The Importance of Word Choice in Storytelling and Interpretation

In the creative writing ABM, every word counts.

Starting from the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, we’ve been looking at the different ways in which our words matter—and the decisions we make about the words we use impacts the ways our stories are told and understood by a wider audience. The medium with which we work is not stories, but the very words that make up those stories. They allow us to both process the world as we experience it, and help us imagine the ways in which others experience the world around us.

In our ABM, we’ve developed concrete skills for writing and telling stories. We’ve broken down the story of the Tower of Babel into the different components that make up the narrative, including setting and character. We’ve also used it to tackle more difficult questions, such as how writing can be used to process racism and socioeconomic class, and how different people relate to stories and places differently.

We’ve examined, for example, the ways in which people encounter different places based on their jobs — how might a visitor to the Louvre, for instance, differ in their perceptions of the museum from a security guard who works there every day? How might a worker who helped build the Tower of Babel differ in their perceptions of the tower from a bystander or a farmer watching the tower being built? How might a person living through the building of the tower reflect on the process when compared with their grandchild?

In each of these instances, we’ve looked at the ways words can be used to reflect experiences and inspire empathy. We’ve also looked more deliberately at word choice—how might we not just tell stories from different genres, but with different words? How does meaning change in subtle, yet important, ways? What happens not just when we tell a story by writing it as a piece of prose or poetry, but also when we switch the order of words, or change the words entirely? These, ultimately, are the questions we struggle with in the ABM.

 

-Ami Altzman

Community Educator, ABM Creative Writing

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