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.