Here’s How Word Choice Affects the Success of Your Book
Of all the tools and techniques writers use, none are as critical as words. They are the raw materials, the basic building blocks of any literary piece. The kind of words used by writers of any genre determines the success of their work. A captivating story will fail if readers can’t make sense of it. A thought-provoking essay will be disregarded if the language doesn’t convey the writer’s ideas and intentions clearly. And poetry, where word choice is paramount, is intolerant of imprecise word choices.
All successful writers have something in common: they recognize the value of word choice in writing. They use vocabulary and language to maximum effect, evoking clear moods and images, thereby making their stories more powerful and vivid. It is imperative to remember that every word you write matters. The term “word choice” denotes more than merely “choosing the right words.” It takes into consideration many different factors. Finding the most impactful word requires both- a good vocabulary and an astute understanding of the nuances of language.
Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It is the formal study of speech sounds, grammatical structures and meaning. Linguistics helps us understand how every aspect of language works. The multiple concerns of linguistics are useful to writers, especially fiction writers. Linguists carry out a systematic study of grammar. This includes syntax and semantics, lexicon, denotation and connotation, phonetics, etymology. Following are the basic components of language-
- Grammar is the set of rules for carrying out logical communication. All languages have grammar, and native speakers of a language internalize the rules of that language’s grammar.
- Every language has a lexicon or the sum total of all the words in that language.
- Phonetics is the study of individual units of sound in language.
- Syntax is the study of sentences and phrases, and the rules of grammar that sentences obey.
- Semantics is the study of sentence meaning
- Pragmatics is the study of sentence meaning in context.
By understanding the nuances of language, a writer can ace word choice. All writers already subconsciously use linguistic principles. This is because as language users, the principles of linguistics are already hardwired into our brains. While writing, choosing the right word involves the following four considerations-
A writer chooses words for one of two meanings: the denotative meaning or the connotative meaning. Denotation refers to the word’s basic, literal dictionary definition and usage. By contrast, connotation refers to how the word is being used in its given context: which of that word’s many uses, associations, and connections are being employed. Simply put, a word’s denotative meaning is its literal dictionary definition, while its connotative meaning is the web of uses and associations it carries in context. Whether in poetry or prose, strong word choice can evoke images, emotions, and more in the reader, and the denotative and connotative meanings of words play a crucial role in this.
For example- The word “blue” when used in a poem can indicate by denotation the colour blue and by connotation, sadness or loneliness.
Every writer must aim to be concise. Getting to the point is the best strategy to ensure the success of one’s work. This entails using words that are both correct in meaning and specific in description. In the English language, each word has countless synonyms. Hence, it is important to use words that are both accurate in meaning and specific to the context. Choose words that pack more meaning than their monotonous counterparts. Using more precise words also gives the reader added context. Avoiding redundancy is also key to precision in writing. If a writer tends to beat around the bush with their words, a reader quickly loses interest in the book. Thus, to sustain your readers’ attention, whittle down your words to retain the most important ones.
For example, consider the following two sentences-
- While attending a party, it is important not to walk in late as this causes inconvenience to the host.
- Always arrive on time at a party so the host is not inconvenienced.
Clearly, the second sentence appears more concise. In fewer words, it delivers accurate meaning.
While choosing the right words it is also important to take the reader into consideration. It would be inappropriate to use words like “lugubrious” or “luculent” in a children’s novel. Similarly, if you’re writing for a target audience that is largely Western, you cannot include words that are only familiar within the Asian context. For example, consider this sentence-
Ana went to the market to buy items required for the puja.
The Western reader would naturally not be familiar with the meaning of the word “puja”. In such a case, it would be appropriate to italicize the word and mention its meaning in a footnote. Moreover, word choice not only conveys direct meaning but also a web of associations and feelings that contribute to building the reader’s world.
A writer’s word choice is considered to be the fingerprint of their writing. Every writer uses words differently. An author’s writing style is their unique way of communicating with words. An author’s writing style is determined by the voice, personality, and overall tone that they apply to their text. A writer’s style can change depending on the genre they are writing under and their target audience. Each writer has their own unique style that readers come to identify them with. For example, Ernest Hemingway is remembered for his terse, no-nonsense, to-the-point styles of description. Virginia Woolf, by contrast, is known for her poetic, intense, and melodramatic style of writing. Your word choice determines your writing style. The kind of words you use create the rhythm of your story. Choose your words wisely and consistently to establish your literary style.
Careful word choice can transform a mundane sentence into a powerful one. Each word contributes to the success of a book. Selecting precise words will help you increase the impact your book creates on your audience. Before you sit to write your next book, try your hands on a course with Pencil Masterclass that will teach you everything about getting your words right with compelling writing techniques. The course is designed to help you transform your book into a bestselling one. After all, a story, when delivered in the right words leaves a lasting impression on readers for a lifetime!