Vocabulary, it’s one of the ways in which we measure a person’s intelligence. A rich vocabulary has traditionally been seen as a high-born, well-educated trait and regularly celebrated. However, when you’re trying to relate to a reader, fancy words can derail them and slow down your story.
Did you know that a nomadic portion of the metamorphosed igneous or sedimentary deposits of the Proterozoic ear accumulates no bryophytic plant life? Did I lose you halfway through the question due to my aggressive vocabulary? What if I had said that a rolling stone gathers no moss? Better? A big vocabulary doesn’t make a smart book smart, it makes it boring. Worse yet, it makes the author look pompous.
I’m a talker, and I have a proclivity for the prolific approach to my narrative. So for me, it is imperative that I don’t burden my reader with unnecessary work just because I know fifteen different words for dildo.
As usual, my posts come with a warning not to over-correct and abandon the ideals of great writing to spare a few indulgent sentiments. Being able to describe things in a multitude of ways is a great tool for avoiding using the same word over and over again and it’s not the same as deliberately and consistently choosing laborious ways to get across the same point. The line between poetry and pedantic pros is a blurry one and wide enough to pitch a tent on so there is a lot of room for interpretation.
Using unexpected words from time to time is definitely worth doing, but I have read some books lately that have been laughable in their insistence on subjecting me to a barrage of obscurity that even the New York Times wouldn’t try to cram into a crossword puzzle.
Am I forced to conclude that a verbose author must certainly be intelligent because they have such a command of the English language? No, I am forced to conclude that the author is desperate for approval and needs an editor.
I guess moderation is the key here, too much of a good thing and all. That’s the challenge of writing in general. There are a lot of rules that you must follow, but only so far and then you have to pull back lest you alienate your audience.
Here’s what I do. If I break out a twenty dollar word and I like its placement and sentiment and don’t feel that it jars the reader out of the moment, I’ll allow it under the condition that I don’t plump up the paragraph with any more shiny syllables. Keeping my extra-curricular vocabulary separated is a great way of having my cake and eating it too.
I have read chapters of mine and wondered if I thought I was getting paid a nickel each time I used a certain word. Objects are the worst, chairs, beds, the house, it can get monotonous. I encourage you to seek a thesaurus to smooth out moments like these only.
This really can be a tough aspect to negotiate. I love to see a new turn of phrase and highlight them on my iPad when they come up. But a collection of monster words just makes me roll my eyes, (which also makes me lose my place).
A good editor will help you determine what is indulgent and what is prudent. Some of the best writing I have done in the last few weeks has been what I cut out of a story to strengthen it.
In parting, I should like to observe that some characters have big vocabularies and using such language in the course of dialogue from that person does not count as indulgent. It’s a loop hole that can be exploited as long as it serves a purpose, (which is to say that it serves your story).
I hope I have not just confused the issue further. I do believe that that if you can recognize the difference between situations in which to use alternate wording, you will be able to still produce flowery writing without heaping on too much honey.