LESSON An HQ Guide: Using Connotation

Discussion in 'REFINING WRITING' started by HerziQuerzi, Jan 27, 2017.



  1. word?

  2. there should really be a way to only have one option for a poll, don't you think?

Multiple votes are allowed.

  1. Words mean different things.

    I know that's an obvious statement, but it's fairly consistent no matter what scope you take it to. 'Fruit' and 'Vehicle' are obviously different words, but so are 'Hard' and 'Challenging', and it's the later group I'm here to talk about. Because thanks to the power of connotation, synonyms are not created equal. Words are not simply their literal definition, but also carry a history of past usage and vague ideas stapled on top of that, adding multiple layers of meaning. Meaning that we can make use of.

    With connotation, we can use a few words to efficiently convey an idea that might otherwise take several sentences. More importantly, it can help smooth over your narration. Making it faster, simpler, and richer. And I'd like to draw extra attention to the fact that it makes your narration simpler. In my opinion, narration should never be complex. It should never be something you need to buckle down and tackle in order to understand. If anything, it should be borderline skimmable. Instead, it should be the more meta aspects of your stories that should be complex. Plots, character motivations, subtexts, and themes can be complex, but not narration. Why? Because narration needs to be understood in the moment. The reader literally cannot progress without consuming the narration, and if it's a brick wall of complex sentences and obscure words and convoluted metaphors, then it pushes them away. But the more meta stuff? That's the stuff a reader can take in while reading, and then mull over afterwards while in the shower or waiting to fall asleep or wherever. It'll keep with time, and is also generally an ongoing thing that is continuously reinforced throughout the story.

    Personally, the way I try to achieve this is to be light on detailed description and heavy on implied descriptions. I try to use connotation to 1) create a vague framework and then 2) guide the reader into filling in the blanks generally how I intended. For example, when describing a magical girl's dress, I could take the route of describing the many parts that make it up. The wide flowing skirts, the layers of white lace that filled said skirt, the extravagant bow tied around the waist, the thin blue cloth, the stiff and prim neckline, and overall modest cut of the entire affair. Or I could do this:

    Light was drawn forth from the abyss and wrapped around her. Reveling in the myriad colours and possibilities represented in that light, she willed it spin around her faster and faster before letting it settle into something solid. An extravagant, weightless blue gown, stretching from the top of her neck down to the base of her feet.

    Satisfied, Laurel raised her hand to the heavens and {...}​

    In direct regards to the dress, very few details are actually given. 'Extravagant', 'weightless', 'blue', and stretching from neck to feet. But the language used around that single sentence also plays a large part in how it reads. 'Light', 'reveling', 'myriad colours', 'possibilities', 'spin around her faster and faster', even the 'heavens' that followed afterwards. All of these words and phrases evoke particular ideas and themes, which the reader (hopefully) then projects onto what few guidelines you gave them to fill in the rest on their own. And this is the power of connotation. It lets you make the reader do a lot of the heavy lifting, which draws them in, while simultaneously keeping the story moving and easy to read, which also draws them in.

    And now that I've spent several paragraphs praising the power of connotation, it's time to talk about when and how to cut back on connotation. I'm sure many of you are familiar with the 'don't use the word "said"' school of thought, and the counter-movement of 'use "said" more often than not'. If I'm praising connotation and using the hidden subtext of words to add further depth to your narration, then surely I'm with the former school of thought, oui? No! Because connotation, like virtually every aspect of writing, is a slave to pacing. The act of using flow, sentence structure, and word choice to make the reader focus on the important and skim over the filler. To create a rise and fall of narration that keeps them engrossed. Where flow is about rising action and climaxes and denouements; where sentence structure is about forming the level of action vs. thought of a scene; and word choice is about impact; connotation in regards to flow is about density. The more subtext and implications you add via connotation, the more the reader will associate whatever they're reading as something important; because attention (even if it isn't overt or conscious attention) is being drawn to it.

    So in the specific case of 'said', I prefer to use 'said' as the default in place of any synonyms because rarely is the manner of speech the thing I want to focus on. If characters are talking, I want the reader to be focused on what the characters are saying. A few synonyms here and there, as well as brief descriptions of actions, help guide the general tone, but for most part I want the dialogue to do the heavy lifting. And this applies to pretty much every kind of scene. Find out what you want the focus to be, and center your connotation-rich words around those concepts, while the surrounding framework uses more neutral terms to avoid distracting the reader.

    And that's basically everything I have to say at the moment. If anything isn't clear, or you feel something was left out, let me know below, and I'll see if I can address it. Seeya.

    --@Jorick @HerziQuerzi

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  2. This is great. This is exactly what I have been trying out lately. There was and still is, however decreased as we speak, a block in my writing. I feel like I still bang my head against a wall sometimes, but when the headache grows I realize I need to try something else. I am still figuring it out, and this was nice to read. Perhaps it will help me unlock whatever is trying to form itself in my style of writing. I guess the fact that English is not my main language keeps me back a bit, but I bob my fabulous hand at that. x3 Thanks anyway!
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  3. Very well, this is actually a great idea and put the point that more texts don't mean better. I found it boring if the said dress is described in details even if it will be the girl's uniform for the whole RP. Unless something going to happens to that dress (eg: being stripped)... even that, I rather not reading 10 lines of how a dress looks :/ ... even if I am requesting the person to put details on it for drawing.
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  4. Amen. What a lot of people don't understand is that 9 times out of 10, you don't need some elongated description of anything and everything. People read books for the characters and their plights, not to read about the clothes they're wearing.
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  5. I recently gave some advice to my friend on their writing and how to improve flow and ease of use. Now reading it for the second time, I didn't realise that everything I said came from this one article alone :o
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