Whether you’re starting a business, finishing a degree or entering a new relationship, communication is key.
Learning how to harness and utilize the power of words—spoken, written, or even sung – is a heady task, but an invaluable one for creative professionals.
Good communicators can create magic, opening up new worlds. Worlds that can be accessed in almost any medium; from film and shows to books, blogs, articles, and essays.
Being a good communicator, or finding success with any of these media (however, daunting the process may sound) starts small: just one word at a time. It’s the ability to be particular with each word that makes the difference between decent and spectacular storytelling.
Word choice is about more than trying to sound smarter or more put-together than the next guy (although there’s certainly some of that, too). Every word has a specific meaning and certain connotations that come with it.
Consider the words ‘destroy’ (“damage completely/irreparably”), and ‘raze’ (tear down to the ground). And now the sentence ‘the invaders ________ed the town’. Whichever word you use to fill in the blank, the meaning is basically the same: bad news for the townspeople. You wouldn’t be wrong to consider ‘raze’ and ‘destroy’ synonyms. But the words conjure different mental images – if the town is “destroyed”, perhaps you imagine charred walls, collapsed rooftops. If it’s been “razed”, you imagine grappling hooks, bulldozers, flattened buildings.
If you use one word when you mean the other, the story changes! This is why, especially in creative fields, knowing the distinctions between word-meanings (however small) can make all the difference. The power of linguistic precision is what allows storytellers to raze a town, and then raise it back up again!
In the realm of film, acting, and theatre, word-choice is crucial. Scriptwriters, screenwriters, and playwrights of all sorts have a limited amount of space to convey their vision. Once their work is finished, chances are their hands are off: writers aren’t usually directors, too. The writers can only strive to make their words precise enough to guide the actors (and production team) as closely as possible to the original creative vision.
If directors and actors weren’t sure about the meaning behind the words in their scripts, things would fall apart very quickly! For an actor, doing research and building a strong vocabulary might be the difference between merely reciting lines, and delivering the performance of a lifetime.
There’s a reason why websites like SparkNotes and No Fear Shakespeare exist. Elizabethan English can seem incredibly daunting at first, but seeing the words side by side with modern English can help even the most befuddled actor (or ninth grade student) understand exactly what Juliet means when she starts soliloquizing about names and roses on the balcony.
Even in Shakespeare’s time, chances are at least part of the audience wouldn’t have understood Shakespeare’s flowery words—that’s where the actors stepped in. The context for words, how they are shown and displayed, can make a huge impact.
This is something that writers of all disciplines grow to understand as they learn the importance of vocabulary and communicating effectively through the written word.
Knowing your audience can mean a huge shift in writing style and word choice. You wouldn’t write, “As theorist-readers, it would be difficult to read Kafka, with all of his symbols, triangles of power and Oedipal leanings without toeing into psychoanalysis” when trying to explain a story to a class of eighth-graders…would you?
Just like it is better not to assume that everybody is familiar with Oedipus Rex before high school, it’s also best to use language that your audience can understand and identify with.
A mistake common to many new writers, young and old, is going a bit too ham on the thesaurus. Whether it’s for school or for pleasure, writers understand that word choice is important, but they may not understand how to find those special words that add precision, and not just extra syllables.
If you’re not careful, you can turn a sentence like: “My dad is my hero, he has always been there for me and my dreams” into “My ancestor is my champion, he has eternally been accounted for, for myself and my visions.” Maybe it sounds “fancier” this way, but it doesn’t exactly convey the meaning of the first sentence, does it?
If you have too many of these overworked sentences, instead of becoming a more effective communicator, your work can become incomprehensible.
How can we avoid this problem?
One way is simply by reading – the more you read, the better your vocabulary will become, and the easier it will be to understand the technicalities of syntax and grammar. You don’t just have to stick to the classics; a good balance between fun “fluffy” novels and more literary works will help you emulate the writing styles you admire.
Another method is equally simple: write, write, write! The more you’re able to use new words in your writing, the more you’ll naturally begin to pepper them throughout your everyday life.
That’s where we come in. VocaTales is an entertaining and educational vocabulary site, a cross between BuzzFeed Community and Urban Dictionary where everyone has space to create their own content.
When you scroll through VocaTales, you’ll find words paired with gifs—once you click on the word, it’ll take you to a user-created tale that places the word in a unique, creative, and often humorous context. Writing these tales is simple: just “See, Split and Spin.”
All you have to do is take a complex word, split it however you like (the zanier the better) and then, once inspired, spin a tale.
You can visit the site whenever you want – read stories and begin to expand your vocabulary one tale at a time, or create an account and become the next great VocaLord!
You can challenge your friends, earn reward points as you contribute, and (the best part) it’s absolutely free!
The more time you spend playing with words and thinking of ways to twist them into tales, the more you’ll grow, whether as a scriptwriter, blogger, future novelist, or college student.
So what are you waiting for?
Start your next step as an effective and creative communicator, reimagine vocabulary, and join VocaTales today.