Looking For Words in All The Wrong Places

Sometimes, the act of putting words on paper—seems easy enough, right—becomes a tortuous exercise in rhythm, not unlike lyrics to a song. You know what you want to say’ you know how you want it to feel, and yet the words just do not emerge in the way you have envisioned. Is this your poor vocabulary at work? Probably not. As clinical as many genres appear to be, all are written with passion’ certainly a passion for the story, if not the word choice.

And this is where authors encounter difficulty. The reading audience is still there their vocabulary level has, however, decreased. Between failing education models that put more emphasis on ‘safe spaces’ than hard work, the demand of students to memorize certain things—math facts and vocabulary, to name a few—coupled with a far shorter attention span, requires authors out for commercial success to simplify their work. 

Case in point, go to a book store and pick up a copy of the Twilight Saga or the Divergent series. Even the Harry Potter series of books.  Aside from thicker paper and a larger number of pages, you will also notice huge margins, larger type size and near double-spacing between lines. As you glance through it, you also notice the simplistic language, more dialog and less narrative, thus also requiring less complex vocabulary. Yes, I do realize that the image in the reader’s mind is paramount, and that maintaining a decent reading speed is the only way the brain has to process words into imagery; however, at some point the simplicity is danger of reaching the levels of See Spot Run.

The English language, with all its complex, and often inane grammatical rules, has a healthy vocabulary that, when used properly, can invoke masterful imagery. This is a learned skill. It requires building your vocabulary throughout your life. And it should be a point of pride to learn new words on a regular basis. And to use them.

Anything that interrupts a reader’s flow detracts from the imagery of the novel. Except a word that they may not have know and which,if they are astute readers, they will jot down for later examination. Alternatively, poor word choice creates the opposite effect it stops the reader who, attempting to figure out why it was there, may lose their rhythm.  

I find this often in spy books, or thrillers. The author, trying to pace out the storyline, interrupts it with needless information, excessive sentence length, or vague descriptors that make the reader stop. I have seen this in best-selling novels, even best-selling series. 

I have also found, since starting to narrate audiobooks, that frequently the written word now spoken, sounds clumsy and out of place. This is a problem actors face when screenwriters offer their characters unspeakable word groupings. 

The solution is not complex. Read aloud the work you have written. Better yet, have someone read it to you. And if you cannot find anyone, use your computer’s accessibility feature to have the machine read it to you. It’s not perfect, but it will point out areas of poor construction. 

Keep a booklet for words you have learned, along with an example of useage. I love words. They sing. Words like exegesis or eisegesis, aphorism, auxesis, and polemic, to name a few. As a younger writer, I took exception when teachers would correct me regarding the use of the word ‘waft’. I would always make my own creation because it sounded more appropriate for the use. The scent of fresh apple pie wifted to my room. Scents should wift not waft, a far harsher word implying a roughness, quite the contrary to thoughts of freshly basked apple pie. If you agree with me, let’s start a word revolution; start using wift and help it become mainstream.

Happy writing!

William Gensburger