Friday, September 16, 2011

The Importance of Word Choice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         My son recently brought home an English worksheet that had denotation and connotation on it. As the sheet pointed out, “a word’s connotation can give it a negative or a positive spin.” {Scope, Teacher’s Edition.}

The worksheet had word pairs with the same denotation but different connotations. I had a lot more fun with the sheet than my son did. :) Clever--sly, strange--unusual, childish--youthful. It was like a cheat sheet for spin doctors.

One of my favorite poems is T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. You realize this isn’t an ordinary love song when Prufrock observes that the evening “is spread out against the sky/like a patient etherized upon a table.” The word choice, or diction, isn’t what you’d choose for a romantic poem or song. It sets the stage for the rest of the poem.

What if you’re having trouble finding the right word? You can mark the spot in your manuscript and just keep going. When you’re editing, though, you can check out this post on the Bluestocking Blog. Bluestocking mentions a lot of useful resources, including a reverse dictionary, a visual thesaurus, and WordWeb software.

What should you consider when you’re choosing a word? A great post by Juliette Wade on the I Like a Little Science in my Fiction blog offers four questions you can ask yourself when considering a particular word.

The Grammar Divas blog has an example of how word choice can show character.

To some degree, I think diction comes naturally to writers. Sometimes, though, I’ll make a lot of changes in my edits because I’ll realize I’m not quite conveying what I want to put across. And because I enjoy fiddling with words. :)

Do you spend much time on word choice?