Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Ain't No Word Wide Enough

I'm worried about vocabulary. Remember how I love big words? As I continue to edit, I've found a few words in my novel that could put some YA readers off. Teens are smart and savvy, but they're not always interested in reading something full of big SAT-style vocab words.

JB and I work with our church's youth group and sometimes I'm surprised at the words they don't know yet. Which is totally fine because they're in high school or middle school and I'm a word nerd who's got a college degree and a good 10 years on them.

At the same time, you're never supposed to write down to a YA audience, which is why I'm waffling on a few words that've popped up in my manuscript. Do I keep them or do they need the axe?

invective: a vehement or violent denunciation
In my story: She was about to unleash a stream of invective when she heard someone call her name sharply.

kismet: fate or destiny
In my story: "The assistant news editor we hired in the spring decided to transfer to a different school over the summer, so it was kismet when you e-mailed me looking for a job."

contingent: dependent on something not yet certain
In my story: "I’m pretty sure that me getting attacked is contingent on whether or not I meddle again."

tessellating: form or arrange in a checkered or mosaic pattern
In my story: ...she could only see slashes of black, frantically cutting the sky above into frenzied, tessellating slices.
OK, I think this sentence might be overwritten.

vehemently: impassioned, with strong emotion
In my story: "She's only my mortal enemy," Calla Mae said, vehemently biting the end off her pickle.

Diana Ross: uh, yeah. Super-famous singer from the 60s, 70s and 80s. But do today's teens know who she is?
In my story: Her hair, dark and curly anyway, was rapidly reaching Diana Ross-like proportions in the sticky heat.

Holy crap am I so old I'm making Diana Ross references? I feel like my parents must feel when they talk about the Lawrence Welk Show and my sister and I just give them blank stares.

I'd appreciate any comments or insight. Really, all of these words could be axed and the story would be fine. It's hard to let go of those lovely big words.


Becky said...

In my humble opinion...
Keep: kismet, contingent, vehemently

I like: invective, but I didn't know what it meant

Could do without: tessellating

Cut: Diana Ross - maybe use Macy Gray instead?

Lenore said...

yeah, I would keep everything but invective and tessellating. diana ross is a legend!

Anonymous said...

Lawrence Welk was amazing, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Kasie West said...

I would only cut the words that you can't assume what they mean in the context of the sentence. And for me, that was the first word: invective. Diana Ross might make it so your piece isn't timeless, (I mean in 50 years will the teens know her? Do they even know her now?) but I love her. LOL

BBJD said...

Although I am older than you plus the average age of your readership, my vocabulary is surprisingly weak for a writer.

invective: I had an idea of what this meant, and I was kind of close. All the same, I'm thinking maybe it should go.

kismet: I knew this word when I was a teenager. For me, it's a keepie.

contingent: In my opinion, definitely a keeper. If they don't know it, it can be their inspiration to use a dictionary. That's what I do. [smiles]

tessellating: Cyberchase, a cartoon show for young children teaches this word. I like the way you use it, but I'm still kind of iffy about it.

vehemently: Another definite keeper, I think. The context within the sentence speaks for itself.

Diana Ross: Was she still popular in the 80s? That's still twenty years ago. I'm thinking maybe you should find someone more recent.

Just my thoughts. Hope it helps.

Justus M. Bowman said...

Like most others, I think invective and tessellating will give them pause.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I don't suggest using such words in the same sentence or in every other sentence. :P

Yes, Diana Ross could be a problem. Remember, kids who are 10 now might have a hard time recalling 9/11! So, the 70s is time-machine stuff for a teenager.

Crimogenic said...

I think teen readers are no different from adults. When I encounter a word I don't know, I just glaze over it and move on. I think, however, if you have a lot of SAT words in closer proximity, then a reader can be confused. Contingent and Vehemently are okay for me, but I was like (hmm?) with Invective.