I started getting interested in the mechanics of language, linguistics and Noam Chomsky, because I wondered what made my writing appealing to other people. Could I appeal to a broader group by using different vocabulary and get the same message across and valued by a greater audience?
I know that one of the most effective ways to have an impact is to help readers “feel” an idea. (Political ads are a good example, low slow music for a negative ad/sunlight and kids happily learning for a positive one.) It is said a picture paints a thousand words; if done well 5 words can paint a thousand pictures. Much of the power in ASPCA ads comes from the lyrics BEHIND the imaged of sad, poorly treated, pets-to-be.
I am beginning to understand more of the potential of words on a page (or screen) and how uniquely powerful they are, alone. When we read, the image each audience member creates is different even if the words have similar meaning because we all have different associations with meanings of sentences and different contextual life experience with the messages conveyed. I’ll give you an example below.
Imagine Joanna Shmoe wrote the following sentence: Rachel smirked mysteriously before she walked into the hardware store.
I know a few Rachels. No matter how hard we try, our brains will look for patterns and relationships; so, I read the sentence with expectations that “Rachel” will behave similarly in the author’s story as the Rachels do in my experience. Consider the word smirk, is it playful, ominous, or condescending in your mind? Ff the author decided not to qualify it where does it take you? If the smirk is qualified as painful, but you think of smirks as evil, could you shake your own association with the image in your mind?
The complexity of language and its living nature is sometimes hard two wrap our head around. (That is one of the many challenges in the law: interpretation.) Simultaneously, interpretation of language is a powerful tool allowing infinite meaning with the finite number of sounds/words people can create. (Gotta love sarcasm and humor; passive aggressiveness – not so much.
A tip to say good night: if you want to know how readers will generally view a character, write a few paragraphs in that characters voice and share it with friends. Ask them to describe the character as they would a casual acquaintance you had never met. If the language used gives the vibe you want to the majority, great! if not, try different language/descriptors. Check out my tools >PAGE< to find help!
Bonne Nuit! (goodnight!),