulding it until it is exactly what I want – and then I will put it aside and start on another one.  And then another, and another and so on. But I will not use them; instead they will sit, ready and waiting, for my planning and shaping to be done.

It feels odd and slightly ridiculous to want to find a perfect sentence and risk never using it, but that isn’t the point of the exercise.

No, the point is that all sentences deserve that level of attention – and still they might never make it into a story.  Meanwhile I will get into the habit of working harder at seeking out the exact word I need, and checking for the sound of my work, in all aspects of my writing.

I am really excited to see what I can produce!

Happy writing,





Read Full Post »

I am keeping this post short as I have a lot going on tonight, and will write more on this subject another time.

This week I started a writing course about style.  A big focus of the teaching is on the effective use of language, and how we use words to convey particular and specific meanings.

I have always believed that good writing is accessible writing.  You can be the cleverest person in the world, with the widest vocabulary and the greatest ideas, but if no-one understands your meaning, you aren’t a good writer.

In fact I find part of the joy of reading those moments when you come across a word that is new to you but you know what it means because of the way it has been used. I accept I may be in the minority on that one!

I sometimes struggle to find the perfect word, that elusive set of letters that will be the crowning glory of my work. I might substitute with an approximation, which is the best way to keep writing, but I know it’s not exactly what I want to say.

And that’s the other lesson I have taken from the course: it is my job, as the writer, to find the right word.  Readers can only respond to what they are given and however good their imagination is, it is being sparked by the words on the page. If we want to take our readers on a journey into our worlds, we need to give them the right directions.

Happy writing,




Read Full Post »

I’ve been all about the poetry again this week, whilst trying to rest up following exposure to some rather unpleasant germs – not what I want when I’m still recovering.

I find it particularly frustrating as a writer, because sluggish body = sluggish mind: I am constantly struggling to find the right word for the scene or emotion I want to convey.  I have some extremely erudite friends and I often feel the need to expand my capabilities, but even for me I’m being pretty basic at the moment.

It’s very problematic when my vocabulary lets me down.   I spend ages not just trying to think of the right word for a particular feeling, but any word that is approximately correct which I can use to hold the space…

So I am going to try to minimise the impact, and get back to reading the word for the day I get tweeted each morning – I have neglected Twitter on the basis it’s really not essential right now, but as a tool it has its uses.   And I’m going to use it!

Hopefully the next couple of week will see me get back some of my writing confidence – or if not confidence, at least ability.

In other news – this week coming is a big project week for me at work, and I will be hard pushed to get any posts written on Tuesday or Thursday; I’ve done very little reading over the last few days anyway so I don’t think you’ll be missing much, but if I get a chance I might just post a positive quote or a happy song.  It’ll be something else to think about when I need a break from project talk!

This is a short and sweet post, but that’s ok, I think.  The important thing for me is being here, and getting back into the groove.

Happy writing,



Read Full Post »

Well, I’m back on a Thursday, for this week at least!  Hopefully I’ll be able to do at least one of these posts a month going forward, now I’m getting to grips with my new life timetable 🙂

This one really is a thought, and one I wonder if anyone shares or if I’m just an old-fashioned girl…  At my last writing group, one of the other writers was talking about tools they use. One of these is a website for rhyming words, which they use for poems, and they advised us all to use the site when working on our own pieces.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this advice and I am not entirely sure I am comfortable with it.

For me, part of writing is about seeking out a word that says something to me.  Every word in my poems is fought over, and wrestled with, until I get a line or stanza that has the emotion, rhythm, and physical feel in the mouth that I am after. The work has to look right on paper as well – spiky letters or round, long words or short, repeated letters. All of it is part of the work, and I can’t imagine just picking a word that rhymes is nearly as effective.  In fact, only about 30% of my work has a formal rhyme scheme because often I can’t have the poem I want within the confines of a set scheme.

Don’t get me wrong; if I was massively stuck with something I might use it to prise some ideas loose, but it wouldn’t be a shortcut, it would be a jump-start.

Writers of the past – Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Auden, Owen to name but a few – didn’t have these tools, and they managed to produce poetry that has long outlived them and still has power and resonance today.

So what do you think? Should we writers use every opportunity to make life a little easier? After all, a writing life can be pretty draining.

Or should we delve into ourselves to find words, sweat over them when needed, to make sure they fit the poem in every possible way?

I’d love to know what you think – post a comment below and let me know if you are like me or if I should get myself into the 21st Century already!!

Happy writing,

Read Full Post »

As  a break today, I decided to flick through a book of quotes by writers, called ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Great Writers’.  I don’t know about you, but I often find these quotes, when taken out of context, less inspiring than perhaps they first appeared.  Context is often key.

Having said that, I found one today that I wanted to share.  The quote was in a speech made by Rudyard Kipling, in 1923:

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind

I’ve been coming back to this quote since I read it, and I still don’t know how I feel about it.  Are words really like drugs?  Or is it more accurate to say writers long to fill their worlds with them, collect them like a philatelist collects stamps, or a numismatist collects currency?  Is there even a word for collectors of words, of language?  Dictionarist, Lexiconist?

So many questions, so little chance to know.  All I can do is share my thoughts as they are, right now.

Words are like gemstones.  We start with rough chunks, and we polish them to make them shine.  Each word in our language – whatever language we speak – has been hewn from our past and presented to us like a gift.  Sometimes new gems are found, and we polish them for future generations.

We string words together into shining, shimmering ropes of language.  They are our currency and our trade, as writers; they are what we bequeath to others.

If all that sounds a little melodramatic for you, I hope you can at least agree with one point: words need to be displayed to their advantage, so people can see the best of them.


In the book challenge, I’ve read three this week, so am building up a little cushion in case I come across another Moby Dick that takes ages and never gets finished!

Book 7 – The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins.  This seemed really long – it took about 12 hours to finish which is quite long for me – although I’m not sure how long it is in its physical form.  Another one from the 100 Best Books list, it was quite fun, a little overlong, but neat and tidy at the end.  The multiple viewpoint characters meant that some parts were more enjoyable for me than others, but it was worth reading even if I never do so again!

Book 8 – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving.  Ok, this was a bit of a cheat as it’s a short story, but after The Moonstone I wanted something short!  This was fun, and entertaining,  and not much of a ghost story, at least to me – it seemed more satire than anything else.  Enjoyable, and my interpretation was that it was very tongue in cheek.

Book 9 – The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde.  Another play, and in typical Oscar Wilde fashion the conversations were sparky and vaguely ridiculous, the characters drawn cleverly in just a few lines.  I can imagine the giggles in a theatre, watching this performed; it made me smile.  Short, and sweet.

Read Full Post »

All words are pegs to hang ideas on.

This was Henry Ward Beecher, found at Write Attitude.

I love this quote, and wish I’d seen it years ago!

Happy writing,



Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: