For The Love Of Words #AmWriting

I love words, especially the creative, expressive ones. You’ll find them littered throughout my stories, contributing to my voice and style.

Is that a good thing?

There’s advice to use precise verbs in place of verb + adverb. I tend to lean that direction. Then there’s the advice to use simple words, words everyone will understand. It brought Olga Godim’s IWSG post from June to mind.

When I picked up a new online critique partner, I realized just how much of my everyday vocabulary isn’t common. She’s not a native English speaker, so I saw this as an excellent opportunity to see which of my words might give people pause. Sure, there are the colloquialisms of egads, woot, and criminy. But I was surprised by other words such as scampered, scurried, and prodded.

Will I change these words? Probably not. As a young teen, Piers Anthony inspired me to learn all the wrong words with his character the Demoness Metria. But I’ve been mulling over how much of my vocabulary I take for granted, and it’s an interesting observation.

Have you ever worked with a non-native English speaker with your writing? Do you tend to use common words or more expressive ones? What are some of the words you’ve encountered that were unfamiliar to you?

Loni Townsend

About Loni Townsend

Wife. Mother. Writer. Ninja. Squirrel.

16 thoughts on “For The Love Of Words #AmWriting

  1. That’s really interesting that scampering and scurried gave your critique writer pause. I use them all the time 🙂 One of my recent beta readers wasn’t a native English speaker. She picked up on some grammatical points that others didn’t, which I thought was interesting, as well as providing heaps of other useful feedback. I think it’s kind of neat to get the perspective of a non-native English speaker.

  2. You can encounter that here in the USA. People use different words to describe things, such as soda, pop, soda pop, Coke, etc. You just have to use what works best for you and the story.

  3. When I published my book of short stories, my best friend, who is German, was the first to read it through. That was great! She picked up on things that would possibly have been missed by a native English speaker. I tend to use everyday language in my writing because that’s what I like to read. I did read a story by a Scottish writer once and was totally lost due to the colloquialisms used. Great post, Loni.

  4. I’ve worked with lots of former students who did not speak English fluently, but I also had an endorsement in teaching English as a Second Language. There is so much more we can do in person to get our meaning across then when it’s just word on the page. I have worked with a handful of clients who aren’t native speakers. I’ve found their grammar skills tend to be much better than the average American’s since that tends to be downplayed in this country’s curriculums today. I also have a native speaker client who tends to use fancy words when a more user-friendly word will do. She has a great vocab, but that’s not always best for the story or true to certain characters.

  5. I tend to use the first word that comes to mind, whether it is a common word or not. That’s interesting to have a non-native English speaker read your work and see what they get out of it. I’m sure it’d be much harder.

  6. I’ve worked with several non-English speakers and had to limit my language, but the biggest thing for me has been working with children and realizing when they don’t understand a word. I think it’s a blast expanding their vocabularies by teaching them new words, and because I write for the age that should be the MOST academic (from a developmental perspective), I don’t feel all that shy about using bigger words. Maybe I should?

  7. I recall often scurrying for the old dictionary as a preteen to make sure I was getting a definition right. Not so much nowadays, not since a fit of boredom had me reading that very dictionary end to end one summer’s day when it was too hot to go horseriding and my shelves were full of books I’d already read. But I think some of the words rubbed off on me as my partner used to have to ask me to explain some of the things I said when we first started dating. It probably didn’t help that my family had a habit of joking around with less common words.
    I’ve had a few non-English speakers read the first few chapters of my work, but never the whole story. I tend to write how I speak, so there are a few uncommon words sprinkled through, but I’m never too big-worded… outside certain characters’ dialogue.

  8. I so love words! I do try to find the strongest, most concrete, most accurate words I can, especially for my flash fiction when the word count is limited.

  9. I have to watch it, because I tend to use bigger, more fun words sometimes. It depends on my mood when writing. I sometimes edit it down. But they’re the words I enjoyed when reading, so they slip out.

  10. For me part of the joy of reading is learning new words. It’s a fun way to expand my vocabulary. I think using a balance works well, but then that’s hard since we are he writer know the word. We don’t necessarily know it’s less common. I haven’t used non-English speaker betas yet, but I have used betas from vastly different areas in the US–and that was interesting too.

  11. Ye gods, Demetria… she was always one of my favorites. Back in high school, I did a book report where we had to write it as an interview with a character, and so of course I chose to interview her. I even put in her word confusion at least once, maybe two or three times. ^_^

    But I hear you about words. I haven’t worked with anyone whose native language isn’t English for a while, but I have such a tendency to try to find the right word no matter how uncommon it is, that I’ve received the “what?” look from people when I use something really obscure. It’s kind of funny sometimes.

  12. Sarah

    Hmm. I don’t find those words you mentioned uncommon. And now you have me wondering about my word choice. I tend to write conversationally on my blog so…commmon? But I’m expressive, too.
    I agree with Alex that you’re going to find a lot of words and/or slang vary even in the US but I think your new critique partner will be really helpful.

  13. I’ve never been on the purple prose side of the pen and stick to more direct and simplistic writing. That said, some days the perfect word is longish. I didn’t create it so I’m stuck with it. If I did create a word, it would be prinking (predrinking) or snarcasic… just because. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  14. “colloquialisms of egads” Whaaat? LOL I’m surprised by scampered and those other words. I wouldn’t change those either. It makes your writing more colorful, less boring. We can’t use the same words over and over again, so I try to change it up with words like that, too. I never thought those words would give readers pauses, but to me those words aren’t strange or hard to pronounce. So they stay. 😉

  15. If that’s your natural voice, most certainly keep them!! It’s what makes a book unique. The only time big words (or unique words) cause a hiccup in my reading is when it feels obvious the writer kept a Thesaurus handy and consulted in for every sentence.

  16. I tend to use common words, because that’s usually all that occurs to me when I sit down in front of the computer to write. However, I do use more expressive words if I take the time to read someone else’s story before I work on mine. Puts me into the proper mood, I think.

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