I haven’t had a chance to mention this here yet, but I received my very first piece of fan mail last weekend. An extremely nice guy took the time to write me an email after finishing PWNED, letting me know what he thought of it.
You guys. He liked it. He thought I pulled it off. He was a little skeptical when he first started reading it, but he said he enjoyed reading it overall and is glad he bought it!
Do you have any idea how mind-blowingly amazing that is? SO mind-blowingly amazing.
One helpful bit of feedback he gave me is to take a very hard look at the big words I use in my writing, and ask myself how many people will really know what those pieces of vocab mean. He mentioned the word “atavistic” in particular, and after revisiting it I see his point.
This is not the first time someone has noticed this. I wield a formidable vocabulary and sometimes have a skewed perspective on what constitutes a “big word.”
At first I rebelled against the notion that I should use smaller words in order to write at a level the general public is comfortable with. Stephen King uses big words! I’m reading a book right now (Cryptonomicon, in case you’re curious) that is chock full of big words! Successful authors use big words and no one yells at them for it!
Then something my first-piece-of-fan-mail-writer said caught my eye. To paraphrase, my writing is easy to read and hums right along until a big word drops out of nowhere and cracks the reader’s windshield.
If I take an honest look at my writing, I have to agree with the guy. My writing style was born on my blog. If the big words I use on occasion are distracting and annoying to my readers, then it’s safe to say my writing isn’t an appropriate place to let my fun words loose.
This does give me an excuse to ponder the relevance of the juicy words that are big on nuance and short on fans. Do you think they’ll get phased out and become obsolete someday? If no one’s learning them anymore and fewer and fewer people are using them, how long do you think it’ll take before words like “atavistic” and “pusillanimous” are, for all intents and purposes, extinct? Gone the way of thee’s and thou’s, and used only when irony or a bit of cheap authenticity are called for.