Editing Tip #113 – The Vocab Controversy

Don’t trust someone who claims there’s only one right way to do something. This kind of fatalistic advice (do this or die) will only hurt you in the long run. My ire on the topic (oooo, look, I used a word that someone might have to check the definition of) stems from reading other people’s posts on how best to tighten your writing. I can’t believe the number of times I’ve read these words:

Don’t use a complex word where a simple one will do.

This is not where I start the teeth gnashing and personal pulling of hair, no, it’s the following absolute that paints my vision crimson:

You have to use words that people are familiar with in order for them to understand what you mean.

BULL S**T!!!

Sorry for yelling, but if you ascribe to this notion of how best to write you are going to cause a blood clot in your work (eventually).

Here’s the thing.

IF your narrative voice, or the voice of a character, would realistically use a more complex or high-falutin jargony-type word, then use it. Be true to your character. Don’t feel chained by some random advice that says you can’t write that way because it will confuse people.

NO. Just don’t listen to them.

This is where your craft comes into play. Regardless of what word (big, small, long, short, complex, simple), the way you’ve phrased the sentence its in, and the ideas surrounding it, the meaning will be clear to the reader. They should be able to say in the back of their mind, “Huh? Okay – I get it.” and keep reading.

Honestly, if we never challenge our readers, the common reading age for books will decrease from grade 8 to grade 2 (it’s actually getting closer to grade 6 these days but I’m not willing to admit that just yet). As it is, I still prefer to write at a grade 11 level – I’m an English teacher and I’ve loved words my whole life, so that’s not about to change 😉

The short of it is:

If it makes sense to the scene, the moment, and the character – then keep it.

The long of it is:

If it’s just you trying to sound self-important or you’ve stumbled upon a difficult synonym to another word you’re sick of using, try again.

Happy Editing!

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Categories: Editing

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