Have you ever turned to a thesaurus in an attempt to pretty up your writing? I think every writer has at some point.
While it can be a useful tool for avoiding repetition, there’s an easy trap to fall in to. When you start using words that readers aren’t familiar with or don’t understand, they’ll switch off in seconds. No one wants to slug through something that reads like an academic text. That two page description of the rain-soaked garden in your book that’s full of flowery words and exotic adjectives? People will be snoring before they reach the end of the first paragraph.
Ernest Hemingway said this,
‘Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.’
So if you keep finding yourself turning to a thesaurus, then stop because you’re probably just hurting your writing. Take a simpler approach and drill down in to the core of what you want to say. Sentences need to spark with life, and no amount of fancy synonyms are going to alter the underlying intent of the words.
I enjoyed this short drunken rant of Charles Bukowski in an old interview (I think that’s how every interview of his went now that I think about it). After the bit about death, he comes around to what makes good writing and how each line must ‘have its own juice.’ Some useful advice, and the ending put a smile on my face.
(Side note. ‘Bim Bim Bim!’ is my new favourite phrase).
© 2015, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Photo by Sean Kelly licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.