My Twisted Writer Brain…

A Simple Lesson from a Little Boy Who Didn’t Understand

The other day I was watching a news story about a little boy with cancer and his frustration at not understanding big words.

He’s just a little kid, but along with his mom, he’s now teaching doctors what kind of language to use when talking to young patients.

The little guy said he always felt nervous and afraid when the doctors came into the room and one of the main problems was the big words they used .

“The doctor would tell me to stay hydrated instead of saying drink lots of water or the doctor would come in and ask me if I had any abdominal pain instead of asking me if my tummy hurt.”

Child cancer patient

These may seems like small things but words, and being able to understand what’s going on, make a huge difference.

Think about when you read a book. If you’re cruising right along and then BOOM a huge twenty dollar word appears and you have no idea what it means…What do you do? Do you skip over it? Google? Pull out the dictionary? Ignore? Just feel stupid?

You shouldn’t have to do any of these things and as a writer you don’t want your reader stepping away because they may never step back.

Why does any author use highfalutin’ words when a simple word will do?

Words should be age appropriate for the target reading audience and keep the flow of the narrative going. Speed bumps (aka: unknown/fancy/foreign/complicated words) slow the reader down and may take them completely out of the story.

Unless, as a writer, you’re deep into literary fiction (where the standards of what I call “poetic and prosy vocabulary” are part of the genre) or writing some sort of nuclear how-to manual, lay off the the dictionary and thesaurus vocabulary and keep it real.

The same goes for vernacular which are things like jargon, slang, or dialects. In this case, a little goes a long way.

If you’re going to reference an accent for example, it’s difficult and jarring for the reader to slip in and out of it. Be aware of that.

Give the reader an example at the beginning so they know the character has–for example– a soft drawl or a French qu’est que c’est (what is it/that?) …Does that make sense?

You can reference sound in another way. Don’t write all the characters with different accents and unique vernacular as it could lose your reader.

Take a lesson from a little boy who had to teach his doctors.

In closing….

Keep it simple.

Twenty Dollar Word: an expensive replacement for another word that is “less expensive” aka: easier to understand and not making the author look like a show off.

Highfalutin’: this is over the top, pretentious, or artificially elevated in status (Oxford Dictionary).

Vocabulary: words within a language. So there’s an English vocabulary, French etc.

Vernacular: is all about everyday speech used by different groups in different regions. It is considered informal and includes slang, jargon, and dialects. People in Canada, for example, will say “eh” when asking a question or making a statement. Once or twice is fine but I wouldn’t want to see eh at the end of every sentence. That’d be overkill.

Remember: You can use any words you like. You’re the writer. Some like the odd and obscure. I’d just remind you of the little boy in the hospital and how the big words scared him… The same could happen to your reader. Your work. Your choice.

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