1. J♥Star
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    J♥Star Member

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    Unrealistic word choices

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by J♥Star, Aug 18, 2012.

    I have been reading a lot lately, and only books told in first person POV. I think that there tends to be a lot of issues with the authors word choices that tend to take me out of a story, and i find myself wondering why they would choose such a word. I'll give you an example of what i'm talking about. I just finished reading I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER and it is narrated by a fifteen year old. Some of the words which he uses are flitting, jovial, careen, semblance. One of the phrases that got me was when the narrator says "The feeling was peculiar, like a visceral thrill building rapidly to transcendence." The problem that i have with these words / phrases is that i don't think fifteen year olds talk like this, or use these words. Do you think authors do this in an attempt to sound better, or would you consider it a mistake? Am I the only person here who gets annoyed at this? Tell me what you think about unrealistic word choices, and give examples!
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not all fifteen year olds are illiterate slack-jawed shufflers. They range from mindless followers with a troglodyte's vocabulary to geniuses with a vocabulary that would make me envious. Many are avid readers.

    The character's skill with words is an individual trait, like height or stamina. It varies from one to the next.
     
  3. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I, myself, being near that age have never, ever seen a fifteen year old talk like that lol. Even the extremely smart ones! Sounds unrealistic to me to be honest.
    I guess acceptable if the character has been like that since the beginning and we know he has large vocab for X reasons. The fact that it's stretching your suspension of belief personally tells me that the writer done it wrong.
     
  4. VegetarianZombie
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    VegetarianZombie New Member

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    It's really a contextual thing and if the language seems out of place, does the difference contribute to the story in any way as opposed to detracting it? My favorite example was Flowers for Algernon where the protaganist is mentally retarded and after an operation, his language gradully improves until his speech patterns are quite complex. Then of course when the operation didn't stick, his langauge devolves again. It was wondefully effective.

    On an aside, being a Robert Howard fan, I just watched the Conan reboot last night. It was pretty terrible. In it, movie Conan quotes a passage from literary Conan and it thudded on the screen like a wet fish. The problem was that the movie Conan didn't speak like his literary source. He acted like him in certain situations but he in no way embodied the character so when movie Conan tried to speak like book Conan, the language sounded stilted and forced. They should have cut that line.
     
  5. D-Doc
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    D-Doc Active Member

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    There are definitely some smart 15 year olds out there, and I'm sure there are quite a few who could understand that sentence. I find it very unlikely that many 15 year olds would speak that way, though. Most intelligent grown men don't speak like that. For the story's sake, I guess it depends on how the author writes the rest of protag's dialogue. Does he slip back and forth between adolescent slang and wordy descriptions like that?
     
  6. bsbvermont
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    bsbvermont Active Member

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    One of the benefits of tossing some $10 words in fiction that will most likely be read by teens is it does actually improve their vocab...But you are correct the POV might be a bit off.

    Interestingly enough I have the opposite problem with vocab and POV. Several folks have suggested I not use words like magnanimous, or pragmatic because it sounds stiff so I have backed off a bit... although I think my 46 year old college professor might actually use that register of language pretty regularly. I am afraid I have notched his vocab down too much.
     
  7. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    Yes these word choices are extremely over the top for our day and age, it sounds like the author made to pre-industrial. Meaning the word choices are too dated and out of this time period.
     
  8. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    I would go so far as to extend this complaint to close third person as well. When I am writing with the camera close to a specific character, I try to keep the narration within the character's range as well as the dialogue. Doing so has the effect of blending the narration into the character's thought process in a way that pulls the reader closer to the character.

    At the same time, it's important to to give the character room for some verbal range. This means that while you're being careful to keep things within the character's voice, that voice has enough range to express things clearly, colorfully, and precisely. In the case of the book I am writing, my MC is a high-school dropout. But even though that means that he's going to avoid certain words and phrasing I might use, he has a knack for coming up with his own way of saying things, and I usually find that his verbal creativity in getting his points across is a lot more fun to read than anything that would ever come out of my mouth in the course of my day.

    I.e., make it sound like something the character would actually say, but do so in a way that is not "dumbing it down."
     
  9. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    That's what Mom means by a writer using their thesaurus too much. It's painfully obvious when one does. I throw mine out unless I want to change a word in my rough draft for a very good reason. Otherwise I just use a online dictionary and chose my words based of the definitions when I'm not sure.

    My MC's tend to speak well, even my MC, a former gladiator slave, because I explained in PR that due to her position in the structure, she managed to educate herself when not competing. Doesn't mean she doesn't slip into slang from time to time when angry though.
     
  10. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    Any thread with Cogito in it is a good thread ... :)
     

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