My vocabulary has always been a point of pride for me. I am a collector of “abstruse” words, and occasionally I like to use them in my writing. I actually revel in being stumped and having to go to the dictionary, because it means that I’ve learned another word. If this sounds like you, I highly recommend any of Cormac McCarthy’s books; they are a goldmine of eclectic vocab (e.g. his use of “Salitter” in The Road).
You’re probably thinking: “there’s a ‘but’ coming, right?”
And I’d say, “Yup! There’s a sweaty ol’ but on its way.”
BUT when we’re building sentences, we writers have to remember that we’re not all Cormac McCarthy.
This isn’t to say that vocabulary is unimportant. Being precise and concise through word choice is, in this author’s opinion, the most important writerly skill to hone, because it’s well within your ability to practice.
What I mean to say is this: I could submit the manuscript of Blood Meridian to an agent tomorrow and, ignoring the obvious plagiarism, this would never work in my favor. Why? Because new writers simply don’t get away with using that kind of vocabulary in today’s market.
Don’t believe me? Well… What’s the last book you read that was published post-2010? How many words did you have to look up?
I can bet that Anthony Doerr didn’t use the word “salitter” in All the Light We Cannot See, and if he did, his editor had the good sense to delete it for him before it hit the shelves. I say this not to discredit Doerr as a writer in any way. If anything, this makes Doerr an even better writer, because he has considered his audience.
This is really the whole point. Most readers don’t like to dive into the dictionary like I do. Some might even feel bad about reading something they don’t understand, which is the opposite goal of most writing. Isolating the author or work from readers doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, at least… Therefore, vocabulary usage is powerful. And, as we all know thanks to Spider Man, with great power comes great responsibility.
So, when you find yourself truculently bedighting your scrivenery with inimical prose, serried and thick as chaparral; I, for one, recommend elision instead. Otherwise, your writing may appear solecistic, and you, as a writer, solipsismal.
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Don’t steal my words. They’re mine. Zachary Barnes 2016©