1. Klezmer Griffon

    Klezmer Griffon New Member

    Mar 8, 2016
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    Redneckistan, Texas

    Archaic/uncommon verbs in modern writing?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Klezmer Griffon, Jul 19, 2016.

    Let's face it: English has a bunch of verbs that we just don't use that much anymore. In my experience with writing just small bits of fiction here and there for English class, in role playing, or just writing for myself, I find that sometimes a verb we use frequently in modern English with an adverb tacked on behind it (or your preferred method of imagery) just doesn't have the same flow in a sentence as something a little older or obscure.

    For example:

    The bird's nest was covered with scattered feathers.
    The bird's nest was bestrewn with feathers.

    Now, obviously you would not want to make your readers go look through a dictionary every two sentences, but I feel that a few obscure verbs here and there to help the flow of a passage when nothing else seems to have the same effect could be beneficial. What are your thoughts on using uncommon or older words in modern writing?
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  2. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 23, 2013
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    I personally tend to side with ee cummings over Faulkner ("Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"), but one thing I've heard recently that I've been meaning to try, especially with how much I feel I repeat the same tags over and over again: every day, flip to a random page of a dictionary and point to a random word, then write it down with it's definition. Do this 5 or 10 times. Even if I decide that it wouldn't be in-character for a person to use that word, I would still have it in my brain for in case another character would use it.

    Though I have been complimented on one thing I do for using simple words creatively: mixing metaphors. The villain protagonist of my new Urban Fantasy novel takes great pride in his ability to make two comparisons at the same time, and he never says something like "sunnier than a tanning salon" or "sunnier than Arizona" when he could instead say something like "sunnier than a tanning salon in Arizona".

    Perhaps this is one of those things where, to quote another great villain of history, quantity should be it's own quality (combining two common comparisons instead of looking for an obscure one)?

    Obviously, depending on what kind of person your character is, it could be more useful to look for obscure words that would characterize the person as being a bookworm.

    Also, you might come up with a character for which "creative words" versus "creative combinations of common words" might fit into my writing philosophy that whenever you have to choose between either doing one thing or another, you should instead try to do both ;)
  3. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

    Sep 6, 2014
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    Depends on your writing style, character voice, etc.

    If you're writing first person or close third with a POV character who would use these words? Use these words. If you're writing first person or close third with a POV character who wouldn't use these words? Don't use these words. If you're writing omniscient or some other POV where the narrative style can be different from the characters, establish a style and be consistent. And use a style that fits your setting, your goals, etc.

    I'm not sure I've ever yet found a writing question with a simple yes or no answer!
    Wreybies likes this.
  4. thirdwind

    thirdwind Member Contest Administrator Supporter Reviewer Contributor

    Jul 17, 2008
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    Some house styles insist on using what I would consider old-fashioned choices. For example, the New Yorker always uses "reared a child" instead of "raised a child."
    BayView likes this.
  5. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 1, 2008
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    El Tembloroso Caribe
    Notice how all of @BayView 's advice answers to the idea of purpose. It's not do or don't. Just as she also mentions, it's never that simple. It's do with deliberation and intent and reason.
    BayView likes this.
  6. theamorset

    theamorset Member

    Aug 7, 2016
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    I think it depends somewhat on the audience. Some adult audience already know words like 'bestrewn'.

    If a character has been very isolated in some way, I have him/her use a lot of archane, pedantic words.

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