Learning new words can be like discovering a new tool that makes a tedious task simple, or tasting a delicious flavor never sampled before.
I love to learn new words. When I come across a new word I enjoy or relate to, I collect it in my writing notebook in One Note and when I update my website, mbercreations.com, I include a new word on my inspiration page. I follow a couple of great word blogs here on wordpress.Sesquiotica by James Harbeck and WordBowl by Ms. Charlie Schroder.
A new vocabulary writing exercise:
A while back, when I was reading House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, I collected many words and brought my finds to my writing group. We decided to do a writing exercise in which we incorporated our favorite new words from my list into a short piece of fiction. I had been mulling around an idea for a sci-fi story for a while and decided to use it for this exercise. Just for fun, I used all of the words from the list that I could and found some more to create a short beginning to that story. I really enjoyed the exercise, but my piece was most definitely over the top and I put it aside while working on other things.
Revision: Deciding what to keep and what to change.
Recently, I decided to revisit this story for a class assignment hoping to continue to develop it, perhaps finish it, during the class. I expected to simply go through the less familiar words and replace them, but a number of them turned out to be the strongest choice. I didn’t find better words than tessellated and protean to describe parts of my monster rising from the sea and tenebrific truly describes the quality of its shadow. So some of the words I learned from the exercise stayed, and in my opinion began to define the voice of the narrator.
Disappointing feedback gets me thinking.
Imagine my disappointment when the feedback from my peers (three reviews) came to one consensus: they did not appreciate my word choice. The most complimentary said the words were too “technical” and another stated he did not like to look things up in a dictionary while reading. If not while reading, when?
The course is online. The readers are online while reading. How hard is it to split-screen with dictionary.com? Learning new words is easier than ever and people taking a writing class acted as if using a word that was unknown to them was some sort of personal affront. Pareidolia is a great word. If I saw it for the first time, I would be excited to look it up.
The words I used are not archaic or abandoned. They have unique meanings that clearly state what I mean to say. Should a writer be expected to limit her vocabulary? Why shouldn’t she expect her readers to rise to the challenge? Why would a writer limit his joy of language in fear that his reader doesn’t know the same words he does and won’t pick up a dictionary?
How could anyone who wants to write fiction not want to explore every word and its many uses? Isn’t limiting one’s vocabulary to fit an imagined understanding, condemning readers to a truncated experience? Isn’t it wiser to assume a love of language and use all of the tools and weapons at hand?