Vocabulary big or small

IWSG_NewBadge2016It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. 

Today, I’m going to mull on the words the writers use in their stories. The issue of fiction vocabulary is hotly debated. One side postulates that writers should use simple vocabulary, all their words short and familiar to anyone with elementary school education. 1000 most common words, they say, no more. A couple months ago, Medium published an article about the benefits of such an approach.

The proponents of the opposite faction argue that we, writers, should be educators. We should use words the readers don’t know, long and unusual words, incorporating as wide a vocabulary as possible to try and raise the erudition level of our readers? I’m firmly with this party, both as a reader and as a writer. I don’t think writers should stoop to the level of a preschooler in their writing. Shakespeare was of the same opinion; he even invented new words, when no existing ones satisfied him. Personally, I love encountering words I don’t know. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I savor the experience. I reach for a dictionary. I open a thesaurus. I love word play.

What do you think? Where do you stand in this dispute?

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14 Responses to Vocabulary big or small

  1. MRJones says:

    I am in the group that uses a full vocabulary in my writing. As a reader, I do not enjoy reading something that was written in the simplest words possible. I keep a dictionary at hand to learn any word I come across that is not already in my vocabulary.

  2. cheriereich says:

    I think it depends on the story and who is telling it, but I don’t think writers should shy away from using big words. Of course, I do believe we shouldn’t use obscure vocabulary just because either. The word has to have a reason.

    • Olga Godim says:

      Oh, definitely. Every word has to have a reason, but if I could use ‘clobbered’ instead of ‘hit’, why not? It’s much more colorful. (Not that ‘clobbered’ is obscure, but still, not part of the 1000 common words.)

  3. Loni Townsend says:

    Much like Cherie, for me, it’s a matter of voice. My characters are my narrators, so Derek might use clobbered, but MaTisha never would. She would strike with precision and the least amount of wasted effort to disable her foe. Derek, well, he’d clobber a guy and whoop as he high-tailed it out of there. He’d also use simpler words than MaTisha, but definitely more colorful ones.

  4. I use the vocabulary I know, which I learned from reading. Keeping it simple would be an insult to readers, if you ask me.

  5. Murees Dupé says:

    I personally prefer words I know, so the easier words for sure. I hate it when I’m enjoying a book and I encounter a word I don’t know. I must understand what I’m reading before I can continue, So now I have to get up and find the dictionary, which takes away from my reading experience. But I guess it also depends on the genre as well.

  6. Widdershins says:

    If I use a ‘big’ word I try and make sure its meaning is clear bu the context in which I use it. I’m firmly in the camp of ‘don’t write from the lowest common denominator. Why else are we writers except to explore the magical. 🙂

  7. dolorah says:

    As usual I straddle the fence on this issue. I do enjoy more when they have a wide vocabulary, but too many big or unknown words/concepts will tire out my old brain. I like to think a bit with a story, but read for the “entertainment” value mostly. I don’t like books that either treat me like I cannot figure out a word through context, or that tries too hard to introduce me to too much new stuff. But if every word/sentence is cliche, it is insulting to my intellect, and I’ll put it down faster than reading something with a lousy story plot. And how much is too much depends on the type of book I’m reading.

    So yes, writers should improve the vocabularies of readers and expose them to wider concepts; but keep the teaching to moderation so a good story isn’t hard work to read, lol. To me, it all comes back to balance: writing an interesting and entertaining (fiction) story and expanding the reader’s world views.

  8. Reading is how I enlarged my vocabulary and still is. I love learning, but it does depend on your audience, and the story. I’ve seen writers go a bit overboard. There was one book where I had to look up every other word, it was horrible, and not just because of the vocabulary. 🙂 Funniest thing is I met the author, he was just as arrogant as his writing. LOL
    I honestly wonder where writing is going since emogies and abbreviations have replaced words and now it’s the short, cut out all that setting crap and get to the point, stories that appeal to the masses. Changes! I’ll make a few of them, but only to what feels comfortable. I’ll always write what feels best for me. Although, I wish sometimes that I’d write for the masses and make some money at this. I’m true to me, but as with everything else that could change too. Depends on how hungry I get. 🙂

  9. spunkonastick says:

    I think you have to strike a balance. You don’t want to write way over your audience’s head but you don’t want to dumb it down.

  10. patgarcia says:

    I am a proponent of Word Play. I like discovering new words and have to admit I make up a few of my own. Because I speak two languages and am now learning a third language, I sometimes get stuck when I am expressing something when I am talking or when I am writing a scene. So, I come up with amazing new words, at least for me they are amazing. Of course, because the majority do not understand, I have to give them a definition, but that okay with me. We writers are educators. I find it sad that people today are finding it more difficult to express themselves. They don’t have the vocabulary. They don’t know how to argue or debate the pros and cons of an issue. it is very sad.

    Shalom aleichem,

  11. I’m all for using as varied a vocabulary as possible. I’ve heard the theories about using only the more common words. Boring.

  12. Pingback: For The Love Of Words #AmWriting - Squirrel Talk

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