Over the past few days, I’ve been mining Thesaurus like mad. Having to write a series of blurbs about holidays in the snow has had me pondering ways of writing descriptors for snow-clad scenes without them sounding too repetitive. It’s not easy; copywriting doesn’t allow the same freedom as other types of writing. I’m in awe of people who are good at it. Personally, I find it restricting. Creative writing is like being able to play ‘I spy’ as you wander the whole farmyard. Copywriting can be like playing it inside a claustrophobic henhouse. So, Thesaurus and similar writing tools are godsends (note to self: find another word or term for godsend that doesn’t have a religious connection) when petulant creative cells don’t want to come out to play.
When I first started writing professionally, I made all the same mistakes many writers do at the beginning of their careers, one of these being using Thesaurus to find words that sounded arty-farty. The dictionary may have given them another definition, but what these fancy words were really saying was ‘look at how clever I’m being.’ That sort of nonsense was soon knocked out of me.
Generally speaking, it’s not good to slip in words most people would never use in real life. It comes across as being pretentious because that’s often exactly what it is.
Where’s my dictionary?
I am currently reading Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières. I found myself spellbound by Louis de Bernières’ writing for three novels before Captain Corelli’s Mandolin catapulted him to mainstream literary stardom. But there’s a couple of things about Birds Without Wings I’m finding distracting; little dams which interrupt the flow of the story (oops, straying into pretentious waters there). One of these is the use of words that, to put it bluntly, I haven’t a bloody clue what they mean.
I read for around an hour at the end of the working day, and every day I have to lay the book down five or six time to look up words which may as well have been written in an alien language. Sometimes this is down to me not having as extensive a vocabulary as I’d like, but I don’t believe this is the reason in every case – mommixity anyone? I think Louis has trawled deep waters to find some of the words he uses. At least two drew a complete blank when I Googled them. Either he has made up a couple himself (which I’m not against if those words fit – think J.K. Rowling) or he’s dug up obscure words which have been lying hidden away in a cobweb-covered, ancient textbook.
Whatever the reason, the result is the book is temporarily discarded on a semi-regular basis, leaving characters mid-sentence, while my attention is diverted elsewhere.
That can’t be something any author wants.