As children’s writers, we all know the importance of choosing the right word to use. Shakespeare has a famous quote “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That philosophy might work in Romeo and Juliet’s situation but not for ours. In a nonfiction book for middle graders that same rose blooms with a flower structure called a corolla. In a whimsical board book, a “happy red flower” could suffice. And if writing a lyrical book about a rose and its place in the garden, we could use words such as “inspirational,” “glorious,” and “majestic.”
Yes, the words we choose influence our readers. Like an artist selecting which colors to mix on their palette, we use words to paint the pictures our readers imagine and impact their emotional response to the story we’re creating. Here are simple strategies that can help you make the best choice.
CREATE WORD WALLS
Create word walls. In elementary school, teachers decorate a bulletin board called a word wall. For example, if they are studying a unit on frogs the teacher designs a large blue paper pond with brown paper bulrushes, green lilypads, and green frogs. Writing with a thick black pen in the center of the paper pond, she posts lists of frog-related words and phrases such as tadpole, vernal pool, life cycle, predator, amphibian, and camouflage. During the time they study frogs, students can simply look at the bulletin board and find a ready supply of words to use for the assignments they write. As writers, we can create our own versions of word walls for each manuscript in progress.
You can design your own bulletin board next to your writing desk with visuals and bold lists of words. Or you can write down lists of words related to your topic in a notebook or on your computer. You can build a word wall using an encyclopedia article on your topic (yes, Wikipedia is okay to use for this type of research!) and other resources such as topic-related children’s books. I even use travel sites to help build my word wall if I’m writing a story that takes place in an exotic setting. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, picture books, middle grade, or for young adult, creating word walls helps add depth and scope to your topic and is a handy reference while you write.
But how do you choose the best words to use? Brainstorming helps, especially with visuals such as a bubble map. First draw a 2-inch circle on a blank sheet of paper. Write your key word in the center of the circle, or bubble. Next draw a ring of bubbles around this key word. Connect these bubbles with the center word drawing lines like the spokes on a wheel. Look up your key word in a thesaurus. (If you’re writing a beginning reader or want your manuscript to register for a certain reading level, refer to the thesaurus in the back of The Children’s Writer’s Word Book to find grade-appropriate synonyms.) Write synonyms in the bubbles around the key word. If you want to find synonyms of synonyms, branch off with more bubbles. Or choose a new key word and start a new bubble to map on your paper.
If you want to use pre-designed Word Walls that I actually use when I’m brainstorming, I’ve included a variety of free designs that you can print out to use. Some are in black and white and some are in color. Some are basic construction blocks where some are fancy like teacups. Save and use whichever suits your fancy or your theme for your current project!
POLISH YOUR MANUSCRIPT
After you’ve written the first draft of your paragraph, scene, or chapter, go through and circle key words such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Check that each one works together as a team to create your intended emotion, image, character development, or plot point. Use your word wall and bubble maps to synchronize the effect on your reader, and polish your manuscript until it shines!
Have you ever used word walls before as a KidLit writer? If so, share the benefits in the comments below. If not, let us know which kind of word wall you’re going to choose to use for your current project!
Happy brainstorming to choose the right words to use!
-Written by Nancy I. Sanders. Nancy is a bestselling and award-winning children’s author of more than 100 books. She’s an instructor at the Serious Writer Academy. CLICK HERE to check out her list of classes. http://nancyisanders.com/workshopzone/ Click on Nancy’s name at the top of this article to learn more about her and her writing.