1. MFreak
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    MFreak New Member

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    Does overuse in large words repel readers

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MFreak, Jun 9, 2010.

    Most people will agree that you have to add some flare to your writing, and using large and descriptive words can help to do this. My question is how much is too much? Is there such a thing as too much?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It depends on your audience. Some people like it, some don't. I would wager a guess that the average reader is not going to like coming across big words often. Also, you don't have to use big words to be a great writer. Hemingway is a great example of this.
     
  3. MFreak
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    MFreak New Member

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    Thank you for the response. I feel that my problem is I am still not aware of what audience I am after. Hopefully if I just write the way I feel most comfortable an audience will find me.
     
  4. Shinn
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    Shinn Banned

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    Bingo! I'm sure your writing style will find an audience out there somewhere :)
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It would be my suggestion to not use big words when more direct language is available.
     
  6. Smelnick
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    Smelnick Member

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    It depends entirely on your target audience and what type of story you're writing. If you're writing a story about young kids in highschool, using big words would seem out of place. However, if you're writing a story about some scientist discussing something scientific with another scientist. Or describing something technological or philosophically profound, larger words would not seem out of place.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    agreed.
    Here, I disagree. Using well-chosen words will add flare to your writing. A clear, concise description that evokes a compelling image for the reader will be far more effective than a sonorous, flowery deluge of verbiage that looks like someone vomited a thesaurus upon the page.

    Seek clarity. Brilliant, crystalline clarity. True flare is potent images in the reader's imagination. You'll never attain that if the reader has to stop at every third word to flip through a dictionary.

    Each writer needs to find his or her voice, the unique style and flow that distinguishes his or her writing. Your voice can be as lyrical as Ray Bradbury, folksy as Mark Twain, or darkly cynical like Raymond Chandler, but your fans, should you have any, will recognize it as yours.

    But, like sex, it's not the size of your - vocabulary, nut how well you use it.
     
  8. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    It preference, I think.

    Big words, to me, are annoying. It's like those long foreign names that I hate in really long novels.
     
  9. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    @Cogito's comment :D

    MFreak, I had the same doubts myself and asked a similar question in a thread titled "Big Words vs Simple Words". I had been given some good advice by many people including Cog. I think you should read that.
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that overuse of large words might repel readers, but that you do need to add some flair.

    What are the reasons for using long words? Here are a few I can think of off the top of my head (or exsupracranially [1], if you like).
    • To show off that you know long words: bad.
    • In dialogue, to show that a character is pompous: good unless overused.
    • In narrative, to maintain narrative focus with characters who use long words: good, but advanced.
    • Because the long word is the perfect word for the situation: ideal.

    As for descriptive words, be careful with them. They can help add colour to a passage, but add too much and it ends up purple.

    [1] Don't bother looking it up. I just invented it.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you just beat me to the 'flare/flair' correction, dig!

    i agree with your and cog's comments especially, along with some of the other cautions about the issue...

    overuse, misuse, and inappropriate use of fancy words comes off as pompous and pretentious, screams 'amateur' to agents and editors, so should be avoided at all costs... stick to that best of all axioms for writers: 'less is more'... and it's old army version, 'K.I.S.S.!'

    love and hugs, maia
     
  12. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    As was mentioned, you need to find the best word, whether it is a long one, or a short one. However... you need to be careful with the words you choose. If it is a word that no one every uses in life, then you are going to confuse people. Most readers won't go get a dictionary when they find a word they are not familiar with. They will likely keep on reading and will most likely still be able to grasp the meaning of the sentence. In this case a hard word here and there can be pretty educational.
    However, if the reader can't decipher the sentence because it is filled with difficult words, they might miss a very important plot point, or worse, put down the book and find something easier to read.
     
  13. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    I like big words. I don't generally use them in my writing though. Even in my speech it's not often that I use words that are extremely out there. I just love learning new words though. So what I generally do is try to use different words so that it doesn't all sound redundant. Just not things that are extremely out there. :p
     
  14. Irish87
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    Irish87 Contributing Member

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    I'm with Cogito. No reason for me to actually post this reply, I just wanted to back him up.
     
  15. VegasGeorge
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    VegasGeorge Member

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    I'm a bit confused by this discussion of "large," "long," and "big" words. I don't know how the size of a word makes any difference at all. It's the common usage of the word that makes a difference. I don't mind being sent to the dictionary three or four times while reading a novel. More than that and I start getting annoyed thinking the author is doing it on purpose. I've only known a handful of people who's written vocabulary is significantly greater than mine. But anyone can dig through a thesaurus and dictionary looking for unusual relatively unknown words.
     
  16. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    You're asking a couple of questions here. Only you can know whether large and descriptive words will fit the story you're telling, because if you're writing from a "standard" point of view, your vocab will be limited to what your character would see, or if you're doing omnicient third-person, limited to your own personal vocabulary. You will probably do well to use words your point of view character would know.

    Example: You're writing (let us say) a fantasy journey story, with three main characters. The one is a bond-servant to a king, meaning someone who was involved in crime and would've been hung from the neck except the king had use for a bodyguard and (for various reasons) doesn't trust his own guards. Another is the king's son, who is trying to learn the business of leading, and having trouble because his knee was hit wrong in a tourney and he can't run very well, or walk long distances. The third main character is a military man and ally to the king, from another kingdom entirely.

    Each one will have a different voice. The bodyguard is a criminal; he will know slang, and will pay attention to the filth of the streets or the way someone walks (which indicates their background and health and state of being armed or not), and will pay attention to rougher things. The king's son will know political words, and words for weapons and fighting techniques, and might know how to describe (using large words) different methods of dress, and art styles, and food flavors, but might not know much about the common folk or how to describe farming tools. The military man may be able to use huge multisyllabic words when discussing tactics and defensive structures, but he may not be able to describe a garden beyond "There were flowers, yellow ones on tall bushes and climbing plants with small purple flowers like bells." He simply may not know the difference between "petal" and "flower" and "stem." (Seriously, why would it matter? These plants aren't food plants, which he would be familiar with. They're ornamental. And some flowers have fused petals, so he may even come from a region where the word "petal" has no meaning.)

    Understand what I'm getting at? The vocabulary must suit the story.

    If you are writing noir mystery, that means less description than a fantasy epic from the point of view of a would-be poet with nothing to do all day but sit sore in a saddle and look at scenery. And your personal style can come into it, as well. The guy who wrote Old Yeller and its sequel tended to have sparse description. He'd describe a valley as "boxed in on three sides. There was a watering hole downslope from the valley mouth, and it was ringed with trees." That's it. We can picture the scene, so he doesn't go into describing the tree species and the length of their leaves and the color of their bark. Part of this is that it doesn't matter, story-wise; the characters will be here only briefly. And part of it is that the main character is a farmer boy in his teens, who hasn't read much and has other things on his mind than waxing lyrical.

    On the other hand, if the above sounds hard, don't let it paralyse you. Story trumps prose. Say it three times, ten times, a hundred times if the paragraphs above make you want to freeze up and stop writing because you're worried you'll get it wrong somehow. Story trumps prose. Readers don't give a damn about your description if the story is awesome. They may notice and give you bonus points, but if the story is riveting they don't really care whether you use "bad smell" or "fetor" to get the idea across.

    Writers across the entire spectrum, from Hemingway (tiny words used well) to Charles Stross (oh god the vocabulary, I can say as an MIT student that he's hard to read, or at least some of his work is), both of whom are known authors. There is no one right way. Just find a story you think is interesting, and write it.
     
  17. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Big words can be a pain for me. Obviously, they have their place. I wouldn't say don't use them at all. They are like a spice. Have none of them, and you're recipe could turn out somewhat bland and basic, even if it isn't bad or inedible. But add too much, and it could become bad and inedible. I feel you need to choose words carefully, ocassionally using some new and interesting words when the scene calls for it and the picture can be benefited from it. Don't go out of your way to make yourself sound like somebody who has memorized a thesaurus, but don't use only simple vocabulary. Like everything else, it's all about knowing what the proper balance is.
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i have a larger vocabulary than most 'lay people' and even writers, but it still annoys the heck out of me to see writing rife with ten-buck words when two-bit ones would do a better job... and annoyance rises to rage, when they're misused, to boot...
     
  19. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    That's a good way to put it. It's like salt or garlic. A little bit will do just fine. Too much and there is no way it's going to be eaten. :p
     

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