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Multisyllabic Formulations

May 31, 2009

In this communication I shall endeavor to ostend that multisyllabic formulations of patois are infrequently indispensable.

Whew!  Did y’all need a thesaurus to read that sentence?  I sure needed one to write it and it took me ten times longer to write than if I had just said, “In this post I will demonstrate that big words are rarely necessary.”

There was a point to that monster of a sentence.  Did it improve your respect for my intellect?  Or did it make me sound like the yammering fool I felt trying to sound smart?

I’d wager it was the latter.  It flies the red flag with “smart people don’t have to try to sound it” emblazoned on it.

Many beginning writers fall into this artsy, purple crap of seeing who can come up with the biggest, most obscure word that means “crap” or “sit” or “chair”.  Hell, that describes a lot of my writing from my high school years.  In those days a thesaurus in my hand was deadly enough to the English language to be illegal in 48 states and immoral in the other two.  I massacred our poor language daily.

I never was convicted, however, and I’ve changed my murderous ways.  Now the only time I’ll write any sentences like the one above is if I’m being silly (sometimes it’s a good exercise for me to do “artsy fartsy” writing to get my juices flowing) or proving a point (or if I’m dead tired and for some reason it sounds good to me, kind of like a late night infomercial).

What I learned in the intervening twenty years or so, and what serious beginners learn to help them move away from beginner status, is that the art of writing is not in choosing the fanciest word.  It’s in choosing exactly the right word for the situation you have.

You don’t want your characters “explicating” when they should be explaining.

You don’t want them “verbalizing” when they could be talking or speaking.

Don’t make them “utilize” when they need to be using.

There are dozens, hundreds, probably thousands of similar examples I could come up with but I really don’t feel like it right now and I’m sure y’all get the idea anyway.

Sometimes the smaller words pack more emotional punch, anyway.  And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  We want our readers to forget they are reading a wholly fictitious tale that we poured from our heads and into their laps (the whole suspension of disbelief thing) and experience whatever emotion we are trying to convey on whatever page they are reading at the time.  The more time your reader spends thumbing the thesaurus the less time they have for reading your book and that ends up a death sentence for your writing with that person.

The only time that modern writing should use pretentious language is if it’s an important character trait or quirk or if the writing is farcical or satirical in nature.  As I said it’s fun sometimes to be silly with a thesaurus in one hand and a fake “modern English-speaker” ID in the other.

How much of our writing do we really want others to view as silly, though?  I beseech every writer, please put down the thesaurus, unless absolutely necessary, and feel the right word.  Chances are that the vocabulary you already possess contains the word you are looking for.

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