Writing Tip Tuesdays Chapter 3: Too Many Big Words
Welcome to Writing Tip Tuesdays! On a Wednesday! Haha . . . whoops. Please forgive my tardiness. I don’t have much of an excuse, unfortunately. I’m still getting used to doing this.
Anyway! Today we’re talking about big words. Specifically, how and when to use (and not to use) big words in writing.
Understand, I’m a lover of words. Some of my favorites include irk, flibbertigibbet, epiphany, and lackadaisical. I’m not sure there are many people who could tell me the definitions of all four of those words, but I still love ’em. Besides that, the thesaurus is one of my best friends.
Still, there’s such a thing as too many big words. This is a trap new writers often fall into (and some experienced writers as well). Words are great! But their purpose is to help someone understand something . . . clearly. If I’m using only five-syllable words to talk to you, you probably won’t have a clue what I’m saying.
The message of this WTT is pretty quick: Don’t use too many big words! But . . . how many is too many? Here’s a hint: if your reader is pulling out the dictionary after every paragraph, you’re using too many big words. It’s okay to throw one or two in there are some point–it makes you sound smart!–but too many will make your reader’s head spin, and she’ll quickly lose interest.
Another thing: If you’re going to use big words, make sure you know what they mean. I’m a perfectionist, so I don’t do this very often (I’ve looked up the word tired to make sure I’m using it right), but I’ve seen misuses of words in other writing. If you’re going to use “gargantuan,” use it correctly. Don’t use it to describe the new cell phone your character got (unless, of course, it somehow happens to be the size of a city block . . . or the iPhone 6 plus). Instead, use it to describe the elephant your character sees at the zoo.
Be extra careful when using large words in dialogue. Do you really know anyone who says “ebullient” in real life? (If it makes you feel better, I had to look that one up.) The only case where I would suggest using big words in dialogue is if the character really is a know-it-all smart aleck with perfect grades in English . . . you know, the kind of character no one really likes. These guys can never give a straight answer.
“Hey, Vance, how did you do on the test?”
“I believe I succeeded to receive an exemplary grade on our biweekly exam.”
“Right . . .”
(Here’s a hint: these characters are often mocked for their inability to use words with less than three syllables. Who talks like that in real life?)
So you can use big words. Just use them sparingly. Think of them like salt. Add a little to your dish (story), and it adds flavor and a unique taste. But pour the whole salt shaker out, and you’ll be left with something that isn’t even edible. A dash here and there is great, but don’t overdo it.
Godspeed, my kindred spirits! Be wary of employing locutions loquaciously!