Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ten Dollar Words

I am still quasi off the grid, in San Antonio now, surrounded by boxes. This is a truncated repost from my blog from back in November, so it might look familiar to some of y'all.

I remember when I first started writing I thought one of the marks of a good writer was the size of his vocabulary. And while I think this still holds some truth, I believe that a mark of a good writer is limiting this vocabulary -- i.e., knowing your audience. In my first novel I wrote some odd years ago, I used the words ambagious, sententious (maybe a 5 dollar word), apotheosis, marmoreal (this is one I actually might still use b/c I like it so much :), estrade... to name a few (all off the top of my head, perhaps sadly)... now, one of these words might be alright every 100 hundred pages (emphasis on might, and dependent on target audience), but you don't want your readers having to struggle to determine what words mean (this isn't the SAT... we're not testing vocab and we want paragraph comprehension to be fairly straightforward, usually -- unless you're in the lit fic realm, which is above my pay grade).

Sure, some of the above words might be sexier to dictionary hounds and entertainment-article writers, but they're obtuse and can easily be replaced by more straightforward words that still might be worth more than a penny (e.g., tortuous, paragon, marble-like -- see, marmoreal's prettier :) -- dais) and won't confound your readers.

8 comments:

Laura Martone said...

Well, in honor of your repeat post, I've decided to leave the same (albeit truncated) comment that I left on your blog back in November...

"Normally, I agree with you, Bane. Here, I do not. First off, I love writers with big vocabularies... Michael Chabon comes to mind... and lit fic IS my bailiwick, in fact. But here's my problem: I was born in the wrong freakin' century! When people compare your writing style to Dickens', you know you're in trouble - at least in this literary era. I happen to love Dickens, but I'm in a minority, methinks. Sigh."

Yep, that'll do, pig.

L. T. Host said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
L. T. Host said...

I don't remember the comment I left on that post, but I do remember that I feel kind of the same way as Laura, haha. I love big words-- I feel like a writer that uses them is teaching me. I agree that too many is too much, it can feel like you're reading a research paper at that point. But a handful here and there opens new doors of vocabulary for me and I can definitely appreciate that.

Hope the move is going well :)

Laura Martone said...

Oh, poop. I meant to wish you good luck on your move, but L.T. beat me to it. Nerts.

Anyway, I hope you and the wife enjoy living in San Antonio - and being so close to Austin. It's weird how many pals live there now.

As someone who moves around more often than she'd like, I can sympathize with the boxes... just take it one box at a time. It'll get done eventually!

Rick Daley said...

I think it all depends on context. I have a MG novel, and there are a few places where I throw vocabulary bombs in, but I try to do it in a way that gives a very strong contextual realization for the word, so the reader will not need to turn to the dictionary to understand the word.

Taryn Tyler said...

I think the trick is to use the word (if you must use one) in a context that defines it without being repetative, thus fooling the reader into thinking they already knew what it meant.

Bane of Anubis said...

Laura, a Babe reference... makes me smile every time.

LT, Laura, yeah the move's going as well as possible. My SIL lives in Austin. Great city if you don't have to drive it. San Antonio's easier to drive, not quite so cultural, but equally pretty (in Texas terms)... happy so far.

Rick, I've always liked the way you throw your big words in. Clever, humorous, etc.

Taryn, excellent point. Use the word that best fits, for sure, but sometimes we (read: I) find ourselves using fancy words unnecessarily.

Michele Emrath said...

I love that Laura left the same comment! I wonder if I commented then...

Whatever. Unfortunately, many writers never get over this tendency!

Michele
SouthernCityMysteries