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  1. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Too many big words

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by DBTate, Aug 29, 2011.

    Hey everyone,

    At the moment I'm mulling over the fact that my writing seems to be too 'academic'.

    For example, would it be best to write that the character was wet like:

    Mary Sue eased out of the shower, careful not to lose her footing on the lubricated tiles. She shivered as the cold air met her wet skin, each drop of water that had survived the initial attack from her towel magnifying the chill that ran over her.

    or

    Mary Sue got out of the shower, dripping wet and cold.

    Both are fairly exagerated examples obviously. Is the way in which you describe things, or write in general, dependant on the audience you intend to write for? I hope this is not the case, as I do not like to have a particular audience in mind when writing.

    It often feels like I am trying to use 'big words' in place of simple, effective writing. This is something I like to refer to as the essay syndrome :p

    Does anyone have this problem? Any advice on shaking this terrible habit? It is not something I do consciously, it just seems to happen (makes for very frustrating editing).
     
  2. Sevvie
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    Sevvie Member

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    I tend to think that it comes down to style. Which do you prefer to write? If writing the first example is your natural style that you are comfortable with, and you enjoy writing, then don't let yourself think that it's too much.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with highly detailed writing, and I personally enjoy it more, most of the time.

    Although a lot of it really matters on your audience. If you're just writing for yourself, and/or you don't have a particular audience, then write however you darn well please. :)

    Also I would like to point out that it is not a bad habit :p
     
  3. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I think it depends on what audience you're writing for. That first example wasn't confusing at all, but in YA novel you're less likely to find something detailed like that.

    I don't think there's anything bad about it if that's how you naturally write...now if you're purposely putting big words there, then that's another problem.
     
  4. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    I think the main problem is that I feel like I'm stuck between audiences. Although I don't like to believe I'm writing for anyone in particular, I understand that if I am ever to have my work published, it does need to be suitable for a particular audience.

    The problem then is, who am I writing for? I feel like if I write YA I tend to have this problem of writing in a way that is not suitable for YA readers, though I don't particularly consider my work aimed at an older audience either.

    This leaves me in limbo, somewhere between example A and example B.

    Should I just write however I want, and worry about the audience afterwards? This seems like it would cause a lot of unnecessary work in editing?
     
  5. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't say it's about academic writing or using words that target a specific audience. There's clean, strong writing and then there's florid overwriting. Your first example has a touch of overwriting. Your second example is certainly clean, maybe not strong. But not every sentence in a novel has to sizzle. Some can just be clean and succinct. What you must strive for is creating the strongest image with the least amount of words. That applies when writing to any audiences. A big, obscure word is pointless if the exact same image can be conveyed with a shorter word, and such methods don't make the prose sound academic, but pretentious. Let's look at your first example

    Mary Sue eased out Eased is much stronger than 'got out'. It creates a clearer image, so this one gets a tick of the shower, careful not to lose her footing on the lubricated Does lubricated evoke anything more vivid than wet? Not really, so the big word is dead weight tiles. She shivered as the cold air met her wet skin, each drop of water that had survived the initial attack from her towel magnifying the chill that ran over her. This last sentence is clear overwriting, and redundant. You're belaboring the point that she's wet and cold, using too many words to create a simple image.
     
  6. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Thanks for the detailed insight. I like the point that it is better to convey something using smaller, simpler words. It's not that I try to use the biggest words in my vocabulary with each sentence, it just sometimes feels very overdone.

    And the examples were purely for an idea of what I was talking about, I wouldn't have written either if it were serious. Though I appreciate the way you made your point using them, as this made things a lot clearer.

    Thanks again :)
     
  7. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Big words aren't the problem. The wrong words are.

    eg wet v. lubricated. Lubricated doesn't work too well, not because it's big, but because it suggests the tiles have been purposefully wetted.
     
  8. Flowerfairy
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    Flowerfairy Senior Member

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    You may also want to consider that not your whole audience speak English as their mother-tongue. There is a fine line between story-telling and a mere show of words. It's a flop when your readers struggle to connect with your story, a more dreadful slop when a good story is overshadowed by excessive word usage.
     
  9. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think that should have any bearing on your writing.

    However, using too many/the wrong words should be avoided. The last sentence especially seems overly dramatic to me.

    Certainly I would keep the audience you intend to address in mind, somewhere.
     
  10. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think whether or not something is too many words will depend on a lot of things. Certainly getting out of the shower doesn't seem like something you'd want to really spend too much time on unless it's really relevant to the plot. But something more significant might merit more words. I don't think there's really any rules or even guidelines to really go for. Write the story and if you feel it's too wordy, you can tighten it up.
     
  11. Flowerfairy
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    Flowerfairy Senior Member

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    Yep. I agree with you on that.
     
  12. Spynal
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    Spynal New Member

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    I think it depends upon how the scene benefits from the description. Does it provide an overwhelming amount of information which isn't necessary?

    I don't think there is anything necessarily wrong when writing in a highly detailed style. Most of my favorite non-fiction writers are highly detailed and relatively convoluted. It isn't a style of writing which is easily accessible though. As you said, it reads more of like an essay than a leisurely read haha.

    I don't have a particular audience in mind when I write. I usually just pen down whatever I think flows the best and aids the story/scene, sometimes that is simplicity, but other times it may be highly descriptive.

    With that being said, I wouldn't describe it as a "terrible habit", unless it sounds forced and unnatural.

    I don't think it hurts the reader to go visit the dictionary every now and then, but the main focus is to tell a story and to entertain your audience.
     
  13. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    It has nothing to do with audience or style. Both examples were simply bad. The first was over written, the last under.


    Lubricated tiles? Umm, no. Each drop of water that had survived the initial attack from her towel magnifying...etc. Umm, bleh.

    KISS:

    Stop worrying about what audience you're writing for. Marketing is the cart your writing needs to be pulling, not trying to push. Just learn to write better. First step, seeing how both of your examples were bad, and why. It's not about the size of the words you use, it's about clarity.

    Lubricated, for instance, is simply not clear. I've never once in my life seen a wet floor and said 'watch out, that floor is lubricated' as that's simply sending a meaning different from 'wet', so when the floor is simply wet, your meaning is confused and clarity is lacking (at which point something feels off about the sentence, and the first, but wrong impulse is to blame using a big or obscure word).

    Nor have I ever attacked water drops with my towel. That's not how people towel off. That's how writers use melo-dramatic language to make simple actions muddled or silly.

    And, yes, they were just examples, but learning general lessons from them is better than using that as a defense for them being bad, and a launching point into a generic, easy discussion where everyone just says it's subjective and depends on audience and style. No. There were very tangible things wrong with your examples, that I'm guessing is wrong with the 'real' thing too, or you wouldn't have thought up examples to discuss the 'real' issue, which is not one of audience or style.
     
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  14. NikkiNoodle
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    NikkiNoodle Active Member

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    I second the posts suggesting that the problem has to do with using, not bigger or smaller but the right words.

    "each drop of water that had survived the initial attack from her towel magnifying the chill that ran over her."

    Is she really attacking the water drops? Now, she could be if she's in an all-fired hurry and desperate to get dry quickly but you've already established that she's in no hurry since she's "easing out" of the shower.
    Writing like this, done properly, can be fun and actually set a sensual tone but it must be used in the right circumstances. It wouldn't be appropriate for all situations but could work if you are drawing the reader in for something intense.
    Only be careful that you a really using the right word for what you intend, not the biggest. The reader wont be impressed.

    As far as the audience goes, I would only be concerned if what you are writing has a very specific purpose, i.e. children's book, academic research paper, ect... Then you want to choose words and sentence structures accordingly.
     
  15. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think both examples could work, even though as you say they are both a little exagerated to make a point. Apart from the target audience you also have to consider when it is necessary and not. Thourough description is perfectly fine when needed, if it has importance to the plot, and I think one should limit the extremely detailed descriptions to moments of high tension or other situations when you want to achieve a certain mood or atmosphere. details just for the sake of being descriptive has no purpose, IMHO, if it isn't important to the story. Sorry if I got out of subject here, that was just the thought that came to my mind. I think both ways could work in the right context. the best would be to alternate them in the same story, of course.
     
  16. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    For creepy old guys like myself, "lubricated" also has a sexual undertone. So my impression while reading the first example is that the writer did not understand the full weight of the words he was using.

    If you want to become a better writer, you must develop this sensitivity to implicit word meanings.

    "eased out of the shower", by contrast, is very good. Even the word -- ease -- has a relaxed, gentle sound that perfectly mirrors the image you are trying to present.
     
  17. Batgoat
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    Batgoat Senior Member

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    I second that. Lubrication sounds like something that goes with rubber and latex, rather than tiles. And yeah, I am being somewhat crude, but if you're not careful with choosing the right words, things that may seem innocuous suddenly become... well... for creepy old guys (such as myself)... pervy.
     
  18. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Thanks everyone for the advice! I really appreciate it...

    And for those who have focused too much on the examples, they were merely that. Neither of them are or will ever be included in my work, nor would I write in either form in any of my stories! Though I appreciate the points everyone was trying to make in assessing them :)

    Thanks again for the feedback!
     
  19. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I don't think you have used any 'big words' in both the examples. The first one is called 'showing' and the later 'telling'. The first one is a bit flowery/purple prose-sy ("survived the initial attack of the towel" part)... other than that, it is making the readers experience the coldness, a good example of 'showing', and 'showing' is generally considered good writing if you use it appropriately. So, my humble advice is to coninue writing the way you write.
     
  20. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not to beat a dead horse but that you're not intending to use those examples is immaterial.

    You worded that example clearly assuming that your word choices were acceptable and that their appropriateness was perhaps only jeopardised by their bigness and formality. But frankly, they are unacceptable because they are wrong.

    Big words tend to be rarer. They perhaps have connotations, nuances of meaning and histories that folk are not aware of.
     
  21. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    I agree that the word choice was wrong, though it was a conscious decision to chose words that I knew were not suitable for proper, coherent writing. It was merely an attempt to satirise an example so as to further my point, in case it was not at first understood.

    What I hoped to gauge from people's responses was the way in which improper or excessive writing could damage the flow of a story, and that's exactly what I got from the examples I provided.

    All I meant in defending the examples is that it was in no way my standard method of writing, nor should any impression of how I write be formed from them.
     
  22. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    LOL. Fair play. Willing to make yourself look like an idiot because you assume the rest of us are idiots.:)
     
  23. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    I think you might have taken what I've said the wrong way. I don't consider anyone of the forum as any less than a reliable source of feedback and insight, and all I meant was that I wrote in a way to emphasise what I meant.

    On another note, I think you would be a great person to have a debate with. I like the cut of your jib :p
     
  24. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Ugh, please don't turn this into a "show, don't tell" debate. :p

    If anything, these examples prove how just because something can be labeled as 'show' doesn't mean it's at all effective writing. If you 'show' the character stepping onto a 'lubricated' floor, it's still wrong, as that word is wrong (unless they later find the floor was in fact lubricated... by oil, and it's a mystery over who intentionally lubricated the floor in an attempt to MURDER!).
     
  25. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I'm not sure that's a great idea, but I suppose I get what you're saying. :p
     

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