1. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Trusting the reader and how it affects how your writing

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Alesia, Dec 27, 2013.

    How much does your trust (or distrust) of the readers comprehension affect how you write and your word choice? For example, the above passage is a snippet from Rain When I Die. Where I used the word "syringe" I actually want to use the word "needle" but for some reason I don't trust the reader will understand it's a used heroin needle and not a sewing needle. Why is that? Should I be more trusting of peoples ability to get the gist of what the narrator is saying?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    In this instance, I think syringe is a better word because needle is too general, and as you yourself mention, too easy to assume to be something other than the intented.
     
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  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't consider this not trusting the reader. Any time you're using a word with multiple meanings you need to look at context - and in this case the context is not there. So syringe is the better choice.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not at all, unless i'm writing stories for children, in which case i have to tailor word choices and syntax to the targeted age range...

    i agree that there's no good reason to not use 'syringe' in that example...
     
  5. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    This isn't a matter of trusting the reader but to communicate your meaning, so that no confusion occurs. Using the word 'needle' would have the reader ask: which type of needle: sewing or knitting?

    You are more likely concerned about treating the reader like an idiot. I always err on the side of caution and assume the reader needs clarification.
     
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  6. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    I would most definitely agree.
     
  7. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think too, needle, in the context of a medical item, refers more to the pointy part and not to the plunger mechanism as a whole. So my confusion is not with what it is but why he would be saving a needle/syringe. Is he a stupid junkie and reuses needles? You could mention he has a stylistic syringe with an accompanying supply of needles. Now I think he is a careful person. Your choice.
     
  8. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    The sentence following discusses that. She kept her sisters diary, a locket she always wore, and the syringe she used to shoot up. The syringe is kind of of a macabre keepsake, reminding the narrator of her baby sister's decline into drug addiction.
     
  9. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Go with syringe. Syringe is totally acceptable, especially in the stories beginning.
     
  10. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I always assume the reader is at least as intelligent as I am. ;)
     
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  11. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    In my neck of the woods, there's alot of people that will look at a building with a white sign and a red cross labeled "infirmary" and still ask what the word "infirmary" means...

    Or you will say "it wasn't pertinent to the situation" and they just stand there with a blank expression. So you explain "pertinent" basically means "relevant"... they still stand there blank-faced. Sigh, okay... find the easiest word i can think of. "Maybe that's why I'm so concerned.
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2013
  12. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are those the people you're writing for?
     
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  13. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was going to ask if those people read. I doubt it.
     
  14. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Unless it's "Guns and Ammo" magazine or Playboy, the answer is no, they do not read.
     
  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't know if it's the responsibility of the reader to understand what I mean or rather my responsibility to be as clear as I can in the context. He trusts me to be clear. I trust him to get it - as long as I don't get too vague.

    From your snippet the words diary and antique locket - they sound like girly things so by using the word needle the mind picture can become a needle and thread needle. And by no real fault of the reader - so your use of syringe is better because it's clearer leaving no doubt, no confusion.
     
  16. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Then why concern yourself with whether they would understand your writing? They are not your audience. Don't write for them.
     
  17. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Do you know exhausting it is to have to dumb yourself down on a daily basis just to communicate? Trust me, it becomes habit and stays in the back of your mind with all things.
     
  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, strangely enough, I come across words I don't know every day. Bit of a learning experience - and humbling, as well.
     
  19. jannert
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    I second this opinion. Your reader (who could be anyone) needs to be in no doubt as to what you mean. You can't assume insider knowledge of anything other than very basic things. Most readers in English will know what 'coffee' is, but many may not know what a demi-tasse is. So you need to call it a 'miniature cup' or something of that nature, unless you can work the word so that its context is clear.

    The easiest way to clarify meaning is with context, but if you can't do that, then choosing a word which is less likely to have multiple meanings is probably a Good Plan.
     
  20. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    The syringe refers only to the part the needle attaches to. Yes, in speech, the complete assembly is often called a needle, but to be sure, you might best refer to a syringe and needle.
     
  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm perfectly comfortable using a vocabulary many people may not be familiar with. I'm a fan of Anthony Burgess, and he was constantly challenging his readers with strange words, some of which he coined himself based on somewhat-commonly-understood roots. He created a whole new slang for A Clockwork Orange, and many readers had difficulty with it, but the ones he was interested in stuck with it and made it a success. It didn't seem to hurt his sales; he became a multimillionaire.

    One thing many people don't seem to realize, including some on this site, is that there is more than one type of reader. It makes no sense to say "The reader wants this" or "The reader needs that." Which reader do you mean? @JayG keeps saying that if I don't hook "the reader" in the first line, they'll toss the story away. That kind of criticism doesn't apply to me as a reader, and hence is of little use to me as a writer. I relish slow beginnings and big, challenging vocabularies. If that means I'm only writing for James Joyce's audience and not John Grisham's, that's fine with me.

    We don't write for "the reader." We write for a specific reader - our reader. John Steinbeck used to say he would pick someone he knew and loved, and would write his novel specifically to them and for them. He wrote East of Eden - one of my favorite novels - specifically for his own young sons. Not to read as children, but to appreciate when they grew up. I'm sure he would have made no sense at all out of Dwight Swain's book. And he was one of America's greatest writers - my father's favorite writer, and certainly one of mine.
     
  22. Nyghtfall
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    Nyghtfall Member

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    I'm a Customer Service Rep for a retail credit card bank. A few years ago, one of my Managers asked if I could find a way to use simpler vocabulary when talking to customers because they were getting feedback from people who said I used words they didn't understand, and, as such, felt I was talking down to them. She was unable to list specific examples of words customers were having issues with.

    Just last week, while attempting to calm down an angry caller, I said, "I can understand your plight-". The caller interrupted me, called me a smart-ass know-it-all for attempting to demonstrate my superior intellect by using the word "plight" in a sentence - a word they said they were unfamiliar with - and hung up.

    It would be a waste of time and effort to try appealing to the lowest level of reading comprehension, unless you're writing for children. Otherwise, choose words you know will clearly convey what's in your mind, and let the work find its own readership.
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2014
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  23. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    EXACTLY! I know who my target audience is, and knew from the very moment I conceived the idea for my MS. I'm not trying to make millions, or be on the NY Times bestseller list. I'm just trying to get a story out there - my story. My autobiography in essence, albeit fictionalized to protect myself and those involved.
     
  24. Glacial
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    Glacial Member

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    This is all fine, but there is a big difference between using a larger vocabulary and using words that have multiple meanings with no context to help differentiate between them. As several people have mentioned, 'needle' could refer to your syringe, or a knitting needle, or a sewing needle (those are probably the first three that would come to people's minds). Syringe is the better choice here because there is no context to clarify.

    You are absolutely right about the target audience thing. I spend a lot of time presenting very technical research to a wide variety people, so I need to alter what I say based on my best estimate of their knowledge. When it comes to writing, I suppose I have a general 'knowledge-base' in my head that I assume the majority of my readers would understand, and anything that falls outside that should be explained. This is very basic, and as soon as I get into a more specific topic or start using jargon they would not understand, I explain it. I would rather inform them of these things in my narrative anyways than have them wonder wtf I'm talking about and have to go google something.
     
  25. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Sorry, that's not me. I give them the three pages that research says the maximum most readers take to make up their mind.

    “A novel is like a car—it won’t go anywhere until you turn on the engine. The “engine” of both fiction and nonfiction is the point at which the reader makes the decision not to put the book down. The engine should start in the first three pages, the closer to the top of page one the better.”
    ~ Sol Stein
     
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