Monday, March 21, 2011


I've been working on a new writing project. Since it's in a different genre than I've attempted before, I'm learning as I go and having a great time. It's a fantasy novel, one that I'm hoping will appeal to readers of all ages.

Part of my writing process includes having people read through my manuscripts. This is something I do before even thinking about sending it to a publishing company. I've found this is a great way to find problems in the storyline, typos, etc. And, since everyone is different, I usually end up with all kinds of opinions and suggestions. One suggestion raised an eyebrow.

Do you like having to look up words on occasion? I grew up in a household that thrived on this kind of thing. Whenever I came across a word I didn't know, my parents pointed to the dictionary. They could've made it easy and simply told me what the word meant, but they figured it would do me some good to do a bit of research to discover the definition.

Ironically, I received a large dictionary from my parents when I graduated from high school. I've probably used that gift more than any other I've ever received. I'm always looking up words, their meaning and spelling. I love words, and playing with words. You can understand my dismay when I was informed by one of my reading team that I needed to "dumb" down my manuscript. In this person's opinion, I had used words that were too complicated for most people. I was stunned.

There were two words in question: tortuous, and cortege. I could understand cortege---it is a word that doesn't come up in normal conversation. It was simply another way of saying "parade" or "procession." I liked how the word sounded, and how it fit the sentence. Plus it prevented me from saying the word "parade" repeatedly in the same paragraph. The complaint about "tortuous" left me flabbergasted. (Flabbergasted meaning: nonplussed, disconcerted, perplexed.)

Tortuous was used to describe the horrendous (ie: terrible) practical jokes that were played on one of the main characters. As one of my sons pointed out the other day, the word: "torture" is a huge part of tortuous. One would think readers could figure out what was meant by this.

My question of the day: do we avoid colorful words--words that might inspire readers to search for their meaning? What do the rest of you think?


Jennie said...

Go with the vocabulary your characters would use. And I don't see anything difficult about either of those words since "funeral cortege" is commonly used and as your son said, anyone can figure out tortuous. I sometimes have to change a word because I use a formal term when a less formal one would fit better. As a reporter I was taught to never use a dollar word when a two bit one would do, but sometimes I forget.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Thanks for the advice, Jennie. I'm currently revising bits and pieces of this manuscript, and while I'm at it, I'm keeping my eyes peeled for uncommon words. I may leave a couple of them in there for fun, but I agree, the simpler, the better.