In recent weeks I’ve been powering my way through the piles of books I’ve accumulated that have been languishing in my library, waiting to be read. I have writing to do and stories to tell, but I’m also trying to follow the advice that writers need to “read widely.” Also, my towering TBR piles (yes, there are multiple piles) have become ungainly. It’s either get reading or build a fort out of them or something.
Some of the books, like the Daisy Dalrymple mystery stories by Carola Dunn, were definite winners that left me wondering why I hadn’t read them sooner. Others (that will remain nameless), often freebies that I found on Amazon or via sites like Goodreads, had me wondering how they got published and whether there were editors involved (I’m guessing no for that last question in at least a few cases).
While a strong plot/story-line is critical if a book is going to work for me, word choice and word usage can really tip the scales.
The Daisy Dalrymple mysteries are set in the 1920s in Britain. The Honorable Miss Dalrymple is a “modern” woman, working as a freelance writer for Town & County magazine and encountering dead bodies on a periodic basis (22 times so far). The author does not include swaths of description or hit the reader over the head with characters spouting facts to set the scene or the time-period. Instead, with the sparse use of period-specific word choices and a few tidbits here and there, the scene and mood are set and the story is off and running. The portable typewriter, cocktails, bobbed hair, and mentions of the lack of men-of-a-certain-age due to the war, tell us where and when we are in a much more entertaining way than cold facts would.
As I continue to work on my Regency story, I’m spending a lot of time with word choice and conversational styles, in a way to make it feel historically accurate and to make sure there aren’t things that would jar readers. That means, among other things, spending time making sure the words I choose to use were actually in use during the Regency. Fortunately, Google is a great help with that since the last thing I want is to use words that are too contemporary and risk being slammed as writing “a contemporary story in Regency clothing.”
Word choice can be problematic, even if it isn’t related to the time period. The author of the last contemporary romance I read consistently made word choices that gave me pause when I hit them. Whether it was the constant use of “she cried” or “she yelped” when plain old “she said” would have been more appropriate, or the rampant use of “galloped” (the people galloped and the puppy even galloped, when I actually envisioned it “gamboling”), the choice of words lessened the enjoyment of an already weak story.
As a writer, word choice is kind of a no-win situation. Just as in character naming, you can be historically accurate, but you can’t really please everyone. The words that irritate me when I encounter them might go unnoticed by another reader and vice versa.
So, do you have any trigger words that bug you when you come across them in a story, or is it just me?