Monday, October 26, 2015

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #335 -- Flying the Friendly Skies (Word Choices)

What's the difference between a good word choice
and the right word choice when writing?

I love this question, and I'm going to warn you, this answer may come off as sexist, but it's not sexism on my part but on the fictional character's part.

Everybody clear? Good.

I'm sure they have great personalities.
Okay, let's say Desert Storm Vet turned Private Investigator Bob "Big Daddy" Richards is taking a flight from the Big Apple to the City of Angels. He spots a particularly lovely young lady handing out pretzels and soft drinks. He likes the curve of her... ahem... assets.

How does he describe her when she catches his eye?

Flight Attendant?
Server?
Stewardess?

All are technically correct, but each has a different connotation. Two are more or less safe and somewhat generic. One is loaded and dangerous.

So of course Big Daddy is going with that one, because, well, that's who he is.

Why? Because "flight attendant" smacks of shapeless pants and comfortable shoes. "Server" screams black socks and a bow tie. But "stewardess"? That one still has undercurrents of garters, stockings, and high heels with one-night stands between flights.

Launched a thousand unmentionable fantasies...
Or, to put it in Big Daddy's vernacular, no red-blooded American man has a fetish for a flight attendant, but a stewardess... Well, now you're talking.

 The right word will do things a good word won't. It will say something about the character of the person saying or thinking it. It will bring with it the baggage of years of cultural context to say more than your mere word count ever could. It will sing rather than simply hum. It will make and idea stick to the brain rather than just "get the job done."

And that, at least to me as a pulp writer, is the importance of the right word instead of just a good word.