Tone and Poor Word Choice

This wasn’t the first item I wanted to cover from my last post in more detail, but it has become the most pressing in my mind since it was added. I have been reading some of the works of my fellow indie authors, and it has been a lot of fun seeing what they are up to. I have been thinking about what makes a work that is enjoyable, and I have come to strongly believe that word choice is a major player in that arena. Have you ever read a piece that had limited word choice? I am currently reading a book I shall not name, largely because I would never publicly bash someone’s blood sweat and tears unless I could not find a single ‘nice’ thing to say about it, and I do not want anyone to take this the wrong way. Beside, overall, the story is enjoyable, and although it was slow to warm up, it is coming along nicely, with one minor flaw: repetitive word use.

Now you may be wondering what I mean by that, so allow me to explain. Given all the words there are in the English language, we often have options that allow us to say exactly the same thing in a variety of ways. Why is it then, that writers become stuck in a rut and use the same words or phrases at regular intervals? This is something I mostly became aware of when I was rereading some of my own work, and I have made it my personal ambition to NOT reuse the same verbs, nouns and adjectives at too high a frequency. To say something is beautiful is nice. To say it twice on the same page detracts from the sincerity. To say it 3 or more times on the same page becomes monotonous.

How can one work to avoid falling into this boring habit? For starters, there is a nifty tool that can be accessed simply by double clicking a word to highlight it, then right clicking to view the alternate options under synonyms. Of course, you have to know exactly what the word means that you are implying, as well as the one that you are opting for, as the fine line between what you meant to say and what you actually said can be crucial. There was a post recently that I followed on FB discussing a self-published book that was horrid in this regard to the point of being hysterical. The author had followed this trick, but had chosen words that didn’t mean anywhere close to what was intended.

That leads us to the second part of using this device; if you aren’t 100% sure, or have any doubt, use the dictionary to look up either or both words, used and options, to be sure the alignment is there before you make the trade. I am sure you all know what a malapropism is, but in case any of you are not familiar with it, I will elaborate. This is a literary term that refers to using an incorrect word that sounds like the one that it is being mistaken for; such as referring to the kiddy pool as the kitty pool. If you were speaking, you might be able to get away with such a slip, but in writing, it stands out more, especially if you decide to switch out ‘kitty’ to make it more interesting and end up with some outlandish non-plausible word choices in it’s place.

Finally, I feel I should address what all of this has to do with Tone, as I titled this article with the purpose of making that connection. The tone of your work comes largely from the words you put into it, kind of like you are cooking up a pot of stew that is flavored by the items you put in the pot. If all you put in are potatoes, then all you get is potato soup. However, if you toss in a wider variety of items, you get a great deal more flavor, and you are able to adjust the tone of your work more finely, taking your reader to new highs and lows more easily and far more believably. Ignoring this fact could drive readers away from your offerings, as having to read that people never walk, run, jog, meander, wander or saunter anywhere, but they are always ‘headed’ where ever they are going can at some point leave your readers looking for the exit to escape what might have been a good story with just a little more appropriate descriptive language.

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