Ever have a debate about whether ‘scarlet’ or ‘crimson’ was a better word to describe the carpets in the grand hall of your story’s castle, or bounced back and forth between calling your hero ‘furious’ or ‘enraged’?
(By the way, sorry about the lack of posting Monday. I ended up being busy all day long and didn’t have time to write, let alone blog.)
With some word choices, there may be an obviously better choice than the other. ‘Sparkling like sapphires’ is definitely more descriptive and pretty than just ‘blue’. But what about those word choices where either choice seems to work?
Well, did you know that, used subtly but often enough, different word choices can greatly alter the tone of your scene, or slip in subtle foreshadowing that the readers will only notice later? Let’s take a look at a couple different reasons one word choice might trump another.
1. To place emphasis on a certain emotion.
For example, say you’re writing a sad scene. You might say ‘the trees swayed in the breeze’, but if you say ‘the trees bowed in the wind, as if they were weeping’, you get a much sadder vibe, right? If you change your word choices throughout to subtly reflect the emotion you want to convey, your readers will most likely come away feeling influenced by that emotion instead of just being informed of the descriptions.
2. To add in subtle foreshadowing.
Since I did this in my novel, I’ll use an example from it. Of course, from the title Dragons’ Bane, you can probably assume it will have dragons in it, but even still, I added in a few descriptive phrases involving dragons (in non-dragon involved moments), which a couple readers commented was nice because it set the scene–again, subtly–for what was to come, informing you without throwing it in your face, you know?
I read a novel once that involved time travel, though it wasn’t immediately obvious from the beginning. (Perhaps the blurb made it obvious, though, but I didn’t read it.) I really enjoyed it, but even more so, when I read it through a second time, I found myself smiling and wondering if it was purposeful any time the author referenced ‘time’ or other time-related thing (subtly) before the time travel was even encountered. I may not have noticed it too much the first time, but even from the beginning, the author was setting the scene for what was to come. 🙂
3. To reflect the narrator/POV character’s voice.
I don’t care what writers tell you, even the simplest words have their place, especially if that’s the language your character would use. Don’t use more descriptive words just because they’re prettier if they’re not something your character would say. Let their language reflect their personality.
I’ve found a particular struggle with this while writing small children’s voices. To them, the sky isn’t black like a dark abyss, but it might be black like the color of their crayon. The castle isn’t towering over them in majestic splendor, but it sure is ‘big’. And if ‘big’ is the word your character would use, then don’t have them say anything different. Contrary to common belief, character voice isn’t just about dialogue, but everything within the character’s POV. And it should all reflect their personality, which will also help you distinguish between characters.
And just for fun, a bonus 4:
To reflect the certain way a character feels.
Going hand-in-hand with what I was just talking about above, your characters’ outlook on life will greatly affect how they talk about and describe things. If they hate a character, they aren’t going to think about how lovely they are, and if they’re not the type to be interested in history, they’ll probably just pass over those ancient artifacts with a glance.
Also, if they are a pessimistic character, they’ll probably imagine that mountain as ready to fall down on them, while an optimistic character may focus more on the beauty of its sheer cliffs.
See the differences? I’ve almost gone off on a different topic now, distinctive character voices, which I think I shall have to continue talking about…another day. 😉
So, be sure to join me again on Friday, because I will be talking all about making your characters’ voices distinctive; an important lesson you don’t want to miss!
And with this, I bid you farewell, dear readers. Until the next time! 🙂