Just as a heads up, my linguistics nerdiness might show in this post a little.
As I was thinking about how I wanted to organize this series of posts, I decided it made sense to work from the micro level to the macro level. So we’re going to start by talking about the smallest units of voice, aka word choice.
You don’t need to be a linguistics student to know that different people use different words. For instance, you might anticipate that words like thong mean something entirely different to your grandmother than that teenager who lives down the street (for my grandma, a thong is a sandal).
That may seem obvious. Teens use more slang and are more adept at incorporating new words (or neologisms if you want to use the linguist jargon). A teen will know if something is basic, bae or on point. They sometimes have so many feels that they can’t even.
What factors other than age affect our word choice? How about geographic location. Does your main character drink soda, pop, or coke? Do they line up or queue? Do they use a jump drive, a flash drive, or a usb stick? Likewise economic class can affect what words you use and how you say them. Do you say vase with a s sound or a z sound at the end? Gender can affect word choice as well. Studies have shown that women are more likely to distinguish colors than men (a woman may say something is navy blue, royal blue, or robin’s egg blue, but to a man it’s just blue).
The point of all this is that it can be hard to accurately use words the way somebody from a different social group than you would. I have a professor who sometimes tries to mimic the way teenagers use the word like and it just sounds wrong. It takes a lot of work to sound authentic, but the first step to sounding authentic is being aware.
Here are some fun resources you can use to explore words. I’m not sure how useful they will be. But like I said, my linguist is going to town on this post.
Word and Phrase: This site was developed by one of my professors. I experimentally pasted some text from various members of my writing group. I found that I used more lower frequency words than my group members (which isn’t to say my writing is better. It’s just a stylistic difference).
Wordle: See what words you’re using most frequently.
Word Spy: This is just sort of a fun way to see what new words people are using.
Secret Life of Pronouns: Do with this site what you will. I just think it’s sort of interesting.