1. A lake.
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    A lake. Member

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    Broken words.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by A lake., Mar 21, 2016.

    I know that we should all use as many words as possible, but if the reader has to stop to look up the meaning of some obscure word doesn't that break the writing? How do you know which word will work best?
     
  2. Sundowner
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    Sundowner Member

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    Why use as many words as possible, again? I thought people hated that. Trying to mix up your writing with a bunch of ridiculous synonyms usually just comes off as pretentious and alienating. Just use a few common synonyms and different ways of phrasing things, and alternate between them if you're writing about the same thing for two whole paragraphs. Make your writing interesting, not confusing. You want to dance, not jump around like a monkey on cocaine.

    You just have to use common sense and empathy for choosing the right words. Just look back on how people usually talk and see if you remember anyone ever casually using that word. If you're not sure, just use the word in an obvious setting. Make it obvious what the word means just by character actions and context.
     
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Quite simply, use the word that fits. If the reader has to stop to look it up, that's perfectly fine. On the other hand, if you're using simple words that don't quite work in context, you're cheating the reader.
     
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  4. Witchymama
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    Witchymama Active Member

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    I can't tell you the number of times I have figured out what an unknown word was just based on the context.
     
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  5. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    And usually this is a sign of good writing.
     
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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    If someone gave you the above advice as advice, it's bad advice. You should use the words that work best. Pillaging that great cemetery known as the dictionary is no guaranty at all of any end outcome, either good or bad.

    As mentioned above, context should at least give a hint so that the reader can continue on and maybe later look up the word for clarification. If the use is utterly opaque and context gives no help, then you have crossed into the zone of incomprehension. Where exactly is that line? Hard to say. Depends on the reader, really. Not long ago I made use of the verb brachiate in a short story and this gave a few people pause. To me, the word was completely lucid and I felt that the context was clear. But, it turns out, not to all.
     
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  7. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Just for curiosity, would you know the word 'flensed'?
     
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  8. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Never heard of flensed before ... had to look it up.
    I think I have a pretty good vocabulary, if I need to look up one or two words in a novel I'm fine with it I like to learn new words. If I read a chapter that has 15 unknown words, I get annoyed.
     
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  9. A lake.
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    A lake. Member

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    I know I've seen flensed used in some forgotten realms book.
     
  10. IHaveNoName
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    IHaveNoName Active Member

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    Ooh, ooh, I know! It means "to flay", as in "remove the skin or hide from a living being". I also know that "brachiate" means "to swing through the trees" (like a monkey), but I'm a freak like that. :)

    On the subject of odd words, I ran across one in the book I'm reading now (The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu; a really good fantasy novel, so far): enfeoff, which means "to invest with a freehold estate in land". I got the rough meaning from the context (it was talking about the Emperor enfeoffing newly instated nobles), but it was still a little jarring. Could he have used a better word? Maybe, but I doubt it - it fit the tone, and it was the proper word to use in that situation. Sometimes you just have to go with something obscure. That's how we expand our vocabulary.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure if you're joking here? Because, no, we shouldn't all use as many words as possible.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    When I was taking Gotham writing courses, I submitted a short story that used the word "gibbous." Not one student knew what I was talking about and they all complained to me.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my mind, H.P. Lovecraft owns that word.
     
  14. Hypatios
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    Hypatios New Member

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    I think there's something to be said for using artful synonyms of things, but there's a line you can cross between interesting and obscuring. My thoughts on hyper-technical words like brachiate (gibbous in my mind falls into this too but YMMV) is that they're obscuring more than they're revealing, which shouldn't be what you're attempting to do with writing. Every word ought to tell you something, even if it's not expository: for example, you can construct tone with a good synonym.
     
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  15. uncephalized
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    uncephalized Active Member

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    Yes. And ew, thanks for reminding me.
     
  16. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    This should be a thread by itself. It touches on a basket of kittens I recently discovered, named 'resonances', or 'associations'. As in, every word produces one, and if you - the narrator - knows what you are doing they pile up. If not, they cancel out like so much white noise. Laws of physics, applied to writing ;)

    @uncephalized : Huh? Did I do something wrong?
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2016
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  17. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I remember that conversation! Aha! :superwink:
     
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  18. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Remember, its a term about mutilating dead whales. So ew is appropriate.
     
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  19. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Not really. A good vocabulary isn't about using obscure words, or words people need to look up but simply by using the words you already have in fresh ways. It's not to say you can't use a difficult word but sometimes if your prose isn't up to that level ( or your story ) it just looks out of place.

    I was critiquing someone's work a few weeks back and they kept using words like inimical when something easy like hostile would've worked better.

    A good way to improve how you use the vocabulary you have is by reading poetry, watch how they describe things - very crisp, and their use of verbs. There's a whole story and idea being told in a very limited use of words.
     
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  20. TheRealStegblob
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    TheRealStegblob Active Member

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    Actually to be technical "flense" means to strip fat or blubber away from muscle, where "flay" just means to peel the skin off. Minor technicalities will be the death of you, after all.
     
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  21. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Most people will understand the meaning of a new word when in context of what they're reading.
    You know how many times I wrote a word and stopped because I realized I didn't know it's definition?
    But when I looked it up, it was the perfect word.

    Use the words that fit in the context without being overly grandiose.
    Readers will understand them whether consciously or not.
     
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  22. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I don't believe I have ever looked a word up in a dictionary. They were all perfectly understandable in context..
     
  23. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    You might want to try looking up a few obscure words sometime. I have frequently found that some of the more unusual words are used wrong or have meanings other than for which they are more commonly used.

    conflagration is a good one that I've often seen used to mean a general mess instead of a large fire.
    decimation is another frequently wrongly used word.
    And it drives me INSANE when people use unconscious when they really mean subconscious!
    Unconscious has been used wrong so often that it now is defined being little different than subconscious. Nobody does anything unconsciously other than lay down.
     
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  24. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I will do that if I ever find the need, indeed in writing I sometimes look up synonyms and it helps ;)
     
  25. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I'ts only with dead whales.
     
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