Making the Right Word Choice


I am one of those people who always knew I wanted to be a writer. By the time I was in high school I was trying to find out all I could about writing — using my local library to read up on writing news, TV and books.

Around this time a writing magazine or paper (it may even have been Writer’s Digest) had advertisement for a book called “The Word.” Put out by the AP, “The Word: An Associated Press Guide to Good News Writing” covered topics like how to write leads and the proper use of quotes. It was probably the one and only thing I’ve ever ordered from a magazine, and I have read it cover to cover many times. 

I haven’t looked at the book in a number of years, but I was recently flipping through it and was struck by a couple of sections dealing with word choice.

For instance, the book’s author, Rene J. Cappon, wrote that using the word “admit” (as in the spokesman admitted the company did not act fast enough) is not a synonym for said. Rather, the spokesman “volunteered” the information. The word “admit,” Cappon wrote, “implies yielding reluctantly under pressure … [It also] suggests he came clean after an astute reporter put the thumbscrews to him. In fact, he volunteered the information. Use said.”

How often do we get bored of writing he said or she said and we look for synonyms that don’t exist? I know I’ve had characters (in my fiction writing) who’ve quipped, suggested, sing-songed, yelled and questioned.

Many other examples of word choice issues pepper the book and it got me thinking about my own fiction writing.

Without the dialogue tags (quotes/character dialogue), would readers understand the context of dialogue or how I envisioned the characters were saying the words? 

But what if the words of the quote spoke for themselves?

What if the verbs used throughout the story were strong enough to create a visual for the reader that clear painted a picture in the mind?

As Cappon wrote, “verbs like moved, scheduled, expected, prepared which so often crop up in second-day leads [news stories appearing in print the day after an event] are anemic.” Consider, he suggested, what happens when one writes “flocked” or “clambered” instead of gathered or climbed. 

Can you see the difference? Which one creates a more vivid image in your mind? 

As writers our word choices have immense power. The words we choose can guide our readers — consciously or subconsciously — in a direction we want them to go. Our words have the power to create a beautiful image in a reader’s mind or to create another ho-hum scene.

​I know which one I’d rather write. How about you?

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