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Words Are Choices, Too

Mon Sep 22, 2014, 5:45 AM
As writers, when you write,do you think about how these speech patterns operate in your everyday life, and how choosing those words very carefully can shape the way your characters relate not just to each other, but to the reader? Think about your favorite CRPG, and the kinds of choices you are allowed to make in them. For good or for evil, most systems allow you to make a "kind choice" as well as a "selfish choice" in your conversations, with the implicit dichotomy of good and bad. But how often do you stop to make that same choice when you are talking to people in your real life? Or when you write? Are you consciously aware your words are choices that shape not only others' opinion of you, but your thoughts about yourself, too?

Let's take the example of "I" versus "you".

#1: "It's not my fault I ran from the dragon."

#2: "You'd run from the dragon, too."

Both say the same thing (although the second one is implied that the speaker ran), but have very different effects. Think about how each one makes you feel about the speaker, and what kind of relationship is implied in the address. In #1, the speaker's words could be interpreted as whining, because the speaker is obviously assigning blame away from him//herself. But in example #2, The use of "you" bridges a gap in the words, bringing the audience into the scene with the speaker: running isn't just something the speaker did, it's something anyone would do, even you, yes you, dear reader. While "It's not my fault I ran from the dragon" communicates what the speaker did in a direct way, the second phrasing is much more personal, and communicates a lot more about how the speaker feels. Because "it's not my fault, anyone would do it" is implied, it automatically feels a lot more personal and sympathetic to the reader.

There is a reason we communicate this way which shapes how we think about ourselves and how we interpret the world. When we use "I" statements about our actions, it assigns the blame (or responsibility, or credit) for the way we act directly to ourselves. When when replace the first person with the second person "you," we are preparing the listener for forgiveness by asking for the audience to project themselves into our positions. It elicits sympathy and asks for empathy, which can be either good or bad.

Try these:

"I didn't mean to hit that black cat. But you have to admit it's pretty hard to see at night."

"I took it for granted that she would just be around to take care of me. You see someone everyday like that, you just kind of start to assume they will be around, you know?"

More dangerously, in victims (or imagined victims), the "I" versus "you" can effect powerful changes in how they view the world and their position within it. Dr. Karl Albrecht, in a recent article which inspired this post, writes:

Former actress Robin Givens, interviewed for a recent Time magazine article about partner abuse by celebrity athletes, described her experience of being beaten by heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson. Her choice of words reveals a verbal pattern that’s one of the telltale markers for the mindset of powerlessness. In the conceptual realm of psychosemantics, it’s known as displacement—switching from I pronouns to you pronouns.

Note the alternation between the two patterns in her quotes:

“People ask why I didn’t leave after I was hit the first time. . . . But you feel such inner turmoil and confusion. You want it to be only one time.”

“And for three days after that incident I did the right thing. I said, ‘Don’t call me. I never want to see you again.’ . . . . But then you start taking his phone calls. Then he asks to see you in person, and you say yes to that. Then you have a big giant man crying like a baby on your lap, and next thing you know, you’re consoling him.”

The pronoun switching, typically unconscious, has the effect of priming the listener’s forgiveness, by projecting the inclination for the same self-defeating behavior upon the listener. “You might have done the same thing,” the syntax implies; “it wasn’t my fault.” This is a fairly typical psychosemantic maneuver of abdication—surrendering the authority and responsibility to act in one’s own self-interest.

Listen to people who have power in and over their lives, and compare the language they use to the language of those who, for whatever reason, may feel disempowered. You’re likely to hear two subtly different narratives. One is the narrative of cause and effect. The other, figuratively, is the narrative of “effect and cause.”


These examples show clearly how words really are a choice: whether in your own lives or your writing. So I hope you learned something interesting from this article like I did!

Do you play board games? 

55%
6 deviants said Sometimes. I see my friends play them.
36%
4 deviants said You mean, like, Monopoly?
9%
1 deviant said Nuh-uh. I only play a game if it's got a device with a cable wired into the back of it.
0%
No deviants said Oh yes. I religiously follow all the new releases!

Comments


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:iconwerewolf90x:
werewolf90x Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
hey i finished my mass effect artwork. but my work is not in the gallery. WHY
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:iconinversereality-2:
InverseReality-2 Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2014
Hi werewolf90x -- I am assuming you're asking why it hasn't been added to the :iconbiowarefanclub: correct? Can you link to me what work you're talking about?
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:iconwerewolf90x:
werewolf90x Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
werewolf90x.deviantart.com/art…
werewolf90x.deviantart.com/art…

but your guideline saids the polished thing. i worked really really hard on them
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:iconinversereality-2:
InverseReality-2 Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2014
You composition and the proportions would be okay. Unfortunately, I think it's the way that you did the outlines that is probably baring it from entry. If you're working with a pencil sketch, may I suggest that you use a marker or Sharpie to draw some thick outlines first (called inking) before you scan and color them in? If you are working digitally, try downloading a free program like GIMP that will let you do multiple layers (it's really much easier for coloring, too!).

Here is a simple How-To for inking: www.wikihow.com/Ink-a-Drawing
YouTube instruction video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd7BP1…

Believe me, it makes a world of difference in your drawing!
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:iconanimot:
animot Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
thanks a lot for the watch!
Reply
:iconnoborux:
noborux Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2013
Hey dude, hows life been for ya?
Reply
:iconinversereality-2:
InverseReality-2 Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2013
Hey you! Life has been ups and downs. Definitely what they call "interesting times". Overall, great learning experiences, lots of stories, miss hanging out with my online buddies, though. How've you been?
Reply
:iconnoborux:
noborux Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2013
Likewise with me actually, I've met my low and high notes these past few years. I get so distracted that I sometimes can't keep up with people's updates on DA.

But I'm glad to hear that you're at least doing okay :), hows the drawings going? or have you been taking a break?
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:iconnecthassak:
necthassak Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you for the watch!
I really appreciate it :love:
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