Writing Tips: Beware of Overly Fancy Words

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Sometimes it’s tempting to show off our vocabulary as we are writing, but only in rare instances is this effective. As Jonathan Franzen said, “The reader is a friend; not an adversary, not a spectator.” As you are working, try to speak to your readers in a friendly manner, and avoid showing off. You don’t want to send them running to their dictionaries every other paragraph (or to make them give up and throw down your book). Here are a few examples of overly fancy language:

She considered the letter to be an augury of better things to come.

Why not say it like this: She took the letter as a sign that better things were to come.

Or: The decomposing fruit emitted a stench that made his nostrils flare.

How about: The rotting fruit gave off an odor that made his nostrils flare.

It’s easy to go overboard on vocabulary when we’re describing something that we really want to draw our readers’ attention to—particularly if we want to create a vivid image in their minds. Again, beware of overly luxurious language that can quickly become tedious. For instance:

The cerulean sky reflected the cresting azure waves that came to a sighing halt right at his feet.

We could say the above in a more economical and straightforward manner: The bright blue sky reflected the waves that stopped just before they reached his toes.

Or: Her boss made his entrance in the room, immediately causing a caesura in the conversation.

This version is better: Her boss came into the room, and right away the conversation ceased.

I hope these tips have been helpful! Have a question about writing? Comment or email me at leslie@lesliewellsbooks.com

Leslie Wells has edited forty-nine New York Times bestsellers in her thirty-year publishing career. She is the author of Come Dancing, a novel about book publishing and rock and roll, set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at http://www.lesliewellsbooks.com

CC Photo: “Stupinigi centrale hal boven” by Danielm de la Viquipèdia en neerlandès – Transferred from nl.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stupinigi_centrale_hal_boven.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Stupinigi_centrale_hal_boven.jpg

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