Our thanks to author Carrie Rubin for this guest post!
“It seems to be a pattern that if there is a normal word and an unconventional word, you pick the unconventional one. Sometimes that puts another speed bump in the reading. Like you are just finding all the ‘big’ words to show off.” —a beta reader
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The above quote comes courtesy of one of my beta readers last year. The comment took me by surprise, not because I didn’t welcome feedback—I did. But because I didn’t consider the chosen word, which was “fugue,” to be big or unconventional. I considered it completely normal.
So that’s when it dawned on me: I’m a Frasier Crane.
Big words fly out of my mouth like bats fly out of a cave. Toss me an “arduous” or a “superfluous,” and I’ll take it. But I assure you, arrogance and pomposity are not to blame. Medical training is.
Shortly after med students flock the university halls, a complex lexicon takes over. Soon we’re using words like involute and atrophy, viscous and sanguineous, idiopathic and efficacious, emesis and tussis.
Of course, we also use words like poop and booger, but that’s immaterial. Sorry, extraneous. Sorry, beside the point.
What I’m trying to say is these words become part of our vocabulary even outside the medical venue. Sorry, environment. Sorry, home.
I’m sure the same happens to you. Whether you’re a mechanic or teacher, lawyer or landscaper, hair stylist or information technologist, your professional background gives you your own lingo.
But for those of us who write, those unconventional words can find their way into our fiction and slow down our readers.
And ain’t nobody got time for that.
So, what did I do?
Upon my beta reader’s discerning observation—sorry, astute; sorry smart—I removed the offending words. Or so I thought.
Recently, after months of distance, I read through my “polished” manuscript again. This time around, I found a few more words that took me out of the story, just as my keen beta reader had observed.
So I deleted those lingerers. (Except for “fugue.” That stayed in.)
That’s not to say no Frasier Crane words remain. In fact, there are plenty. But hopefully I’ve limited them to the appropriate context. For example, my nurse protagonist making medically related points or my lawyer strutting his stuff. But for the average, everyday narrative, I tried to kick them to the curb.
But indubitably I missed a few.
After all, Frasier Crane is never far away.
Are you the type of writer who uses lots of big words, whether in your book or blog? Think on toning ’em down a bit… if only to keep your readers firmly planted in your story!