This week’s shows how you can follow the lead of fantasy authors Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman in creating unique characters by choosing the right words for your story’s tone.
Words are the link between the ethereal realm of our imaginations and the concrete reality of our books. So it’s no surprise that our choice of words is the single most important factor in our presentation of our stories. It’s also one of the toughest, since there are millions of words for us to choose from. Our ability to pick the right one is predicated upon, first, our knowing the word to start with; second, our being able to remember it; and, third, our understanding of what kind of word the particular tone of our novel calls for.
Our choice of words not only builds our individual authorial voices, it also influences the tone of each story and each character within that story. The more flexible we are in our choices and the more aware we are of how those choices will subtly, perhaps even unconsciously, guide our readers to the desired emotional and intellectual reaction, the more skilled we will be in weaving stories of depth and breadth. We can find a good example of this in the fantasy Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. This book features two primary types of narrating characters, humans and dwarves, and the authors did a great job of giving both races unique voices through their choice of words. The dwarves, as a repressed and somewhat humorous society, were given according vocabularies. For example, their names for items were often simplistic and obvious terms, such as “whistle-toot” and “squawky-talk,” which, of course, provided a dramatic contrast to the more sophisticated humans and elves.
Humorous stories almost always encourage unique and unusual word choices. But, with a little more restraint, this rule of thumb holds just as fast for every other genre. When working on your story, look past the first word choice to appear on your screen and try to find ones that are not only original, but which will also reveal interesting and important facets of your story in general and each character in particular.