CWM: #12 — Not using plain language

Recently, I’ve seen some writers try to up their vocabulary. It feels as if they’re opening a thesaurus and writing the words they find down. Some of these words include specific plant or animal names, scientific words, uncommon verbs, etc. Grackle. Fervent. Reveille. Ostentatious. Imbibes.

But it’s better to use plain language.

I attended an ACES webinar by Cheryl Stephens about this. She mentioned how people know about 5,000 to 10,000 words. Any words outside of that can confuse readers.

“When you ask the reader to infer what you mean, you increase the odds that they’ll get it wrong. Be specific.” — Cheryl Stephens

Most of the time, readers can’t stop to look up a word. It also forces them to break away from the story. After so many breaks, readers may not want to go back.

There are two good ways to check this.

One is Google Ngram. This site lets you see how frequently people use certain words over time.

A second good way is to ask someone. I usually ask my mom or my friends. If they can’t tell me what the word means, I replace it with a more common word.

Granted, sometimes using uncommon words works for a story. But most times, it’s better to think about whether your intended audience will know the word or not.

I hope this helps!

Want more?

#1 — Using multiple adjectives
#2 — Vagueness for tension
#3 — Repeating words for emphasis
#4 — Common misused words
#5 — Misusing hyphens

#6 — Unnecessary details
#7 — Not developing characters
#8 — The words feel and felt
#9 — Overusing character names
#10 — Adding too many details with commas

#11 — Different types of dashes
#13 — Dialogue tags vs. action beats
#14 — Misusing commas
#15 — No sentence variation

#16 — Misplaced modifiers
#17 — Characters with similar names
#18 — When to start new paragraphs
This was originally posted on my writing blog.

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