Tag Archives: style

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.

My Writing Style

I have started getting a few reviews and bits of feedback from other authors, and I have found what they have to say very interesting. I also continue getting feedback from ‘ordinary’ people, and I can’t help but notice how different the feel of these two groups are, and I wonder if it comes from the different reasons that people are reading my work. For example, those who are reviewing for the purpose of giving me feedback seem to be very caught up in the writing style of my work. One such reviewer sent me a list of things to change after reading less than 50 pages of the book. I pursued the issue, curious how this person felt about certain elements that I have employed, only to discover that the reviewer missed out on key details I was trying to convey. This was due in part to the manner of the reading – looking for certain things and not actually absorbing what I was saying. This has had me thinking now for several days, and I have come to the conclusion that how and why a person is reading a book will reflect in their judgment of the author’s writing.

Firstly, I want to point out that understanding the purpose of the book can or should help with seeing that the style of the writing will be affected, and rightly so. Specifically, in the blurb for Life of Recovery, I stated that I would be using a series of current events and flashbacks to share the past event’s of my heroines life. That having been put out there as a stated choice, I was a bit surprised to receive a review in which the reader complained about having the story told in this manner, and would rather have had it told straight through chronologically. I had to laugh at this, honestly, firstly because I did not just decide on a whim to use this particular style or technique. This is not something that I am ever going to ‘fix’ in my writing, as this is my style or choice, particular for the book at hand. I also state in my blurb that there is an unfinished feel to the book, as this is not the end of the story, and is only the beginning. This same reviewer complained about that too, not getting all the answers up front was a concern, but I assure you, all things will be revealed when the time has come. I feel like readers who are reading for the pleasure of the story will find this style of story telling to lend itself well and achieve the purpose of the book.

Secondly, I had the afore mentioned reviewer who only read a small portion of the book and sent the list of ‘fixes’ that needed to be implemented. This one really got my attention, as it made me realize that some people actually expect all authors to write with the same or similar style if they want to be ‘good.’ One particular thing that was mentioned was that my characters needed to talk more and they should use more dialogue and less description. Hello? My style is descriptive, for one. If it is being described, there is a reason or purpose for it being there. In the opening of my book, I describe the room in great detail, and how my heroine explores the room to find that it has been completely stripped of everything that is not essential. Said reviewer thought I should have been more flowery such as ‘so and so’ (insert your favorite author here) and that would make my work better. Haha, I am not ‘so and so’ for one, and I sure don’t want to sound like them. I want to sound like me, case closed. Furthermore, my main character doesn’t talk in the beginning for a reason, and this is something that will be brought out as her story continues. Again, this is a style of writing that suites what I am trying to convey, and I think that if the reader isn’t looking for things that need to be judged, they are more apt to accept and even understand the purpose behind what is being imparted and through what style of disclosure.

Thirdly, I write as third person omniscient so that I can move where the action is and get inside a character’s head when I need to, but I try not to spend too much time in there, as that would actually detract from my story in my opinion. This is supposed to be a suspense thriller that has mysteries to discover. I give plenty of clues as to what is going on, but to actually get inside a character’s head and spell it out would be… lame. I don’t want you to know everything at once, and I certainly do give lots of commentary. It’s all part of the style, part of the world I am creating. One of the reasons that I have broken the story up into short segments, is that the tone of each book will be different. I don’t think reviewers always consider this when they are reading a particular installment, especially if they think that all come afterwards will be exactly the same as the one they just read, because I warn you, they won’t be. One commented that each book should be able to stand alone, and they each will stand alone, having all the elements they should to complete the segment of the story they are telling. That being said, I think that those who are reading for pleasure will be driven for more as they become more absorbed into this place that they are slowly being drawn into.

Finally, what about those ordinary readers, who aren’t reviewing or looking for anything other than what is unfolding before them? Well, they love it! I continue to get feedback from people through emails and messages that they can’t wait for the second book, they love my characters, etc. I am very pleased to hear this, as I feel strongly vindicated that my style is worthy of my target audience. I hope the numbers continue to grow as we move from one book to the next. I know that my style for each book is slightly different, as I use different techniques depending on how and why I want certain aspects of the story to be revealed. I also know that one of my main purposes in all of my books is to push the reader to wonder why certain things are taking place and to consider the possible meanings and outcomes of the events. As I reach the end of what I am saying here, I realize that this is only the beginning of my understanding, and there is a great deal to be said about how we used style and tone to convey the story that is unfolding between our pages of text. That is how it is for me, each thought leading to another, and each conclusion posing a new question. I guess I will have to dig in and take on one specific element at a time and see where this leads me.

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