Word Choice in Writing

Some rules for word choice for beginner and intermediate fiction writers.

An important part of writing is choosing what word to use. Whether they are nouns, adjectives, verbs, or adverbs, the words the writer uses all have their own meanings and connotations that separate them from their synonyms. Word use gives a sentence the strength to carry it’s meaning, but it may just as easily take it away.

Specific Nouns and Strong Verbs

The noun should be as specific as possible in order to reduce vague descriptions and excessive adjectives when they are unnecessary. ‘A sweet, heavy dish in a pan’ can be simplified by stating the name of the meal ‘A yam casserole.’ The only common exceptions to this are when the viewpoint character or the reader would not know what the object is.

Similarly, use strong verbs instead of verb-adverb combinations if possible, if only because ‘hit hard’ will never be as dramatic as ‘smacked.’

Metaphors

Avoid replacing nouns with euphemisms with too great a frequency. This may seem like odd advise, however more than one author has written a love scene indistinguishable from the fight scene a chapter before. Authors should not assume that their readers will understand that a “wooden sea-lady” is a ship and that a sword is anything other than a handheld weapon made of steel and used to kill things.

Euphemisms and metaphors should be presented with plenty of context so it is clear whether “a den of vipers” is a seedy bar of villains or a literal pit of poisonous snakes.

Difficult Words and Jargon

Word Choice in Writing

One of the premier concerns of an author is to pick the most accurate word possible: if the character summersaults, then describe it as a summersault instead of a roll and in turn if the character says something, there is no need to describe it as stating or asserting if it is nothing more than normal talking. Whether the word is simple or complex isn’t important beyond clarity and it being within the reader’s ability to understand.

Avoid using unfamiliar words and look up the meanings of words if you are unsure, particularly if you are using a thesaurus. Many words have more than one meaning which isn’t shared by a synonym, for example ‘fight,’ which is a synonym of both ‘argument’ and ‘brawl,’ which aren’t synonyms of each other.

Jargon words are technical terms used in a specific field and they are rarely used by the rest of the population. If you are writing for other professionals of the same field or the terms is necessary to explain a concept their use is acceptable, but they aren’t easy for the average person to understand and should be used sparingly in works intended for general audiences.

Variety

To avoid repetitiousness in your writing, try to use a variety of different descriptors, sentence lengths, and lead in phrases, instead of depending on one or a few. This makes the writing more interesting and helps the author avoid making the same point again and again. Exceptions to this are key words and phrases, and concepts that have no exact equivalent, for instance when discussing mops keep the word mop and when discussing Brownian motion keep the term as it is.