Writing life, Writing quotes

$10 Words

This week’s writing quote, courtesy of Ernest Hemingway:

Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.

My first attempt at writing fiction was pure me and nothing else — I’d not read any books about writing fiction, I’d ignored all those fiction-focused articles in Writers Digest, I hadn’t taken character or plotting classes at any writing conferences. I just had some ideas in my head that I wanted to get on paper, so I wrote.

As I learned more about fiction writing one of the funniest phrases I heard was “purple prose.” What in the world was that? Turns out it means you’re using lots of flowery, over-the-top, overly educated words that might not be the best choices for communicating with your readers. Being descriptive is great. Helping your reader visualize the scene or hear the emotions in your characters’ voices is great. Finding new ways to express old ideas is great.

We just need to be careful about how we do it.

Don’t get so carried away with descriptions or details that readers forget where they are. Don’t use words that have your readers hauling out Webster’s every few pages. Most of all, don’t forget that your goal isn’t to impress your readers — it’s to communicate with them.  

Hemingway jabbed at Faulkner in the quote I pulled for today, but he made a good point. Big and fancy doesn’t always make for stronger writing or better stories. Short and simple can be just as effective, if not more so. It all comes back to knowing our readers and what works best for them.