Thursday, February 23, 2012

I say BIG words

When I entered a first sentence crit contest on a blog where the viewers are writers (some of them published), I assumed they would know words I commonly use. Here's my first line.

'Her voice has the timbre of someone chewing on a balloon.'

Apparently I've flummoxed a lot of people by using the word 'timbre.' 'Timbre' meaning the quality of the sound. Timbre is why a violin and a flute playing the same note and pitch sound different.

And by 'flummoxed,' I mean... wait, really? I have to explain that one too? *sigh*

People said I sounded 'like I was trying too hard to be clever.' 'That it sounded as though I'd taken the word out of a thesaurus.' 'Like I was using the word incorrectly.' 'Like it was old fashioned.'

Sorry, but you're talking to a girl who worked 'gallivanting' into a rock song. It was a deliberate word choice, and is completely accurate in both cases. It is not old fashioned - it is a musical definition. I work in music; I don't need to look up the definition of timbre. I don't write by looking up words in a thesaurus. I use the knowledge I already have and write what I know.

If my words are too 'confusing' for you, I suggest you start challenging yourself a bit more when choosing reading material. You will never improve as a reader if you read AT your level. You get better by reading slightly above your level - by challenging yourself!

It seems like in these critique contests, that readers are looking to be confused by other writers' content. One woman commented she 'doesn't know what chewing on a balloon sounds like, and she couldn't imagine it.'

What the flaming fuck? You can't even *imagine* what that would sound like? Sorry, but aren't you a writer? Aren't you used to creating worlds and people in your work? Don't you have to imagine things every day to create a novel? Is it just me who is able to take an imaginative leap when reading someone else's work? (It's not just my entry I'm speaking of. You should see the things that "confuse" some of the critiquers).

I'm not sure if this is because A) they are really that stunned, or B) they are trying to sabotage other writers by leaving negative comments on their entries.

I'm not sure which makes me sadder.

If they ARE that stunned that they can't connect simple dots, or even imagine something, then what does that say about their work? We've either got writers who can't imagine anything, or even infer anything from a sentence, or writers who are trying to sabotage other writers.

Both scenarios sadden me.

Writing seems to get watered down more and more as time goes by. People need things explained for them more and more, they need art to be spoon-fed to their under used palates.

I am not going to water down my vocabulary to appease the illiterati. I am writing what I know and what I love with the tools at my disposal.

We are WRITERS. We are supposed to figure out what we want to say, and then say it as succinctly as possible.

And by 'succinctly,' I mean...

See how ridiculous it gets? Where do we draw the line at dumbing things down for people who aren't familiar with our vocabulary? Do we treat the reader like they are a tiny child, incapable of looking up a word that they aren't familiar with? That said, even children learn to infer an unfamiliar word's meaning from the rest of the sentence.

And by 'infer,' I mean...

I can't assume that you know every word I do. But I can't write my book assuming that you don't know anything. I'm going to treat you like a reasonably intelligent adult. I'm going to write as though you are capable of inference, or at least capable of looking something up in a dictionary if you don't understand it.

I say big words not to show off, but because that word is the one that I need. Sure, I could say, 'Her voice sounds like someone chewing on a balloon,' but even then, there are some of you who can't imagine what I mean. If you can't imagine that, then you shouldn't be reading my work. Go back to board books where everything is spelled out for you, you unimaginative bastard.

I write big words. I say big words. And you should too.


  1. Loved this blog. I definitely agree. Too many "writers" don't spend enough time reading. I'm also disturbed that they find it acceptable to not know the meaning of such a common, musical word. But sadly, these responses are accurate to the ignorant, pay attention to me Internet crowd.

  2. Should have stuck with OMG and lmfao.....
    Sorry, those people sound like idiots. Is there a link and a way I can comment at them calling them idiots?
    Cuz, I really want to. :)

  3. "Go read a book you illiterate son of a bitch and step up yo' vocab."

    -Jay-Z, Big Pimpin' (2000)

  4. I gave you a shout out on my own humble little blog. Thanks for all the great comments. You rock!

  5. You know who to disregard when they make a's an inbuilt BS detector. And if you ain't annoying intellectual pygmies then you aren't trying hard enough.

  6. Love love love this blog post. That's all! :-)

  7. I have noticed this sort of thing a lot on first line critiques. I think some people just feel like they need to say something, anything. Sometimes I think we put too much emphasis on those first lines. A lot of comments seems to fall under 'I don't get it.' Um, in real life you'd probably keep reading. I mean, seriously, how many people read one line and then just stop if they don't like it?
    Ps. I like your first line. :)

  8. Brava! Say what you mean and mean what you say. Even if it's a big word.

    I have some holes in my memory conveniently provided by years of mental illness and compounded by years of poisoning myself with the meds to treat the mental illness. Sometimes I have trouble finding a simplistic way of saying things (which is a different thing from a "simple" way), and the only word I can grab on to is a twenty-five cent word. Most people find it amusing in conversation. Sometimes they're happy to learn a new word, other times they're just confused. It's not my problem your education lacks substance.

    Sometimes, that 25 cent word is the most appropriate choice. And for the record, I had no trouble understanding your first sentence. And I'm cringing thinking about that voice!

  9. I can't say how much I agree with you. Being an avid reader from the time I learned to read, I have amassed an extensive vocabulary. I can't tell you how many times people, other writers, have complained that my language was too advanced and that it needed to be dumbed down. Has no one else ever read John Green? I don't think that it is necessary to offend the teens that would read by assuming they are too dumb to infer what I mean.

    Well said!