The Power of WordsPosted: August 12, 2012
Recently, I was told, “it’s all about the story”. If you believe that – and I do – that makes the writer’s job a very important one. It is the job of the writer to get the story out. More importantly, it is the writer’s job to tell the story the way that it wants to be told, and that is no small task. Without the right words, we don’t stand a chance.
English teachers and editors can tell you the rules. They can make sure that you have proper sentence structure and syntax; that your grammar and punctuation are correct in every way. But, writers know that the real trick is in knowing when the rules apply, and when it might be better to overlook them.
Writers are challenged with word choices every day, and it is a challenge to have to select just the right words. Writers must choose words that will state what we want to say in a clear or concise manner, while at the same time drawing readers in and compelling them to read on. Above and beyond that though, we are charged with the task of putting words to page that will stir emotion within readers – touching, inspiring, shocking, or tantalizing.
We are challenged to not only find the words, but also to put them in an order that will set the right tone and pace, and present a clear picture for the reader. The words we choose portray our characters and settings in a manner that allows readers to form a mental picture of what we are describing, thus bringing the reader into the story with us. Our words and the way we put them to the page also set the tone and mood, intensifying reader experience. The point is, that as writers we make choices every day that affect the shape of the story, as well as the outcome, and a gazillion events that occur as the plot unfolds. Without words, there is no story, and the writers are the ones that choose the words.
It is all about the story and often, stories just don’t care about the rules. For instance, to write realistic dialog that will be believable for the reader, you may not always have complete sentences. When we talk, we do not always use complete sentences, and dialog that is written in complete sentences may come out sounding very stiff and formal. Unless your characters are members of nobility during the seventeenth century, the dialog may not seem natural. Your dialog needs to fit your character.
I recently discovered what it’s like to have one of my characters speak to me, something I had heard of, but didn’t really understand. Now I do, and let me tell you, my character, a woman of the old west, did not speak in complete sentences. In fact, she did not even pronounce some of her words properly. Because her background and upbringing, that is the way she talks, and to portray her on the page in any other way, would be dishonest to my readers, and disrespectful of my character’s essence.
In addition to choosing the right words for our characters, we must choose words that our readers will comprehend and relate to; words that are right for the setting of the story; words that express the true character of our characters. We must sequence them so that the story moves at a pace that is fast enough to keep the reader’s attention, but not so fast that we leave them behind.
It is obvious that words are powerful. As it happens, words are the tools of the writer’s trade. Words are what gives us power. Just as the way a ruler welds his power determines whether he is loved or despised by his people, the way we weld ours determines whether we are good writers or bad, and whether anyone actually wants to read our writing. So, choose your words carefully and weld your power wisely.