I subscribe to Dictionary.com's Word of the Day. Sometimes they're everyday words. Sometimes they're words I know but don't use often, and they'll trigger a "Good word, I should remember to use it once in a while." Sometimes I haven't heard of them, but I can figure them out (those years of Latin). Sometimes they're totally new. Those are the most fun, although it's not likely they'll show up in one of my books.
Why? Because of that sticky little thing called "POV." Everything needs to fit. Cowboys don't talk like chefs, who don't talk like politicians, who don't talk like gang bangers. We've all got a standard vocabulary we use in our work, and probably another one we use with close friends, and another with family. The words we choose will relate to our education and experience.And probably yet another one we use when we read--we know and understand words on the page, but they're not part of our "speaking" vocabulary.
As writers, If we're doing our job, we're not on the page at all. Not in dialog, not in narrative, and not in description. In one of my early stories, I had a teen-aged boy trapped in a basement searching for a means of egress. Even though I figure that word's probably understandable to most reader, it's not something a teen-aged boy is likely to think of, especially if he's scared. That was the author, not the character talking.
Elmore Leonard summed it up much better than I can.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)
If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character -- the one whose view best brings the scene to life -- I'm able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what's going on, and I'm nowhere in sight." (Elmore Leonard)
When I write, my characters tend to be everyday, ordinary people. I write commercial fiction for everyday, ordinary readers. I definitely don't want my readers to have to read with a dictionary beside them.
So, even though I've had some really cool words come through, I doubt you'll see them in anything I've written (except here.) How many of these do you recognize? Can you define? Can you use in a sentence? Would you ever use in conversation?
and one of my favorites, tmesis. Although I've never used the word, I've used its definition.
Without resorting to a dictionary, are these part of your vocabulary? I was going to make it a game, matching words with their definitions. Maybe I'll give the definitions tomorrow. Maybe I'll be wicked and won't match them up with the words.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society