Thursday, June 11, 2009

Choosing the Vocaulary for Your Story

“...keep your written vocabulary simple, using the one-syllable word when there's a choice.” – Clive Cussler in “How to make your story fly.” [reprinted in The Writer. July 2009]
I have an above average vocabulary, not one that would win me a Scrabble tournament, but one big enough to allow me to experiment with the words in my stories. (And if I can't think of one that feels right, my dictionary and thesaurus are close by.) I don't know a lot of “fancy” words, at least not that I consider as such. Still, I've read fiction filled with words unknown to me. I don't like these stories because the vocabulary slows my reading. It wouldn't be so bad if the author provided a clue or two as to the meaning of the chosen word.

I skimmed through two stories in an issue of American Short Fiction and found only two words I didn't know. From the context, I could tell they were plants indigenous (okay, maybe this is a fancy word) to the setting. I finished a novel yesterday in which DNA was an integral part of the story. Never once did I have to consult a dictionary to understand what was going on. When choosing the words I use in my stories, I need to keep in mind the advise to Keep It Simple Stupid.

This post reminds me of a party game I used to play. It requires four or more players, a dictionary, scraps of paper, and writing utensils. One player selects a word from the dictionary whose definition is unknown by the rest. The player selecting the word writes the correct definition on a piece of paper. (It's okay to paraphrase.) The others write down what they think the word means. The “it” player reads all the definitions and the others choose the one they think is correct. The “it” player scores ten points if no one guesses the correct definition. If an incorrect definition is chosen, the player who wrote it earns five points. The winner is the person with the highest score after everyone has had a chance to select a word. It's a fun game and a great way to build your writing vocabulary.

1 comment:

Ang said...

There is nothing more frustrating than to have to stop reading to figure out how to pronounce a word. And all these crazy names people give their characters...what ever happened to simple. I write like I speak...Southern and simple.