My brain just melted.
Not only do I write a lot (too much) and blog for all of you (too much, probably) but I also do a lot of health-related writing/editing/rewriting because that’s sort of what I’m studying in grad school, except for right now, when I am being asked to understand how America’s health care system
works doesn’t work is set up, but surprisingly, that’s not why my brain just melted.
I just had to edit about 1200 words about phytochemicals. You probably don’t know what those are and that isn’t important right now. What’s important is that it’s been awhile since I’ve seen such a wordy, data-dumped, TOTALLY BORING piece of writing. I almost have an advanced degree and I had to read some sentences three times to understand the language. And I’m a total dork when it comes to reading anything nutrition-related. There were just too many big words and way too much information got smashed into one body of work.
I tell you this because there’s something important about writing we don’t address often enough: you have to keep things simple. The words you use in particular.
You can tell a writer’s level intelligence the easier his or her sentences read. Big words do not make a good piece of writing. We should never have to rely on big, smart-sounding words to tell a good story. I still remember writing a short story once in high school. For some reason I used Word’s synonym feature to change a word I’d used to a much bigger, smarter-sounding word. It didn’t fit in at all with the rest of the story’s tone or the narrator’s voice, but it made me feel smart.
Don’t do that! When you’re fourteen, it’s cute (sort of). When you’re 24 … no.
It doesn’t make sense, even if your main character is really smart. When you learn something new, and have to remember it, how do you remember it? You break it down into the simplest terms and ideas possible so you can recall that info. Looking at the word phytochemicals even makes me cringe, but they’re just a bunch of plant chemicals. That’s how you would explain it to someone, and how your main character and/or narrator would explain it.
I’m rambling now (it’s been a long day, I’m trying as hard as I can to keep up with my posting schedule). Every once in awhile I still read books that are for young adult audiences yet have random words in them that I just don’t think belong. Just use simple language. You’re not dumbing anything down, you’re communicating the way the average person [should] communicate.
And never say utilize when you can easily say use.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.
Image courtesy of The Deconstruction.