Writing: Big Convoluted Words

My sister was the one who told me that the English I write are too simple. She’s used to needing a dictionary to get through most of the more ‘serious’ novels she reads. These are usually the genres outside of the young adult category in what I call the ‘tweens’ section.

Of course, that’s not really true that I write lightly. I pulled out a random page from the book she was speaking of and tried to find a few words she did not understand. Lo-and-behold, they were right there.

I simply wrote in a manner where I could explain complex words within paragraphs while still co-opting a thesaurus. What do I mean by this?

For example, take the title of this blog entry, for instance. Convoluted is a relatively complex word. It’s definitely not something that slips off the tongue, hence the meaning, nor is it commonly used. There are a small number of people who do not know the definition of the word. But simply by adding ‘big’ before it, everyone knows, I simply means ‘complex words’.

Phrases like “haphazard debris field” or “canvassing the scenic view” are just a few other examples of explanation through adjectives. See, I did it again. Those who aren’t really paired into the rules of the language might not know what an ‘adjective’ is, but by putting ‘descriptive words’ before it, the phrase is self explanatory.

For papers and other official documents, this form of writing is more annoying than helpful. However, when it comes to writing fiction, I find it a great method for penning a scene.

Because a ‘meandering river’ just doesn’t feel as alive as a ‘confused, meandering river’. The second adjective gives it a little personality while covering misunderstood gaps. Just as a ‘bleeding wound’ misses the ooze of a ‘wound coagulating and bleeding’.

And it helps in the long run in keeping readers’ attentions, I feel. It doesn’t break away from the story because of unknown words, due to there being two adjectives. If you don’t understand one of them, there’s another to fill the in space. There’s not need to step aside and check a dictionary. No double-take to reread a line.

Honestly, doing such a thing is just more work on my part. I write most of these phrases during the first round of edits, where I replace words or sentences if I felt the words within them had been overused in a paragraph. I go full thesaurus on them.

In truth, there’s no such need for me to do this. I could simply use those neurologically caustic effigies of bombastic adjectives on the first go. Or just as well use easily understandable words and phrases.

But personally, I believe that a written work is meant to be read by as many people as possible, and while I know my readers aren’t stupid, it would be foolish to think everyone has the same sized vocabulary as another.

If someone reading my work needs to stop and check a dictionary, or is put-off because the words used are too ‘pompous’ sounding, which is an actual thing that people really feel, then I have failed.

I want to write for everyone, which means I must consider every reader I can, short of writing in a different language. In the end, choosing to use less of those “big words” is partly a moral choice and in another a technical decision.

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2 Comments

  1. Personally I don’t think it is necessary to use big, complex words all the time and I don’t think a piece of work is more or less deep whether it uses them or not.

    As with everything in writing, it all comes down to relevance. For example if you were describing a distinguished looking character or a grand building, you may of course wish to use some convoluted words as these may help further conjure the grandness of the person or place, but the words you use should convey the scene and serve a purpose. Using long words for long words sake is a bad thing when it comes to writing a story (IMO anyway).

    For example a friend of mine used to take into account the length and the sound of a word (for example for sound you might say something akin to ‘babbling brook’ because just saying the word even in your head creates something similar to the sound being described and helps the reader connect with the scene. It doesn’t have to be babbling of course. Gurgling, chortling … those kinds of words could replace it. If they were describing something large or that stretched on (such as a city or a ship or space itself) they might use longer, convoluted words that expressed it (for example ‘colossal’ or ‘cavernous’ are a bigger and more appropriate words than ‘vast’ or ‘giant’ and help add to the extensiveness of what they are trying to convey). Conversely, when they had quick, rapid events they tried to keep their words and sentences short and snappy.

    There are also other factors such as what kind of book you are writing and for what audience – if the piece is more light hearted it might benefit from simpler language, if it is grim and gritty the language you use should reflect that (and that does not always mean complex is better in either case!) and of course the younger your intended reader, the better you are to keep language a little simpler.

    How a writer uses language, be it simple and easily understood or more complex, can shape their work and a book filled to the brim with words that sends even the most seasoned reader to a dictionary does not make it a deeper, better piece of work. In fact I quite agree with you – having to constantly run to the dictionary to figure out what that word means so you can visualise and understand the scene is very distracting and breaks pace. I also like the way you handle it with multiple descriptors. I think this is very effective.

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    1. You’re right, it does come down to how a writer does it. Style and audience are all important factors. Personally, I hate reusing the same word or phrase within a paragraph, so I do my hardest to not let that happen. Even if I need a descriptor for an object 8 times, I will do my best to come up with 8 (minimum 4) different ways to describe it.

      And it’s true the complex words doesn’t guarantee a good work of writing. Always good to hear your thoughts on these. Nice add-ons, I’d say.

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