Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thinking About WORDS

Have you heard the following joke about writing?
A writer receives a response in the mail from a publisher: Dear Writer, We really like the words you used in your novel. We were just wondering if you could put them in a different order? Thank you.

Not exactly the kind of letter or revision request we'd like to receive!

Word, Words, Words
Isn't it amazing that all writers have at their disposal the exact same words in the dictionary, yet there is an incredible variety of stories written? They differ in entire structures, tones, and details, down to slight nuances. Even two works using basically the SAME words, strung together differently, can have a totally different effect. I find that fascinating.

Word choice and vocabulary. As a writer, you'd choose very different words for a middle grade novel than you would for a picture book, an adult novel, or even a YA novel. Also, certain words just by their syllables and consonants can create varying moods or "sounds."

Tone and structure. How you string your words and vocabulary together into sentences and phrasings makes a BIG difference in the overall effect. Shorter sentences can indicate a younger audience--or a quicker, tense pace. Just by how you arrange your words, you can sound:


Can You Match the Excerpts to the Books?
Consider the following excerpts--their words/vocabulary, tone, structure, and phrasing. All these things come together to make a certain voice, an overall mood or effect (even at a single sentence level). Can you match them to the book they come from?

1. Slowly at first, but with ever-increasing confidence, she launched into a detailed and generally insightful compendium of his group's shortcomings.

2. Now he and his sister were looking at my brothers and me like we were aliens just landed green and mean in their backyard.

3. We are blind to continuity, all breaks down, falls, melts, stops, rots, or runs away.

4. How could he dare to disagree without casting doubt upon himself?

5. Nameless forebodings crept upon him as he sat there in the dark: He tried to resist them, push them away, yet they came at him relentlessly.

C. SAVVY by Ingrid Law
D. THE DOCTOR'S LADY by Jody Hedlund

Have you ever shuffled your words around in your writing and discovered it sounded totally different, even with roughly the SAME words?

Have critiquers ever said your main character sounded older or younger than you intended? Do you think that's partly due to how your words were presented or arranged?

How did you do on the matching quiz? The answers used to be located below my awards, but I'll move them here now that the week is over: 1B, 2C, 3E, 4D, 5A.


  1. Oh words! They make such a difference. YA sentences are definitely different from adult. My hubby likes to read adult so when he takes a turn to read my novels...well, he doesn't like the words and sentence structure as much. He loves the concept of my books and likes the tension, but the words make a difference :)

    And I have definitely had people tell me my character sounds a different age. In fact, an agent read my novel in one of the beginning stages and told me my MC sounded more like a 12 year old. Sad day since it's definitely a YA novel, but after she pointed it out, I could totally see it!

    Great post :)

  2. Words make such a big difference, that's why one sentence can drive me totally mental.

  3. I am fascinated by words and I am always moving my words around while revising.

    As for the excerpts:I only managed to match up Harry Potter and Savvy.

  4. Carol - I love your post! I recently received the exact feedback you mention - my voice was a bit too adult, for a MG story. I am busy revising it, so I can re-submit. Take care ~

  5. "Isn't it amazing that all writers have at their disposal the exact same words in the dictionary, yet there is an incredible variety of stories written? "

    I've had the same thought about dance. Most of use have the same number of legs and arms at our disposal, yet the possibilities for their use are tremendous. Crazy.

  6. I'm not sure if I could match those words to their books. It is pretty amazing that there are so many words, just waiting to be used in new and different ways :)

  7. Love words and their ability to move people. And I also am fascinated how often times, the fewer words said can be the most effective.

  8. Words are awesome.
    You can change a whole mood with one word.

    Fun post.

  9. You are so right...the placement of words can change the voice of your characters.

  10. I love words!!
    And I shocked myself by getting the quiz right! Ha!

  11. Don't we all love words! I've seen your opening funny depicted in a cartoon. It's on my blog somewhere! I failed on the matching test. I like to read my stories out loud and often when I delete/change a word it makes the sentences sing.


  12. The only one I got right was Harry Potter. I didn't remember that line from Savvy--nice chunk of word there.

    Yes, I've sparkled a sentence by shifting pretty much the same words around. When I first wrote, I was told the vocab was too high. But as JK Rowling shows, we're apt to dumb down literature for kids when they're perfectly capable comprehending of a few powerful vocabulary words.

  13. I got Savvy right but then I froze on the others!
    That "letter" from the publishers is really funny. However, if it got it, I'd be happy. It would mean my premise was good enough, and everything else is fixable!


  14. What a funny response and I agree with Lydia. Oh yes, sometimes one doesn't need new words at all. Thanks for sharing this, Carol. Now, I just wanted to let you know there's a blog award waiting for you at Novel Moments:

  15. I tried, but the only one I got was the book by Ray Bradbury. He has a distinctive style. :)

    Interesting post!

  16. Yes, I was once told that my character was talking too old!! LOL good lesson that was--I will write about people closer to my own age:))

  17. I bombed the quiz! LOL It is amazing what rearrangement of words can do! Very interesting and fun post today!

  18. I didn't do well on the quiz, but it was fun to play.

    I'm editing a WIP right now and the rearranging of words is making a huge difference in many scenes.

  19. I got 2 right. Guessed on the others. I just wrote a YA from 2 totally different POVs and arrangement and word choice were vital to switching the POV. I'm still working on it to get it right!!

  20. I did terrible at the quiz, and yes I think word choice and arrangement are vital to writing. I've actually had a few "rewrite this and resubmit" letters from poetry sites asking me to rearrange words. It can be interesting to see how many ways there are to write a 64 word poem.

  21. I haven't actually read any of those books... So hence... Failed!
    I too am amazed at the great word shuffle and how we all use words differently to create our own writers voice.

  22. Fun quiz! But the only one I got right was Harry Potter.


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