I have a friend who uses the word awesome to describe almost anything that pleases him. Yes, it’s simple (and a hyperbole) and maybe, in his case, it’s a tiny bit overused. Yet, that simple word is also extremely expressive to him and there is a great deal of feeling in his delivery of ‘awesome’. Is it effective? Yes. Does he need bigger, fancier words to say what he needs? I’m going with: probably not.
As I was pondering the palette of words I use and how I use them I came across a pair of quotes and they seemed to fit neatly into my post this week. The first is from William Faulkner’s. He said “Hemingway has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
Of course Hemingway’s reply was “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”
This is not to say that I dislike Mr. Faulkner’s writing for having an intricate vocabulary and making me have to work for a little while reading him or Mr. Hemingway for saying what he needs to with simplicity, but I do consider my audience and the amount of decorative language I use. I want people to be enticed. I also want the majority of people who read what I write to feel connected to the language and in turn connect with the story.
I remember, a while back I was watching an interview with Bono of U2 (I love Bono!). He was on the Elvis Costello show. Bono talked about Leonard Cohen (I also love Leonard’s Cohen) and his skill as a writer. He talked about how there was an intimacy in his poetry and his lyrics. This intimacy was found in the simplicity of the words Cohen used. Bono said that was what they were trying to achieve as well, expressing an idea in a way in which the simplicity lends itself to intimacy.
The words should be relatable and familiar. The connection between the reader and the word should exist and bridge easily from one to the other. I believe writing in a language that works for a particular story and audience has always been my goal. I hope that by using simplified language sometimes, I achieve precision and a connection is made. I try not to bore the reader. I try not to overwhelm the reader and I try to draw them into the story, selectively and carefully with words.
Albert Einstein said “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” I want those who read my words to feel connected, acquainted and familiar and I guess that’s intimate. And that’s awesome.
* Turns out quotes are also really awesome.
** Originally posted February 20, 2015