Did it ever happen to you that you’ve came across a word you’ve never heard before and had to come up with uses for it? To some, I think it did. When this happens to a writer, it could become an issue. Let’s have a look why.
In the late spring and early summer of 2018, I’ve been reading one fantasy series. It brought me a lot of fun apart from one thing: at some point, it seemed the author became too facsinated with a single word (okay, they were two): ‘sinuous’ and ‘undulating’. He used these words to describe a siren-like creature.
Now, that wouldn’t be too bad on its own. What was the problem is that he abused those two words in almost every scene in which the creature appeared.
It became annoying quickly.
As my memory came to this, I remembered a moment in Summer 2017, when I had this happen to me. In my case, the word was ‘intermingled’. Being a second-language writer, my first move was to mash it into google translator as a check if the word actually exists. The difference is: I’ve used it in a single scene. And I don’t know if it even survived through the next draft. In retrospect, I am glad that I did not abuse it.
“What is the problem?”, you might ask.
As I’ve said in the second paragraph, it becomes boring when every chance to use a word means it’ll be used. Descriptions become stale and boring even if they would be good (or at least decent) otherwise.
In a way, I see gratituous and unnecessary abuse of profanity the same way. Of course, if the character is some kind of a thug, harsh language might make sense. Yet, can a F-bomb on every page keep the impact for a whole story? I guess it depends on tastes, as one such case proved to me: one review of a book ‘rich’ on profanity said the book ‘turns profanity into art form’ while another said something along the line of the character sounding like a sewer.
What prompted me to write this post was actually the opposite – but it is no less dangerous. As I’ve been looking at the reviews of one of my potential to-read books, a reviewer said the author had the tendency to find dozens of words/phrases for something – alternatives for ‘vomit’ in one book and for the F-word in another.
As I weave through the writing world, I try my best to observe and learn. I’ve learned that a ‘rich’ vocabulary is good but there’s also a fine line with everything and getting far too creative with synonyms might distract from the actual story.
Does a writer want the reader to admire the story, or their impeccable knowledge of synonyms? I’d say the former. Balance is the key. Showing varied dictionary but not overdoing it, that’s the balance. Both the cases I’ve mentioned are extremes from the opposite sides of the spectrum.
I admit I haven’t read the book in question (at least not yet). The situation could be of some good use if different character used a different word for the same action but if it is without any consistency to it, it could be distracting in the way I mentioned.
It reminds me how complex the writing process can be and how many things a writer should keep in balance. It’s another small lesson learned from nowhere.
This is it for today. I hope someone might’ve learned something, just as I did. As willing to learn as I am, I’ll welcome your thoughts and experiences on this matter, whether you’re a reader, a writer, or both. Please, share them in the comments.
Great article. I remember reading a book where the writer overused a word so heavily it jarred the prose every time I saw it.
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I agree! Balance is key with words – you never want to become redundant, but you also don’t want the entire book to feel like a show-boat 😊
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