The Secret Art of Word Choice by Kristin Bailey
World building is a tricky and necessary task for every novel. Whether you're building a world within a suburban high school in Colorado, or a high fantasy realm in an alternate universe, the world a story inhabits should become real for the reader. Many writers get caught up in building their world in the form of worksheets and intricate guides for their stories, and that is great. The better you know your world, the better it comes across on the page.
But there is a more subtle form of world building that we should all pay attention to, word choice.
Word choice is deceptively simple. It is the art of choosing which words to use on the page. When it comes to world building, though, things can get a little tricky. An author can do a lot to set the tone of a book with single words placed here and there. If I choose to use the words timepiece, correspondence, visage, or comeuppance, you immediately know you're reading a historical novel. If I use neurotransmitter, biosource, transwaves, or molteric transponders, you know you're probably looking at some form of science fiction.
Every setting, every world, has a dictionary that comes along with it, even if you have to make that dictionary up. The trick with word choice is that it is a lot like using a potent spice while cooking. Just enough makes things interesting, too much, and you've ruined the soup.
This is especially true, ironically, for contemporary novels. Writers often feel a pressure to add "modern slang" to a story to make it feel authentic, but that same language can turn things anachronistic and stale very quickly, or, in the case of too many curse words, the words themselves lose their impact. Along the same lines, if there are too many "historical" word choices in a short passage, it can go from feeling authentic to a farce very quickly.
There's something about, "Lady Beatrice adjusted her wide crinoline and clutched her reticule, before alighting from her curricle on the drive of Wingwick manor. Lord Dolton had a sullen look upon his visage as his normal perambulation became hasty," that just feels forced.
So, how do you use just the right amount of spice? As I write my first draft, I tend to do it with fairly neutral language with my focus on avoiding language that doesn't belong in my world. That way, the writing has a base that is easy to read and feels solid and clear. In revisions I look for moments where I can change a word here, or tweak a description there with something that feels more specific to my world. In doing that adjustment on the revision instead of the draft, I avoid overwhelming the text with too many technical or historical terms.
However you handle it, word choice is important so take care with it.
Words are what we do, let's use them well.
About The Author
Now she is a military wife and mother of two young children. She is also terrible about spoiling her pets. She has one fluffy mutt, two cats who think they own the world, and a fish tank with some really plump little fish and a pair of snails who are secretly ninja assassins.
In the course of her adventures, she has worked as a zookeeper, balloon artist, and substitute teacher. Now she enjoys writing books for teens who enjoy mystery and adventure as much as she does.
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About The Book
Now the Amusementists are convening in London, and Meg is determined to join their ranks. But being the first girl in the Order has its difficulties, and with Will away in Scotland Meg fears she can’t trust anyone but herself. Her worries are only supported by the sabotage happening at the academy, with each altered invention being more harmful than the last.
With threats lurking around every corner, and while trying to prove her worth as the first female Amusementist, Meg must uncover the identity of the academy’s saboteur before the botched devices become deadly. And after she finds evidence of a sinister and forbidden invention, Meg must stop it - or risk the entire future of the Amusementists.
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And now for the awesome giveaway Kristin has so graciously provided! Your chance to win a signed copy of RISE OF THE ARCANE FIRE!