Sunday, September 29, 2013

Word Choice

Image by Stuart Miles

Choose Your Words Carefully

As I teach Word Choice to my students, I couldn't help but think of a blog post for writers regarding Word Choice.


Word Choice is that important. 

It is obvious to me that we were created in the image of God...a God who chose to communicate to His people through words. As a result, we love words and use them to tell stories, explain ourselves, and so on.

God chose each word in Scripture carefully and the more you study His word, the more this fact become evident. The names of His characters mean something:

Adam= man
Eve= woman
Cain= spear
Abel= breath/vapor
Noah= rest
Abram= father of a multitude
David= well beloved
Peter= rock
Jesus= savior

As you can see, God chose words...names...that mean something to the reader.

What's in a Word?

My lesson began with the meaning of words: The denotative meaning and the connotative meaning of words.
It's the difference between the literal meaning and the figurative meaning of a word.

Why is that important?

I had my students look up the denotative meaning of words, the actual dictionary meaning. Then, I had them come up with the connotative meanings for each word on their own. After that, I asked them to select a word and use that word as a name for a sports team.

Some selected Wasps and Meteors while others selected Poodles, Unicorns, and Sloths.

As you can see, you have connotative meanings for each of these words. I reminded them of this fact. How can a football team named "The Poodles" be thought of as tough athletic winners?

Answer: it can't.

My students learned a valuable lesson in word choice. Words matter to people.

Think of the word "gray". What is it's literal meaning? A dull color made from mixing white and black.

What is the connotative meaning of the word "gray"? Sadness, loneliness, stormy, cold, cloudy, depressed.

All of these words come to mind when thinking of "gray".  So, instead of writing, "She woke up to a cloudy morning." Why not write, "She woke up to a gray morning" and let your readers use their own connotative meaning to the word "gray." Let your readers read and imagine your story.

Do this same exercise with the words:

  • home
  • wall
  • sunny
  • Friday
  • Monday

The word "home" might bring happy thoughts for many...but there are some out there who might connect the word "home" with pain, sorrow, fear, loss, or worry.

In Kate Chopin's "Story of an Hour", she writes about a young woman who hears the news of her husband's death and enters her bedroom to mourn. She spots a roomy chair near the window and "sank" into it. I asked my students why they think Chopin used the word "sank" and not "sat".

The connotative meaning of the word "sank" works better for this story because the author wants us to use our own connotative meaning, not the literal meaning, of that word when we read her story. What images come to mind when you read the word "sank"?

Choose Wisely

As you write your story, think of the words and names you have selected. Why is this important? Because words mean something to your readers.  We were made to love and use words.

You can see now how important it is to remember the connotative meanings of the words you select for your story. Let your readers use their imagination. Show them, don't merely tell them your story.

This is a lesson I am learning right along with my students!

Your turn: How do you go about selecting words and names for your story? Do you keep in mind the connotative meaning of the words?


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