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Vocabulary in Writing

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This thread is sparked by the book "Wicked" which, while amazing, is a difficult read if you go word by word. Now, the book is intended for adults (or mature audiences, for sure), and all the words fit perfectly (and don't seem affected or needless, even). Just for example's sake, here are the words I had to look up over six pages: verdigris... green (copper acetone) etiolated... bleached green (plant) quern... hand mill for grain amanuensis... one who takes dictation elevenses... light snack at 11 am disquisition... formal inquiry into a subject terricolous... living on the ground retinue... group of attendants margreave... military governor of an area arabesquing... elaborate and intricate plant pattern disport... sport or amusement cottoned... to come to understand vellum... strong animalskin paper sfumato... painting: blending tomes without outline Now, obviously, this is fairly extreme, and you won't see most of those words in the musical (though verdigris made the cut). I've even had to pause games to look up words on occasion (though rarely). Other books and games, however, hit the opposite extreme, and leave you feeling like you've become trapped in a Jack and Jill story. Now, I can't imagine there are any hard and fast rules here, so let's hit up the rules of thumb. How do you determine what is appropriate - how can you tell if your language is too 'high' or too 'low?' Is it okay if it's fairly clear in context, or should we just stick with getting the point across?

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Well, it depends who your target audience is, and what sort of style you're going for, but mostly I try to go by the character who's speaking. It's okay if a character uses words the reader/player doesn't know if that character is supposed to be very intelligent, cultured, or abstruse.

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Well, it gets a bit ridiculous if you speak like the Architect from the Matrix.

You're right, though - it depends greatly on the character speaking - if it's something the person would say, then it should be said. If they do try to affect fancy accents and vocabulary, that should probably be kept as well.

But what about our omniscient narrators?

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Well I write mostly in first person, so I don't usually have an omniscient narrator, my narrator is a viewpoint character. Even when you do have an omniscient narrator they are sort of a character - the author, the book itself, the story world, a historian or biographer, etc. But that's what I was trying to get at when I said it depends on what style you're going for. The clear glass style is a popular narrative style where the goal is for the reader/player not to notice the word choice at all, which naturally requires not using any words the reader/player won't know. On the other hand, many people find a vivid style to be more pleasing. Some examples of vivid styles are a chatty/slangy style, an arch/courtly repartee style, a stream of consciousness style, a noir/cyberpunk style, and a mythic style.

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I would agree with shadow on this. Language really depends upon the target audience and the character speaking.

However... The fact that you had to look up any word, I feel, is detrimental to writing an effective story. People read books to get a curageous tale or a daring adventure (or whatever), and whenever they have to stop to find a really good dictionary so that they can lookup some bizarre word just so they can understand what the crap is happening in the sentence, they become detracted from the story.

But... I'm not saying you shouldn't use "high-brow" words in your writing, but if you do, I would recommend writing it so that the meaning of the word can be interpreted correctly (or somewhat accurately) regardless of whether or not the reader knows what it is. For example... "The verdigris hue of the autumn oak faded with the setting sun." ... or... "I stood before a maze so arabesque that I thought I would faint."

That way, the reader can continue on his/her merry way without stopping. Because in my opinion, the more a person stops reading something, the more likely they are to stop reading it altogether.

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Yeah, some of your examples ("elevenses" and "retinue") seem like words that are quite commonly used, at least where I'm from. Others ("arabesquing"???) not so much! So you can't predict what your readers will be familiar with, so use them in a context where people can figure them out without a dictionary... please!

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I think there must be one simple rule to follow: don't look into dictionary searching for fancy words when writing something. [grin].
No, seriously, extreme examples of using uncommon words mostly come from writers who are looking up special dictionary of uncommon words. Other part comes from writer using words from other language (e.g. French), that's better because at least multilingual people will get it.

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Heh. I'd never heard of elevenses before... I usually just go for breakfast and lunch [grin].

In many cases, the words used are perfect for the situation (once I figure out what they are), and couldn't be replaced by anything better. Of course, when the characters say these words, it's usually for good reason (M Morrible refers to Elphaba as verdigrisian because it's not acceptable for a high-class-better-than-thou to directly insult Elphaba for being green). Also, the context in this story was always very clear, and I read the whole book once through with no issues, and only looked up all the dumb words the second time around.

Dmytry: Don't worry, I won't go around looking for cool words to use! And you're right, it really does feel like some authors do that, and it's annoying...

So, should we write different in a game than we do in a story - even if it's to the same audience? Is there an expectation that differs for games? Should we care?

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Quote:
Original post by Avatar God
So, should we write different in a game than we do in a story - even if it's to the same audience? Is there an expectation that differs for games? Should we care?


Short answer: no. Longer answer, Games generally have to tell the same story with fewer words then a novel, usually all dialogue and no narration. So, it's much more useful to look at a play or anime script as an example. Fewer words and little to no narration simplify the issue of word choice a bit but add the new difficulty that it's difficult to explain what your invented words mean without the explanation sounding like a cheesy "As you know Bob..." or "You see, Timmy..."

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