Vocabulary Matters

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Vocabulary Matters

Postby Baker » 23 Aug 2012, 12:04

I mean 'matters' in its verb sense in this first instance.

Fran and I had a discussion about how important vocabulary is in both dialogue and narrative (in fiction). I brought this up because I'd just realised I'd changed one perfectly serviceable adjective for another. When I thought about it, the reason I did so was because the latter was a more formal word, trailing with it a smidge of baggage that I hoped a reader would pigeonhole as being an 'older' word. That is, I was trying to tailor my word choice in a narrative sentence to give it all a patina of age. This led to a conversation of how important did we think using specific subsets of vocabulary were in achieving ends like this. I'm not talking eliminating anachronisms--like, for example, having a POV character in a historical novel think of sexual excitement in terms of electricity--but paying attention to all your words. (The words in my case were open/unguarded. Yes, the additional implication of unguarded for social interactions that are more strictly self-policed was also desirable.)

We both decided that vocab selection really is important in both dialogue and narrative. What do others think?
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Re: Vocabulary Matters

Postby ElaineB » 23 Aug 2012, 12:21

Absolutely. I'm on the 7th draft of my infernal ms and am still finding words to tweak. Would my POV character really use that word? Did someone else also use it? Do I really mean this? Or that? Sometimes, as you point out with open/unguarded, something that seems the same, really isn't or adds another dimension. Of course, I can't find an example at the moment, but the next time I tweak, I'll share.
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Re: Vocabulary Matters

Postby PaulaO » 24 Aug 2012, 06:40

There's a big difference between what real people say in real life vs what our characters must say. In real life, we have body language, atmosphere, facial expressions, etc that are just as important to the conversation as the words themselves. But in writing, we can't always draw that perfect picture and instead must use the words themselves to draw it in the readers' minds.

This means that the words we use must carry the appropriate baggage and we can only hope the reader understands.
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Re: Vocabulary Matters

Postby Baker » 24 Aug 2012, 08:55

Yes. What I'm getting at is self-selecting a subset of your vocabulary in a manner that you hope contributes to the setting, characterisation, etc. I would not expect the part of my vocabulary I use for a book set in, say, the French Revolution, would be exactly that same as for a contemporary murder mystery.* In Venn diagram terms, the two sets would overlap but have areas outside that overlap. I'm wondering if other writers notice themselves doing it, and if readers are aware this happens?



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Re: Vocabulary Matters

Postby PaulaO » 24 Aug 2012, 11:11

I am currently working on 3 books at once, although only one is the most active.

a fantasy in the usual sword and horse setting
a modern romance set in the US South
a science fiction set in the near future with an MC who is from Philadelphia

I can't just hop from one to the other without first re-reading a few paragraphs in order to force myself to switch gears. Each has its own feel presented through the language, primarily the dialogue.

I enjoy reading books outside of my locale since I get a chance to immerse myself in a world I will otherwise never experience. I enjoy books based in Australia, Britain, or New Zealand. It is the language that takes me there. Even if written by an American, a Brit would not say 'color' in dialogue; she would say 'colour' because she is, duh, British. By putting that extra letter in there, it affects my mind, my view on the character.
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Re: Vocabulary Matters

Postby Andain » 24 Aug 2012, 17:10

Yep, I agree. Word choice is extremely important both to readers and writers. I'm going through my first real "help from an editor" editing process with Captive now, and it's been such a learning experience, though a great one. I find myself stumped for 10-15 minutes sometimes, trying to find just the right word to fix a sentence I got called out on. I'm honestly loving digging through my manuscript like this with a fine tool.
Captive by the Fog - My debut novel, now available from Musa Publishing.
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Re: Vocabulary Matters

Postby HRJ » 29 Oct 2012, 06:56

Because most of my stories are set either in the past (or an alternate past), or in a secondary world altogether, I spend a lot of time thinking about how vocabulary builds or undermines those settings. It can be especially problematical because I often write with a very tight POV. Would my character use this word or concept? Does this comparison or metaphor make sense in this world? But on the other hand, in a sense, all my writing is a "translation" from the world of the setting into modern (American) English. So there's a point where obsessing over the details can become absurd.

I think the time I most tied myself in knots was in an alternate-world setting when I described a character as "following suit" in the sense of repeating an action in a similar manner. After days of trying to come up with a different but still elegant way to word it, I came to the conclusion that maybe it was ok to assume that the world did, in fact, play the sort of card games that underlay the expression, even if I never mentioned the fact explicitly.
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Re: Vocabulary Matters

Postby ElaineB » 29 Oct 2012, 08:30

I can see where spec fic would give you both freedom and anxiety in creating words to describe the worlds you've built. You can't just make up a word, because then the reader won't understand. I like the analogy that it's a translation.

Why do we call cards suits anyway?
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Re: Vocabulary Matters

Postby HRJ » 29 Oct 2012, 09:00

ElaineB wrote:Why do we call cards suits anyway?


I think it's related to "suite" in the sense of "a set, an ensemble" (in the same sense as a suit of clothes, meaning a particular set of garments).
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Re: Vocabulary Matters

Postby ElaineB » 29 Oct 2012, 12:56

Ah, thanks.
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