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How Word Choice Affects the Quality of Writing (and When It Doesn't)

Updated on February 5, 2014

In elementary school, we were given a list of words to avoid repeating over and over; the goal was to get us to diversify our vocabulary and word choice. While readers, especially teachers, may not like narratives that get repetitive, there are instances where it may not matter as much. Being that literature, like all entertainment, is subjective, word choice foibles may be overlooked if they do not detract from the enjoyment of the story.
Notice J.K. Rowling's overuse of the word "said" in dialog tags in her Harry Potter novels, not because the books are long but because there are several of them in a row. Did you not notice this before? I didn't until I actually thought about it. Perhaps readers don't notice because they are so easily sucked into the story, preferring to focus on what the characters are actually saying. "Said" is one of those words on the list I mentioned earlier, along with "asked," "good," "bad," and "is/are." When looking critically at a work, editors (or most likely teachers) will not turn a blind eye to this, but most readers probably don't even care. The addition of adverbs doesn't always put writers in the clear either, but this is just nitpicking on the part of those who allow themselves to get distracted by such things.
What makes literature "good" or "bad" is subjective, depending on the standards of the reader. You don't want to use words that are too superfluous and feel out of place with the rest of the narrative unless you have a logical reason to do so. Word choice can make or break a story, but it's the overall action and tone that really matters. The same goes for preconceptions in any form of entertainment. For instance, I didn't want to see The Lone Ranger because the reviews I'd heard labeled it "Tonto: The Movie, starring Johnny Depp and featuring Army Hammer." I'm a fan of Johnny Depp, but if the focus is supposed to be on the Ranger and not Tonto, it's hard for me to know who the sidekick is. I was finally forced to watch it, but I wasn't really paying attention until I could no longer ignore the action on the screen. It's a pretty decent popcorn flick if you don't let its flaws bother you. It's okay to turn off your brain and find enjoyment in something you normally wouldn't, but never give something a pass just because of its intended demographic, especially if you're not one of them.
Education and groupthink set standards for us to adopt and follow accordingly, but now that I'm an adult and no longer a student I don't set much store in that. You can think whatever you want as long as your reasons make sense to you and you never stop. That's how we get so many critics with differing opinions permeating the Internet (and we just lost a great one).

Rest in Peace, Justin.
Rest in Peace, Justin. | Source


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