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.


4 responses to “Word Nuances: All Words Are Not Created Equal

  1. I got my best male friend to read the first draft of a book I wrote for teenage girls. Not only did most of it massively offend his delicate male tendencies, but he also pointed out that my main male heart-throb did an awful lot of winking! ‘Does this guy have a twitch?’ was the first constructive criticism I ever received about the book! Luckily there have been about ten redrafts since then 🙂

    C-C xxx

    • Oh, my characters twitch too. They are shrugging, nodding, grinning freaks. I love when I find these tendencies. I hate when I miss them and someone else points out the oh-so-obvious!

      It’s great to have a good beta reader. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It’s a lesson we can take to heart.

  2. Oh, you gave me a good laugh with all the screaming! Awesome.

    I do occasionally say dialogue out loud or make gestures to test out the scene I’m writing . . . but I USUALLY manage to at least do it in isolation.

    Also, often when I’m writing I catch myself making faces as if I was the one speaking the dialogue. I bet it’s funny to watch . . .

    • You’ll have to do check yourself out in the mirror sometime and report back. I’d love to know how it goes! For me, my geriatric lab gets up, throws me an over-the-shoulder dirty look and saunters off. Oh the joys of writing.

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