Daily Archives: April 11, 2011

Word Nuances: All Words Are Not Created Equal

Yesterday Dear Daughter found her journal from her younger years.  We laughed our way from 2003 to 2006. 

As an aspiring writer at the age of six, she wrote this short story.

“Owonc opon o time.  The end.”

Three years later, she penned THE SNAKE PRINCE.  The following passage is from the height of the conflict in this slightly longer short story.

“Snake Prince, come over here please.”  Abi screamed.

The Snake Prince slithered over there.  “Yesssssss Abi.”  He hissed.

“I’m going to help you.”  Abi said.

“Help me with what sssssssss?” he asked.

“Help people understand that you are good!” yelled Abi.

When we read this, we dissolved into giggles.  And, being the quirky people we are, we reread this passage out loud several times with the proper inflection.  We held nothing back.

Our impromptu acting brought Middle Son out of his bedroom–why are you screaming?–and Youngest Son up from downstairs–why are you yelling?

Dear Hubby simply asked if I had Tourette’s.

But the point I make is that each word has its own distinct connotations and nuances. 

What if our brave MC had whispered to the Snake Prince?  Or sobbed?  Demanded, announced, cried?  The whole feeling of the passage would have changed simply by replacing one word. 

While presenting at a Young Writer’s Conference, I used this technique of exchanging one word for another to convey different feelings.  The kids were enthralled and shouted out words.  Crazy, silly, sly and funky substitutes to create incredible scenarios. 

I then made them act out their sentences with their chosen words.  “I _____ up the stairs.”

As writers, we need to read our dialogue exactly as we write it to see if it indeed says what we want it to.  I guarantee DD would not have Abi yell and scream this time around.  There is no need. 

Likewise, we need to examine our action scenes to make sure it is physically possible and acceptable to have our characters stagger, bound, slither, stumble, fly or roll up the steps.

If it can’t be done, we need pick another word–one with the appropriate connotations and nuances for the moment.

How do you make sure your words convey your intended message?  If you’ve ever acted out a scene to make sure it works, we’d love to hear how it turned out. 

Just the other day, I kept clasping my hands together, shaking them and pushing them away from my chest as if rolling dice.  After a while, this repetitive motion freaked out Youngest.  “Mom, what are you doing that for?  Are you okay?”

Maybe I do have a tic.