Learn about how small changes in word choice can influence the tone of a story and change how readers feel about the characters and setting.
For the past few months, I’ve been working on the final edits of one of my manuscripts. It’s at the beta reader stage. And I like to send it out to one beta reader at a time, so I can make changes based on the feedback before sending it out to another beta reader.
I’ve been really fortunate to have four different beta readers for this round of edits. Each one of them has their own unique perspective and interpretation of my writing. The process has also taught me that small changes in word choice can greatly affect a reader’s perspective.
The Power of word choice
The power of small, subtle changes in word choice is amazing. By just tweaking one or two words, I can change a reader’s entire perspective on a piece of writing.
Here are a few examples of words that same essential meaning, but provide the reader with a very different tone.
- Small and slight versus paltry and meager.
- Trees and forest versus saplings and grove
- Home versus dwelling
- Eager versus ambitious
How to use word choice
Beta readers aren’t the same as a critique group. They won’t help you develop your ideas or figure out which scene should come first. They also aren’t supposed to get down to the nitty-gritty details or edit your manuscript. However, they are perfect for telling you how they feel about the setting, characters, and narrative.
If a beta reader has a different interpretation of a scene, event, or character than the one you were hoping for, then it’s important to look at the words you used. Often just one or two subtle changes in word choice can have a huge impact.
- Word choice can set the tone for a piece.
- Give the reader clues about the emotions of the characters.
- Guide how the readers feel about the characters.
- Provide important cues about the setting, plot, etc.
Sometimes all you need is to change a single word or add an extra sentence to completely change how a reader will perceive a scene.
The outcome of a magistrate trial where I was a witness for the victim in a traffic accident. The verdict hinged on the defendant’s lawyer using the word “place” and my correction to “hurl”. Driver got a license suspension as a result. You have taught me about beta readers. I had no idea they existed for writers.
Interesting… I can imagine lawyers get pretty good at choosing their words carefully!