Choosing Wisely

“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/All mimsy were the borogoves,/And the mome raths outgrabe.”

How else would you describe this guy?

Ahh, Lewis Carrol. Your turn of phrase and insane descriptions lead us down paths beyond where Alice dared to tread to the outcome of most people crying “huh?”

In Real Estate the answer may be “location, location, location,” however, in writing it’s often argued the answer is “word choice, word choice, word choice.” Authors create worlds of beauty and horror and love and despair from nothing more than words. From mood, to character type, to voice, to setting, writers make or break their creations based solely on the words and synonyms chosen. Words even affect the pacing of a story. Does it read short and crisp or long and flowing?

Characters are not spared this judgmental sweep of the keyboard. How you describe your characters and how they see each other begin in the very first remark written about them. Your heroine is being introduced to the reader for the first time, and you can sway your audience’s views, even unintentionally, through the mere letters you use to show her. Is she thin, skinny, scrawny, slender, lean, bony, athletic, slim, gaunt, emaciated? Each word changes a reader’s inner eye and emotional connection on the character, and that’s only ONE WORD. Most people tend to write a paragraph or more enhancing simple descriptions. That’s a lot of emotion and descriptors to set up and rely on.

And that’s only one aspect of word choice and its governance over character. Another major aspect of word choice and molding characters is voice. Each character requires a distinct voice and the words they choose to speak should be an individualized as the ones we hear from the populace around us every day. Does a character use contractions and shortened vernacular speech, or elevated language? Is the elevated language natural or forced? Does this character curse, or curse only in front of certain other characters? There is so much that comes into voice and voice is important to every character. It must be natural but unique for each player on the field.

I discovered this first hand. One of my characters, Dr. Elias, speaks with elevated SAT language that he forces into every conversation. He also never uses contractions. He is old and rambles and his elevated language only elongates this process. But it fits with his character, even if it blows traditional writing dialogue ideas. In order to write him clearly, I had to educate myself on further words. What is an elevated way to name call? I now have some idea. He is now unique to anyone else in the story (even if his language was the hardest to write). Expanding my vocabulary was worth the final product.

As I write more and more, learning more and more words to choose from is vitally important and an adventure in its own right. I look forward to the perpetual exploration into my love affair with words which I can share day in and day out with my characters and celebrate with our friend Lewis Carroll, “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

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About Courtney Sloan

A New Orleans native, Courtney Sloan relocated to the hills of Central Maryland after Hurricane Katrina. There she lives with her husband and fellow author, J.P. Sloan, their son and their crazy German Shepherd pup. Adding to her writing life, Courtney is also a professor at the local college and enjoys learning a world of new ideas from her students as she teaches them about writing and communicating. Courtney’s New Orleans upbringing has left her with a love for the macabre and a flare for the next to normal. She writes speculative fiction with a variety of horror and sass mixed in for flavor. She loves taking the world of politics that haunts us now, and adding the supernatural to create a gumbo of thrills to keep you up at night. A self-proclaimed lover of way too many fandoms, Courtney also loves crafting. From blankets to jams to stories, it’s always better homemade. View all posts by Courtney Sloan

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