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Friday, April 9, 2010

Thesaurus Rape: Don’t Become a Statistic

We’ve all seen this in writing, one of those cautionary tales people warn you about. For those sitting in the cheap seats, I’ll break down what thesaurus rape is.

Basically, it’s when a writer uses long sentences with complicated, S.A.T prep words in order to make their work sound smart, and it usually backfires. These long, multi-syllable words drag out the pacing to the point of distraction. You can read it out loud and hear the pretention wafting off the page, words that don’t roll off the tongue or move the scene forward. In fact, it just stops the flow because the reader has to whip out a dictionary every few sentences to understand what the author is trying to say. And honestly, who’s got that kind of time? More often than most, these terms are used in the wrong context and the writer comes off dumber than if they used a simpler vocabulary.

In addition, I feel that thesaurus rape and purple prose go hand in hand, because both offenses are a result of the writer cracking open a reference book or hitting shift+ F7 on their keyboard. There’s nothing wrong with using big and uncommon words. I believe the world needs to expand its vocabulary; however, if it’s done in a way that so blatant and unrealistic to the characters, then Hell NO! This is especially true for dialogue and first person narratives. Double Hell NO! Really, why turn your 21st century thriller into a period piece?

The Purple Prose

“The east wind caressed the side of her cream colored face, sending her long fiery red hair into a fluttery dance around her head. Lilacs and roses tangled in the breeze, a rich perfume that thickened the air with a majestic sweetness that puzzled the mind. The sun hit her apple cheeks with a golden ray that made her visage glow like bright embers.”

Okay, there’s describing a scene, and then there’s “where the hell is this going?” Over-description takes away from the action and distracts the reader, which is ill-advised if you want them to finish a 300 + page book. Action is critical, and pointless details slow the pace.

If you look at other writing, characters and settings are described once, maybe twice in one book. We really don’t have to read it on every other page. REALLY, we don’t. Reminding the reader of something as trivial as appearance insults their attention span. If you want to convey that the character is beautiful, PROVE IT. Show it through their interactions with other people and DEMONSTRATE attractive qualities.

And for God sake, avoid SUBJECTIVE ADJECTIVES (beautiful, gorgeous, lovely, handsome, sexy, smart, ugly.) No matter the point of view, these descriptions are subject for debate, not facts. One person’s “Fugly” is another person’s “Hot damn!”

In essence, thesaurus rape reads like an inmate who turns Muslim in prison and try to talks philosophical, yet in complete ignorance of  what he's saying. (For those who need more clarity, watch  Booked on Phonics )

It’s not the words; it’s the complete sentence that makes you intelligent.

You know, the most profound messages usually come from children. They don’t use big, complicated words, but what they say will have you thinking well after the conversation. Don’t fake it, people. Keep it simple. Allow the characters’ actions and their decisions within the story to determine whether they are smart. Show, don’t tell.

10 comments:

  1. This is so so so so true for YA writing, but I think other genres could stand some of this advice, too. Thank you, Jamie. This rocked.

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  2. Ha - this is great! "One person's fugly is another person's hot damn." <-------- LMFAO love it!

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  3. Very well said. Retweeting...

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  4. Your auspicious electronic diatribe has unencumbered me of my sesquipedalian accoutrements.

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  5. "In essence, thesaurus rape reads like a black Muslim in prison using big words to sound smart, yet in complete ignorance of the words’ meaning"

    Black muslims are incapable of using big words or being smart??

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  6. Glen, I've reworded that part to clarify.

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  7. I'm sorry, I don't understand the original context. At first I didn't want to say anything because I thought I must be misreading it.

    I see it's been re-worded, but, what does being black have to do with not using big words?

    I'm trying not to have a knee-jerk reaction but I really don't get the original intent behind that metaphor. Sorry.

    And it's very, very difficult for an unpublished writer to challenge an agent (angel with the keys to heaven) on something she's written--believe me, this takes a whole bushel of balls for me to even bring it up. But on the other hand, I can't not.

    The "black Muslim in prison" thing is still bugging me. What did it mean?

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  8. shonagonchan, I just worded it wrong. my bad. for futher clarification, click he link within the blog. It's over the top and stupid, but it shows my point.

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  9. Shonagonchan, she reworded it. Thanks Jaime. Still, none of that detracted from you advice, which is: thou shall NOT rape the thesaurus lol

    Good post ;)

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  10. Just stopping by to share the love, Jaime!! And to tell you about a shiny award I gave you on my blog ;)

    ReplyDelete

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