Bigger versus Better

Reader, I like 'em long. And meaty. And powerful. And Latin, frequently -- though I'm not terribly picky about nationality. Greek and French and Finnish are pretty great, too. I have a particular fondness for the bastard ones. Of course, I'm talking about words. Where else did you think this blog post was going?

There's a specific mantra of writing advice -- in this great piece, among other places -- that I can never quite bring myself to abide by, and it is this: longer words will intimidate readers.

The reason I can't stand this maxim is that, as a reader myself, I know it to be false. Or at least false enough.

I was that kid who read dictionaries for fun. I memorized obscure terms for groups of animals (a smack of jellyfish) and poetic meters (trochee, spondee, anapest). I'll never forget the time in college when I first stumbled over the word crepuscular. (It means 'relating to twilight or dusk' and I have to hold myself back from using it when people bring up sparkly vampire stories.)

There's a general idea that shorter words are better for use in fiction. (I blame Hemingway, among others.) The trouble with this is that even if two words mean the same thing, the fact remains that they are different words and will do slightly different things. As Sideshow Bob Terwilliger taught us in the best Simpsons episode of all time, sometimes you want to disembowel someone, and sometimes you want to gut them.

Plus, sometimes the rule about using short words comes off as demeaning the reader's intelligence. I mean come on, people, we Regency romance devotees all know what a pelisse is, and that's hardly a useful word for today's modern gal on the go. (To do: draft memo, present proposal, wear pelisse.)

You know what's always long in romance novels? That's right: the ever-popular Mighty Wang. Sometimes it is too long to be practical, or even plausible. But usually it is long because that's what's going to get the job done.

Same goes for words. Don't use them just because they're long, or just because they're short. Use them because they're right for the job. (The Goldilocks Theory of Writercraft?)

So I'll keep mine long -- and strong -- and down to get the fiction on.