Four Criteria for Choosing Words

Sometimes we get so caught up in turning out good stories or articles that we forget all writing begins with word choices. We construct our sentences and paragraphs using the same raw materials–words. Here are four criteria to consider when choosing which word you’ll use in your writing.

  1. Tone. Determine whether you want to convey a tone that’s thoughtful and observing from a distance or one that’s immediate and more involved.
  2. Freshness. Good writers know their writing succeeds when it produces mental images that draw on the reader’s senses. As important as action is, the reader’s perception of the situation (scene, dialogue, character, plot, etc.) is what makes the story memorable. Use words that keep your reader awake and seeing your story.
  3. Consistency. Although you differentiate your characters (whether writing fiction or non-fiction) through description and dialogue, your readers feel each character has a place in the story. Good writers use different scenes in their novels and different sentence structure in their stories and articles. Yet, all the writing belongs in the same book or article. My point is there should be variety, but also consistency.
  4. Rhythm. Listen to how a word you choose sounds as you decide whether or not it fits in your sentence. Pay special attention to words at the end of a sentence or paragraph and to words in short sentences. Why? Because readers “hear” those words more than words strung together to create longer sentences.  You can test this yourself when you read. Do you pay as much attention to words in long sentences as you do to those in shorter ones? Do words at the end of the sentence or paragraph resonate longer than others?

The only way I know to improve your writing is to write. The more you write, the more you’ll automatically apply these four criteria. As I used to tell my students, “Those who practice their writing, for the most part, don’t get worse.” Happy writing!


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