Is Your Vocabulary Killing Your Writing?

We can agree that as writers, all we’re trying to do is get our point across. It may be in a fiction setting, non-fiction, sales copy, or a technical essay. Whichever it is, we want our readers to understand what we’re talking about.

One of the best ways to make sure you lose your reader is to use strange words. Usually, they’re multi-syllabic and of Greek derivation. But wherever they’re from, you probably wouldn’t hear them while in town.

Here’s a quick exercise. I want you to read the sample sentence below. As you do, pay attention to what happens to your understanding and conceptual understanding of the sentence.

“When the crepuscule arrived, the children got quiet.”

Do you know what that sentence means? Do you have a conceptual understanding of it? If we as writers try to create imagery with our writing, what image does that sample sentence leave you with?

Don’t Blame the Sentence

Is the sentence to blame? No, the penalty is quite good. Could you have a look at it? It’s evident in construction there’s an apparent cause/effect relationship between something arriving and the children getting quiet. No problems there.

But what arrived? A school bus? An alien?

Crepuscule sort of sounds like a bacteria to me. The sentence means the children got quiet because they were ill.

Where’s Your Reader Now

If that sentence were in an actual piece of writing, the reader would have three options:

  • Open up a dictionary to define crepuscule,
  • Read on and hope he can guess the meaning via context
  • Put the writing down and never pick it up again

It could be better when your writing, instead of getting its point across, also has to play the dictionary. It kills the mood and drives a stake through its heart.

The Only Real Solution

What do we do about this misunderstanding we caused? We do the one thing we can do and be responsible, cutting out the mood-killer.

While knowing the word “crepuscule” isn’t helping our writing, it’s great. If we cut it and replace it, we breathe new life into our sentence. Here it is again, with the offending word changed.

“When the twilight arrived, the children got quiet.”

Ah! I get it now. You can picture this one in your mind, can’t you? I sure can, and that’s what our readers want, imagery. They want that conceptual understanding. Conceptual understanding is the one thing that will guarantee to take our readers on a beautiful ride instead of losing them to the dictionary.