August 21, 2019, 04:02:57 AM

Author Topic: Sublime words in writing  (Read 1436 times)

Offline ArhiX

Sublime words in writing
« on: November 22, 2018, 10:10:12 PM »
Hello there! I am here, to ask you some questions about extraordinary words. Speak from your heart. Even the first thing that comes knocking to your mind.

1. What do you think about the use of sublime wording in writing. And by sublime I mean something like "desolation", "exalted", "courteous", "transcendent" and so on.
2. Do you often find them in stories you read? Do you sometimes have problems with understanding them so you have to use dictionary to find out their meaning?
3. What do you think when those extraordinary words are used by:
a) Author - as names of characters, items, techniques
b) Characters - as something that makes them stand out from the others
c) Narrator - to describe something

Done? Now you can see why I asked you all about this.

Spoiler for Hiden:
On a daily basis I am using words that most people think that are sophisticated. It is a part of me by now, and I use them without really knowing, that many people do not know their meaning. And because of that some people think that I am all snooty, but most of them actually like that and say, that it is very characteristic part of my persona.

So here is the thing:

I also use them while writing. So I would like to know if I should start hunting them in my texts and change them into something normal. Or maybe I should make it a defining point of my writing? I would like to hear your opinions because... you know. You are all readers. Most of you are also writers. What do you think about it?

"The world is full of stories, and from time to time, they permit themselves to be told."

Offline NedMarcus

Re: Sublime words in writing
« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2018, 10:26:08 PM »
I think you'll alienate some readers, but not others. I'd say just do it. The words you mentioned are fine to me, I'd never thought of them as sublime or anything else. The only thing is, if you had characters whose education and background suggested one way of speaking, but you had them using vocabulary of people of a different background, then it would become harder to believe.

Where I grew up the past of spin is span (not spun). This has upset a couple of people, but not others. I don't want to change it (even though I know my version is not the standard one) because it's how I've always spoken, and how a large minority of people in the UK speak. So what. I just use it. I think it's the same kind of thing with what you're asking.

When everyone tries to be the same writing becomes blander.

Offline Skip

Re: Sublime words in writing
« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2018, 04:34:57 AM »
A word that is extraordinary or obscure to one person will be perfectly ordinary to another. You ought not assume your writing is in any way above the head of your reader, unless you are aiming to write books for children. Even YA should not worry about such things. I read the entirety of The Island of Dr Moreau without ever knowing what the word "vivisection" meant. But I still enjoyed the book and still remember it fifty years later.

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Offline Peat

Re: Sublime words in writing
« Reply #3 on: November 23, 2018, 09:05:48 PM »
1. What do you think about the use of sublime wording in writing. And by sublime I mean something like "desolation", "exalted", "courteous", "transcendent" and so on.

- Use them bruv.

2. Do you often find them in stories you read? Do you sometimes have problems with understanding them so you have to use dictionary to find out their meaning?

- Yes and since I've been finding them in stories I've been reading since I was 8, no dramas about understanding them. The last time I had to look up a word when reading was Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, and that is waaaaaaay over the top with its use of obscure words. But also really good for it.

3. What do you think when those extraordinary words are used by:
a) Author - as names of characters, items, techniques
b) Characters - as something that makes them stand out from the others
c) Narrator - to describe something

- All of them sound good, depending on the context.

I will now look at the spoiler and... yeah, its good bruv. Use them.

Online cupiscent

Re: Sublime words in writing
« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2018, 02:16:19 AM »
Style is style... and as long as style is consistent, then I don't mind. I get thrown out when a book that's been pretty workmanlike in its prose suddenly has me reaching for the dictionary. (C.S. Pacat is a big offender here.) But I get similarly thrown when a book that's been languorous and replete with convoluted verbiage suddenly gets clumsy and bland.

Sidenote: you can have elegance of style without getting out the thesaurus. I just finished reading an ARC of K.A. Doore's The Perfect Assassin which contained a line about panic scratching at his mind like a cat at a door, and that is SO PERFECT, and yet not at all advanced vocab.

Offline Peat

Re: Sublime words in writing
« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2018, 01:31:54 PM »
Style is style... and as long as style is consistent, then I don't mind. I get thrown out when a book that's been pretty workmanlike in its prose suddenly has me reaching for the dictionary. (C.S. Pacat is a big offender here.) But I get similarly thrown when a book that's been languorous and replete with convoluted verbiage suddenly gets clumsy and bland.

This, although I think it can have a good effect and be pleasing if used intentionally to signal a shift in something in the story. That's something I thought Eddings did passingly well. At least I hope I'm right, as my latest short story draft very deliberately does this.

Quote
Sidenote: you can have elegance of style without getting out the thesaurus. I just finished reading an ARC of K.A. Doore's The Perfect Assassin which contained a line about panic scratching at his mind like a cat at a door, and that is SO PERFECT, and yet not at all advanced vocab.

This as well.
This is the blog of Peat - http://peatlong.blogspot.co.uk/

Offline Dan D Jones

Re: Sublime words in writing
« Reply #6 on: November 26, 2018, 05:35:08 PM »
I'm really not sure what you mean by "sublime" or "extraordinary" words. The examples you gave are fairly ordinary English words.

But generally speaking, you should match your vocabulary to your voice in that particular work. If your viewpoint character is an orphaned street urchin, then I'd use much simpler language as compared to having a viewpoint character who's a literary professor. The language you use as a writer strongly influences the voice of the work, and if the voice and the characters are at odds, it may discombobulate your reader.

Even if you're writing in third person and are not actually quoting your character, the words you use an an author shape and influence the perception of your characters. And the narrator is always a character in your work. What sort of person speaks with the cadence and style you use to tell the story? An erudite, sophisticated narrator gives a very different effect than does a simple, plain-spoken one.

You also need to be aware of truly rare words - words like "discombobulate" or "pulchritude" or "sesquipedalian" - words that most of your readers will not know without looking them up or gleaning their meaning from context. I think very few readers of this site needed to lookup  "desolation", "exalted", "courteous" or "transcendent." They may or may not be part of their speaking vocabulary, but they're very likely part of their reading vocabulary.  On the other hand, I suspect most readers would need to lookup at least one of the example words I used. Used too frequently, they can make it difficult or impossible to ascertain your meaning. Used sparingly, however, particularly in ways where the meaning can be ascertained without having to pause and actually look up the word, they can elevate your writing.  Gene Wolfe uses this to great effect.

That being said, there are pitfalls and negatives with using an expanded vocabulary, particularly if it is not done well or correctly. You should rarely use a thesaurus as a writer. (There are some who will undoubtedly disagree with that, and that's fine. You're entitled to your own opinion. This response is mine.) If a word is not part of your writing vocabulary, it is very easy to use it slightly incorrectly. Mark Twain said "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” You do not want "almost right" words in your writing. They will destroy your credibility with your reader.

Even if you use a word correctly, large words can come across as wordy and pompous. They can make you sound like you're trying to impress the reader, and the effect of that is precisely the opposite. There's a study from Princeton entitled "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly."  If your writing sounds like the first half of that sentence, you have issues.  (If you're interested, the paper is freely available online and goes into this subject much deeper than I can here.)

In summary, use language you're comfortable with and understand. Don't use big words for the sake of using big words, but don't hesitate to use a larger word if it more precisely fits your meaning. Use a vocabulary that is appropriate for the voice of the piece, and be aware of how that voice will affect your reader's perceptions of the story.

The final bit of advice I'd give is do not necessarily rely on your own ear, at least not until you have enough writing under your belt to be confident of your voice. Use writing groups or beta readers and specifically ask for feedback on your voice and your vocabulary. It may also help to read your works aloud to yourself. (Speaking from personal experience, it may be advisable to find an isolated location to put that plan into effect.)

Keep writing.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Sublime words in writing
« Reply #7 on: November 27, 2018, 02:36:43 AM »
I'm sure many would disagree, and they're welcome to. But when you write, I do not think you should use "your" voice; you use your writing voice, which should vary (perhaps a great deal) from your speaking voice. That variance should, even when writing narration, be centered in your Narrator's voice, which should match the genre, mood, audience, and like a zillion other things. That voice is not just vocab but usage, and you should build it deliberately. This is exponentially more important, or rather, more visible and complex, in your characters' voices.

So whether the sun shines, pokes, smiles, giggles, or guffaws its way through the trees, you should make that choice not so much on the first word that occurs to you, but the first word that would occur to your narrator.
 Consider the voices and word choices here - hear the characters (who are also the narrators) not only have distinct voices, but their word choices vary as they get to the critical parts.
Jump to the 1:00 mark:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNaXQQbcgw0
Then compare to this clip:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMuam1MObtI
Notice where the narrator gets to the lofty ideas and ironies at 3:29 and the big words come out "magnanimous" - and hear how it's juxtaposed against the others' "gave up drinkin'".  Art.

My point in all this is that the question should not be "should I use big words?" - the questions (plural) are "Why am I using them?", "when should I and shouldn't I use them?", and most importantly - "Which ones, where / when, and by whom?"

The words themselves are never better or worse than others - only more or less appropriate for the task. The inability to speak in simple terms when one needs to is just as much of a limitation as the inability to make one's language loftier, airier, and effervescent when one needs to. My two cents.
« Last Edit: November 27, 2018, 02:43:43 AM by The Gem Cutter »
The Gem Cutter
"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline Skip

Re: Sublime words in writing
« Reply #8 on: November 27, 2018, 05:00:38 AM »
People don't always need to look up a big word. Take "discombobulate" as an example. The root is "bobulate" which is obviously an admonishment to Bob that he is late.

Combobulate means much the same, but with "com[e]" as an intensifier. Come, Bob, you late.

"Dis" can have a variety of meaning. Opposite of "dat" is one. A slang version of "disrespect." But here we have the older meaning, where as a prefix it flips the meaning of the word. So, Bob isn't late at all, or won't be if he would only go. Bob naturally represents all of humanity, so "to discombobulate" means to urge someone to go. It may be rather an ornate word, but it's really quite compact.

See? Easy!

Offline ArhiX

Re: Sublime words in writing
« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2018, 07:26:53 PM »
Thank you all for you answers.

Sorry it took my like a week to answer.  :-[

I asked same question in several places and then analised results of answers that I got. And do you know what is interesting? I am a part of two small writing groups of like 10 and 8 people and most of them never even heard of the word desolation and ascendency! And also were much more critical to my idea.

At first I was surprised. How people, that I know that are reading and writing more than me are not familiar to this style... So to speak - people from my writing group are all from the same country as me.

And when I thought about it deeper, my native language is really... Simple. We don't have many extraordinary words or words that describe states and emotions like in english. My language is as plain and simple as a road. I can recall more "sublime" words in english than in my native tongue.  :P

And it is nothing to be proud of.
"The world is full of stories, and from time to time, they permit themselves to be told."