The Power of Words

E.S. Wesley
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E.S. Wesley

E.S. Wesley is a serial (or cereal) writer, mentor, and dabbler in whatever other creative endeavors tickle his fancy. He likes to write books with complicated plots and stuff.
E.S. Wesley
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The Power of Words–even a in small numbers–astounds me.

As an author, every once in a while I get knocked flat by the mechanics of what I do. It’s a very nuanced profession, full of aspects that I’ll never fully understand. One of those aspects I always come back to is the power one or a few words have to create and destroy worlds, determine how you feel, and breathe life into the lifeless.

Right now I’m working through revisions on one of my most recent works based on feedback I’ve received from a few wonderful beta readers. Some of the biggest feedback they gave me on this manuscript was that my character was missing his motivation in a few places, and that at times he felt “whiny.”

So I’m hunting down these problem areas and realizing what happened to cause this, and I’m realizing that very often my errors boil down to word choice. Sometimes I jump too far into my character’s perspective, and let him say things in narration he’d never say in real life. Like saying something is “stupid.” It’s amazing the power that word holds. We might think something’s “stupid,” but the moment we say it out loud, people think we’re jerks. The same is happening with my protagonist. He can be a little dramatic, but I have to watch his drama, or else he says he “hates” something, and alarm bells go off in the reader’s head that this character is hateful.

In some ways it’s like God. In the Christian Bible, God spoke the heavens and the earth into existence. In that story, he formed everything into being with a word. His word had unimaginable power to set a tone for everything that came after. But if the story said something like, “he looked at what he’d made, and saw how bad it was,” everything that came after would have been tainted. The same is true with my stories. The words have meanings that need to be as true in my readers’ heads as they are in mine. Communication requires two parties, and if the communicator is saying the wrong things, the recipient will balk at what they’re hearing.

And I think about the power a single word has when directed at someone. The moment you say something negative about another person, there’s a shift. A line is drawn between you and them, and between you and those who like them. I don’t want to draw lines like that unless I’m certain I want the lines to be there for a long time. Because they will be.

Words have more power than we admit most times. They have meaning. And sometimes they can do more damage than we care to admit, too.