I had an interesting conversation regarding a short story that was read by myself and two other people this week.
The story, in a nutshell, was about a student getting sent to the principal’s office at school. As we were discussing the story, however, things took an interesting turn, not so much in what the story was about or what happened, but because of a few simple words: he mumbled
Now grant it, most discussions aren’t often so focused on the wording of a story, but in this case, the word “mumbled” changed the personality of the character, depending on who you were talking to. For one, the fact that he mumbled meant that he was apathetic to being sent to the principal’s office. To the other, the fact that he mumbled signaled that he was angry. It led to an interesting discussion, and we came to the conclusion that we all saw the character in a completely different light.
It got me thinking about how powerful words…even simple ones…can be. To most, a mumble is a mumble. It doesn’t really change the characters or their personalities. But in this case, since the story was so short, it made the difference between an apathetic person and an angry one, and once the character was changed, the plot of the story started to be looked at in a different light, too.
If anything, it taught me that clarity in writing is something we all need to strive for. Do the words we use make sense to our readers? Do they fit the character we’re describing? Are they adding to the plot or are they taking away? These are all questions we must take into account when writing, because if a reader thinks our words aren’t making sense, chances are they might not be reading our work much longer.
Have you ever come across a word (or set of words) that confused you? How do you think it could have been written better?