What To Do with Vocabulary


Recently, one of the local writers group members read one of my sudden fiction pieces.  He highlighted the word “obscure” and suggested I use the word “hide” in its place. He had reasons for his suggested word change.

For one thing, he felt the word was too elevated for the genre. For another, he felt many readers wouldn’t know the word. It wasn’t a conversational word, he said.

I argued to keep the word. I felt the meaning of the word obscure more aptly described what was happening in the story. To “hide” something implies intent. One can “obscure” something without intending to hide it. In the story, a face is obscured, not purposefully hidden.

His comments about usage raised points to consider.

Is there language that is suitable or unsuitable for a specific genre? Sudden fiction may be considered “low brow” compared to the novel, or even the 3,000 word short story.  Obviously, that opinion is subject to debate.

How does one balance vocabulary usage with one’s readership?

Some argue that today’s society needs the stimulation of mental challenge. Others say that today’s society doesn’t have time to stop and look up words every few minutes when reading.

As a writer, I thanked my friend for his input. His remarks were helpful.

I haven’t settled on an answer to the questions his remarks generated. I’d love to hear what you think about using big words in short, short stories.

13 responses »

  1. Apparently one person’s “big word” is another person’s normal word. “Obscure” does not seem a difficult word to me. I think, yes, we shouldn’t fill our manuscript with never-used vocabulary, but I don’t think using an occasional “difficult” word and thereby expanding one’s knowledge is ever a bad thing.

  2. I love learning new words. And in the world of ereaders all you have to do is long click a word and the definition pops up. But even without this feature you can usually insinuate the meaning of a word through the context.

  3. I try to ensure that every fictional thing I write has at least one word I had to look up. I love it when authors do that, forcing us to expand our knowledge. And in general, I would favor “obscure” over “hide” anyway =)

  4. I say, use the best words you can come up with. Individual word Length has nothing to do with quality and the specific meaning intended to convey your thoughts. Never dumb down a story, instead challenge readers to expand their vocabulary. There are so many words that will be lost otherwise.

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