Choosing Word Choice

What words where? Why do some words work? Why can it be so damn hard to find the perfect word?

Not long ago, Alexandra Sokoloff posted about holidays and how she often uses holiday imagery and holiday settings in her books.

Holiday imagery wasn’t something I had consciously thought about before, certainly I hadn’t set any of my books in holiday periods. But then it occurred to me that His Brand Of Beautiful has a theme along the lines of ‘love is the greatest gift’. And I started to realize how many mentions I had of gift-giving, santa, presents, etc. The opening scene in HBOB happens at a Hen’s Night, and I think the first page talks about a game of ‘pass the parcel’ and how someone will unwrap ‘fluffy pink handcuffs and a leopard print whip.’

Sometimes ‘lightbulb’ moments happen when you least expect them!

Alexandra Sokoloff is hot on the idea of brainstorming words that reflect what your novel is about: its core themes, its premise. She has more pages of information on her website than you can poke a stick at. Seriously, check it out.

Here’s what she said about how word choice can give your writing greater depth. It makes wonderful sense! 

What I do when I start a project, along with outlining, is to keep a list of thematic words that convey what my story is about, to me. For The Harrowing it was words like: Creation, chaos, abyss, fire, forsaken, shattered, shattering, portal, door, gateway, vessel, empty, void, rage, fury, cast off, forgotten, abandoned, alone, rejected, neglected, shards, discarded… pages and pages like that.

For The Price – bargain, price, deal, winter, ice, buried, dormant, resurrection, apple, temptation, tree, garden, labyrinth, Sleeping Beauty, castle, queen, princess, prince, king, wish, grant, deal, contract, task, hell, purgatory, descent, mirror, Rumpelstiltskin, spiral…

Some words I’ll have from the very beginning because they’re part of my own thematic DNA. But as the word lists grow, so does my understanding of the inherent themes of each particular story.

Do you see how that might start to work? Not only do you get a sense of how the story can look to convey your themes, but you also have a growing list of specific words that you can work with in your prose and dialogue so that you’re constantly hitting those themes on different levels.

This was a great exercise for me. It helped build depth and character across many levels and I’m always going to be indebted to Alex for that.

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