1. LuminousTyto
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    LuminousTyto Senior Member

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    The larger your vocabulary the better for your writing?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by LuminousTyto, Jul 6, 2012.

    I tried writing six months ago but it seemed I had trouble finding words to describe things. I never did much reading when I was younger so I decided to catch up on that to try and boost my vocabulary. Been reading 5-6 hours a day five days a week for the last six months!

    I can definitely tell there's a large improvement, but I know there's room for more, so I might continue my reading crusade for a few more months. Been using my digital dictionary and collecting words I have trouble remembering in notepad documents. I plan on going back over those some time.

    Anyways, just wanted to know your thoughts, and if you have trouble finding words to describe things?
     
  2. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    ...And that's why reading is important when you're writing. Not only does it increase your vocab, but it also inspires you..and is generally fun.
    Anyway, to answer your question....yes and sometimes no. Yes, because you can obviously use a variety of interesting ways to describe things. Also, you find more words for different kind of actions. For example, strolled and walked. To me, they're not the same thing. They give different images to the reader and using the right one helps them imagine it better :D

    Although, I say no because sometimes, people go all 'purple prosey' and use stupid amounts of complicated vocab. This might look 'cool' and 'complicated' to them, but really it's just confusing and most of the time doesn't even make sense. To avoid this?
    So use your vocab wisely :3

    I don't have much trouble describing things, considering my current POV is first person who's a teenager. So highly complicated vocab isn't needed anyway.

    Hope that helped.
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Of course, having a large vocabulary is an advantage in writing, but having one doesn't mean you should always use big, obscure words where common words will do. Remember, you're not trying to impress the reader with unfamiliar words; you're trying to impress the reader with the right words. Having a large vocabulary helps you know what the right words are.

    Your "reading crusade" shouldn't be a thing that lasts only a few months. Reading a lot should be a lifetime habit - remember that reading is not a chore, but an endless joy.

    I rarely have trouble finding the right words, but I've been reading obsessively since I was a child - since I learned to read, in fact. My vocabulary is pretty darn good.
     
  4. TheTrain
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    TheTrain Member

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    I use the handy thesaurus, just type into google: synonym for... Then read everything there, even after you found the word you wanted. I've always had a great vocabulary, but after doing that for a year I'm much further along than I would be normally. I also look for unusual words as well; remember, google is your friend. I admit that reading other authors is effective, but why not spam a thesaurus as well? Having words is one thing though, being able to use them is another. ;)
     
  5. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    It helps, but it doesn't help very much, and it does not make a good writer.

    Honestly. Sometimes the best writing just cuts through the bullshit.
     
  6. randi.lee
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    randi.lee New Member

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    I agree with not using big fluffy words. You want your reader to understand what you're reading without a dictionary nearby. So having a bigger vocab. can hinder more than help... sometimes.
     
  7. Mark_Archibald
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    Mark_Archibald Active Member

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    Reading helps if you stop and look up words that you don't understand. With older novels like 'Lord of the Rings' some of the words are irrelevant. When I write I always have an online thesaurus open in my browser. If I write something like:

    "Toby made a cake."

    I type the word 'made' into the thesaurus and find a more colourful word.

    It does help to have a large vocabulary, if you have a grade 10 vocab, and you don't use a thesaurus than you end up with a simple A, B, C writing style.
     
  8. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    I have a pretty extensive vocabulary and am even teased at work for the big words I use in every day conversation, that just seem...normal to me. However, when I sit down to write, it just seems like I have to struggle to find the right words to describe things. Calling a character's hair gray may seem trite, but even something as simple as describing it as silver takes forever to think of. I think because when I write, the pressure is on, and in that I blank out.
     
  9. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    On the other hand I usually surprise myself with the right word I come up with despite my limited vocab (I am a non-native speaker and haven't read much). That may be because I put no pressure on myself while writing. Frankly I am quite taken aback by so many people here worrying about the opening sentence, publishing, ending, trilogy, character traits, and what not before they even start writing the story. Anyway, like the OP I am reading and constantly trying to expand my vocab and learning the finer details of fiction writing. But the bottom line is that I have written publishable stories with the limited words in my disposal.
     
  10. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Reading helps immensely, of course. And actually, I used to read the dictionary when I was bored (that was brought up to me at a class reunion!). I'm a little hesitant at the thesaurus thing. It's great when you just can't think of the word you know, but can be disastrous when you're just trying to find a different word to use. Context is everything so be sure you really understand the new word before plugging it in.
     
  11. maidahl
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    maidahl Banned

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    Showing off a thesaurus is never good news. Big linguistic turn-off.
     
  12. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    I prefer to write simply and directly. Having a broad vocabulary is handy, but it's no replacement for telling a good story, and too often gets in the way.
     
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  13. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    The larger your vocabulary the better your writing?
    Absolutely not! Well ... to an extent, anyway. Obviously, you need to have a fairly good working vocabulary to start with. But there comes a point of diminishing returns when you reach a point beyond the truly necessary vocab to accomplish any particular task.
    (I heard a college co-ed complain to her non-collegiate boyfriend that he was showing off by using "big, fancy words" because he referred to a disagreement he'd had with his boss as a "verbal altercation". Big Words!!?!)
    So it is definitely important to have a decent grasp on the language, whichever language you may be using, but it is more important to be able to use the words you do have to the best of your ability. After all, if you've got all the twenty dollar words in the dictionary but totally suck at being able to string them together coherently to create something interesting, you may as well be wordless.

    Now, having said that, I would encourage you to keep reading and keep learning and keep growing. It's never a waste to learn something new.


    How beautifully put ... on both counts! I, too, was blessed with a great education, reasonably decent intelligence, and a grandmother who prized knowledge. As a child, I always exhibited an expansive vocabulary many years beyond my age. It's easy to take it for granted.
     
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  14. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    The biggest turn off to me is when I sense that a writer is attempting to show how smart he is and how many words he knows by inserting obscure or "big" words into a story when they aren't necessary -- you know, the 'never use a short word when a longer word will do' kind of philosophy seeps through. If a more typical/common word would carry the same meaning and in some cases would be even more appropriate in a certain sentence, then the author's use of the more obscure word has the opposite effect of what a writer should want -- instead of clearly conveying the author's thoughts, they obscure them.

    That said, sometimes a "high value" word is, in fact, the best word to use. In those cases, it helps to have a large vocabulary.

    In short, having a large vocabulary is NEVER going to be harmful or a bad thing. What can cause problems is when an author's goal is to show how big his vocabulary is, instead of most succinctly and clearly telling his story.
     
  15. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    You know what is classified as "silver" hair and what is called "white" hair are two uniquely different things. Line up a half dozen senior citizens and compare ... truly compare their hair colors. You might discover that no two of them have the same color hair. And, if the person's hair was blond prior to turning, it will be a starkly different color of grey than a person whose hair was previously red, or black, auburn or brunette.

    So maybe it takes forever to come up with the word "silver" to describe a person's hair color because your brain knows more than you think it does and it's filtering through all the different shades and tones of grey before it offers "silver" as the final option!
     
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  16. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Chicagoliz, consider your <LIKE> button officially clicked!
     
  17. Michipanda
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    Michipanda Member

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    I agree overly linguistic works are hard to comprehend and sometimes cause readers to lose interest, but I think having an extensive vocabulary is important too. For instance if you're depicting a character that's complicated like Sherlock Holmes in all his brilliance, using simple grammar or vocabulary could take away some of the element that you want that character to have. Also, rather than having a good vocabulary, I work towards being a good wordsmith. If you're an excellent wordsmith, no matter what type or level or grade of vocabulary you are using, you will be able to captivate your readers and keep them engage in your story.
     
  18. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    :)

    We need a "like" button.
     
  19. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    A board spectrum vocabulary is an admirable thing to acquire, but it is the litany and quality of one's writing that really matters. By reading you gain a more rounded sense of the words, seeing them in action. The thesaurus is second cousin to the white elephant in the room, massive and intruding. As to the final portion, do I have trouble describing things. No. Like anything it takes practice.

    - Darkkin
     
  20. lasm
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    lasm Member

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    I'm all for simple language, but sometimes the big word is the right word. I'm not talking about "purple prose" or trying to impress people, I'm talking about using the word that best conveys exactly what you mean. The more words you know, the more options you have. The trick is to pick the right one.
     
  21. Samo
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    Samo Member

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    With broader knowledge you are better equipped to make the correct choice. When you fully comprehend a word, you'll not only know why you should or should not use it, you'll also understand why a seemingly simpler word is better suited
     
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  22. LuminousTyto
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    LuminousTyto Senior Member

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    Thanks for the posts everybody!

    Yeah I'm not trying to learn more vocabulary because I want to be showy, I just want to be able to use the right words at the right times.

    But yeah I was having some trouble finding even basic vocabulary for my writing. As I've said, I never really read much when I was younger and I need to do some catching up. I'm not going to quit reading, but I will read less when I start writing 6-8 hours a day (lotta free time). I'll probably cut back to around 2-3 hours a day, which I think 10-25 hours a week of reading isn't too bad.

    Anyways, I appreciate your posts everyone! : )
     
  23. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Try reading poetry - it will show you how to use familiar words but in a unique way to describe things.
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Size doesn't matter. Skill matters.

    A huge vocabulary of marginally understood words will make your writing worse.
     
  25. LuminousTyto
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    LuminousTyto Senior Member

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    Nah, that's not what I'm going for. When I come across a word a don't know I always look it up in my digital dictionary and then paste it into my collection of words. I plan on studying the words in those collections that I decide are actually useful and common enough that people will know them.
     

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