Let’s Talk about Writing (pt 2)

I realized last time I started with “this is a rant, so let’s start with talking about the thing that’s been plaguing me recently.” then spent the next ten paragraphs only talking about that. I mean, it wasn’t a lie. I did start with Show Don’t Tell, but I never went on to something, as the phrase implies. So, this is me going on. I was going to talk about editing, but that is soooo boring to talk about and really, I’m here writing this rant in order to avoid editing. It just seems wrong to write about something while also avoiding that something. Which means we get to talk about Vocabulary!

One of the things I debate all the time is whether a word is too… obscure. I want to say ostentatious but golly that word is ostentatious. (Heh). But to the point, sometimes obscure words take away from a story. If I read a sentence that has a word I do not know, I love it. I love learning new words and looking them up. But, it also breaks me away from the story. If I’m reading a fight seen that is just dripping with tension and I see a word that I don’t know, it can totally wreck the mood.

It’s a struggle, and more often than not I’ve decided I want to risk it. Because, sometimes that odd, fairly pretentious term is just perfect for that scene, or that description. It’s usually not worth finding a more common word when another, albeit less prevalent phrase works so well. And you owe it to your readers to give them the benefit of the doubt. They may know the word, and even if they don’t, context can get them through that sentence and if all else fails, a quick google search. I don’t think sacrificing story for cool words is a good idea, and that may be biased, but sometimes sanguine is the only way to describe a knife.

But sanguine brings us to another vocab related issue. Words that mean more than one thing. Ooooh how I hate them. Sanguine is an especially good example because most people learned it to mean “positive in a bad situation”, and that is the common definition. But me, no, I’m too weird for that. I learned the word sanguine right after I learned the word exsanguination, which means “the process by which blood is removed from the body.” So, for me, sanguine will always mean bloody, or blood red. And it does! It’s just an obscure, archaic meaning.

This is true of a lot of words. Arcane simply means “understood by few”, but because of fantasy stories the general perception is that it has some magical meaning. And there is a long list of even more common words. These, these are trickier. Loath as I am to admit it, I try to avoid these words. And if sanguine really is the only way to describe that knife, I feel I need to make sure the readers understand from context that it means bloody.

Anywho, this is all for now. Big vocabularies can make reading things more difficult, but I believe readers are up for the challenge. I am also a huge fan of words, so I think no one should skimp on their lexicons when writing. That said, it’s always helpful to keep in mind what readers may think when reading your words, and the many possible definitions. I’m sure I will have more to say about vocab in the future.


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