Understanding the Importance of Word Choice

In all writing, but especially in poetry, the words an author chooses are of the utmost importance. It might seem obvious, but when putting words on paper, it’s important to know exactly how they’re going to affect the reader or how the writer intended them to affect you.

Below, you can explore a few of the reasons why word choice is so important in poetry and how writers decide which words to use:

Poems are brief

Due to the fact that most poems are quite brief, each word has a stronger influence on the reader than the individual words of a novel. If you are only confronted with a total of 300 words, rather than the 100,000 that might be in a novel, it’s crucial that you understand how the writer was trying to influence the work through their word choice. The arrangement of those words is equally important.

Formal or informal?

When reading a poem, it’s important to consider whether the words the poet chose are informal or formal. Is the poet using slang? Is there abstract diction in the lines? For example, does the poet lean heavily on figurative language, like examples of metaphor and similes? Or, do they use direct, clear descriptions that any reader would be able to understand? A writer who does the latter is likely hoping their work appeals to a wide audience. One who does the former may have a more selective audience in mind.

Tone and Mood

When selecting words to compose a poem or while analyzing how a writer has chosen their words, tone and mood are going to be important things to consider. You should ask yourself, what is the poet’s speaker feeling? And how do their words make their emotions clear? For example, if they’re actively engaging with another character, are their words short and snippy, perhaps evoking a feeling of annoyance? Or are they tentative and careful, suggesting they are nervous?

With mood, you should ask yourself, how does the writer want me to feel? Are they trying to make me feel nostalgia, love, anger, or jealousy? And what words in the text accomplish that?