What word to use?

Writing is, at its core, an art form that takes practice to master. Very few people could attest to writing a first draft of a novel, or a first novel, and having it lauded as the next best thing since Stephen King’s novel Carrie. It is not that easy, but with practice and with careful consideration during the editing process, the final product can be exciting and entertaining.

At this point I should make one thing clear. Although I believe that word choice is vital to good writing, I also believe in writers being fearless and pushing through boundaries and not being fenced in by expectations. Being careful with word choice does not prevent a writer from being fearless.

Trawl through the flooded landscapes of the internet and you’ll find many people expressing their opinions on word choice. Yes, selecting the best word is important and using colorful and descriptive language makes a novel come alive, but there is something to be said for keeping your story flowing naturally and not making it feel segmented by concentrating too heavily on word choice and not enough on readability. It is a balancing act that can be mastered, it just takes practice, patience and nerves of steel for you will end up heavily editing your own writing. After all, as writers we are our own worst critics.

Choosing the most appropriate words for your novel is influenced by a number of factors:

- the genre or genres you are writing within

- the audience you have in mind for the novel

- the period the story is set within (if it is an historical setting, your word choice may be dramatically different to the same story set within a modern setting)

- the breadth of your vocabulary.

I believe that the final point is very important. Writing a novel is a formal art form, that is, you will not write a novel using the exact words and phrases that you would speak to your friends. However, there is something to be said for resisting digging out the thesaurus every ten seconds to find another new and vibrant word to slot in to your latest sentence. Expanding your own vocabulary is a positive and worthwhile exercise, but writing appears more natural when you use words to which you have some level of familiarity. I think of overusing synonyms as a cook over spicing a meal. Throwing handfuls of this and that into a pot sounds perfect on paper and smells delightful, but start eating and it is hard to digest.

Your word choice must, in the end, paint a clear image to the reader of what is occurring throughout the novel. If your words fail to convey some sense of the characters’ appearance, important locations or scenery and, very importantly, the emotional and physical responses of the main characters within the world you have created, then you will not have engaged the reader. In other words, if your novel is filled with one dimensional characters and descriptions, how can the reader possibly be drawn into your world?

Word choice is not about flinging around fistfuls of synonyms at random. It is about selecting the right word for the right moment. Each word in your novel works together to bring your story alive, so think carefully about the words you choose and how they impact not only upon your story, but upon the reader.

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