With so many words to choose from, it can be daunting to know which one will work best for your story. Strong nouns and verbs are a must, but even strong words can carry the wrong impression and cause the reader to make the wrong assumption. Are your words making the right first impression?
Class is in Session
At a recent workshop, I had the attendees do some exercises to get them thinking about how to describe specific emotions from a particular POV. They all did great, but some very interesting things surfaced as they read their samples out loud.
Certain words triggered certain assumptions.
One sample was to write about an optimistic criminal. It was clear in the sample that the POV knew they were going to get away with this, but when the time came to name the POV, everyone guessed some type of law enforcement -- even though the POV was clearly stealing.
What gave the “readers” this impression?
The author had used the word team to describe the criminal’s friends who were coming to help/aid/save him. It’s an accurate word, but team carries with it a positive vibe. Team is law enforcement, military, the good guys. And team is what was picked up on despite all the great words that said “criminal.”
Someone suggested “crew” as an alternative, because crew has a criminal vibe (unless you’re talking about boats of course). If the POV had been waiting for his crew there would have been no doubt that he was a criminal.
Either word on its own can work in either situation, but combined with the other details of the scene, a picture emerged in the reader’s mind. They made assumptions based on what was read. It didn’t matter that their assumptions were wrong. The author put those assumptions there.
So how does this affect your current WIP?
How many wrong assumptions might be in your work? Do you have any words that imply something else, even though they’re also legitimate for how you use them? A word might have a certain definition, but if the most popular and wildly used one is not what you mean, odds are the readers will get the wrong idea.
We had one sample that was from an old woman’s POV. The first word: Edith. I immediately thought of an old woman, and the author followed this right up by mentioning a cane. Two clues that told me who this person was without ever having to say “she was an old woman.”
Had the name been Tiffani, would old woman have come to mind? Probably not. The cane would have been a strange thing, might even have made me pause. Was she injured? Blind? But not old.
Try reading your work with this in mind.
- Does your POV use words that fit their gender? Race? Age group? Education? Religious beliefs?
- Does the descriptive words convey the ideas, tone, mood of what you’re trying to say?
- Are there ambiguous words that could have several different meanings?