Tighten Up Your Writing #5

This post is approximately 500 words, and it argues in favor of using many words, even when a single one would suffice.

Recently, I was reviewing a passage in my manuscript that reminded me of a word I’d forgotten. I’m an English language geek, so I like collecting words, even if I don’t always put them on display. Rather, many are crammed into the attic in dusty boxes sealed with cheap tape (feel free to analyze whether this is a metaphor for my brain). In this case, I hadn’t used the term, but it did motivate me to reacquaint myself with it.

It’s a word I think many people will appreciate because it describes something we love: the distinctive smell that follows the rain. The scent is evocative, both to the head and the heart. If you’re like me, you take walks to fully enjoy the experience.

after the rain

PETRICHOR

Feel free to add it to your collection! For those of you who like etymology, you probably recognize its origins: “petro” for rock and “ichor” for fluid. A literal portmanteau to describe the scent created by the mixture of rain and earth.

Yeah, baby. You began this post wanting to learn about writing and got an etymological lesson, too! I’m not the only one who appreciates a two-fer, right? Right?

However, you might already understand my hesitance to use it. Philosophers would describe the word as esoteric. Technical writers call it jargon. Said another way, it’s a word few people understand (I imagine they are using their attics for other things, like box scores or fishing experiences).

As a writer, I want my book to appeal to the broadest audience possible, and that includes both the subject matter and the writing mechanics. I’m pretty sure a large portion of my readers won’t be etymologists, so as much as I enjoy having this word in my, uh, attic, I won’t be replacing the passage I’ve already written.

At last, the winds subsided, carrying away the last of the rain and lightning. Following after came the sweet, woody smell of wet bark and the humid exhalation of dense foliage.

As far as my writing goes, I’m proud of this passage. Where I could have succinctly used “petrichor” and a few supporting words, I have spread the responsibility of the description to thirty-one words instead. Hopefully, you agree that I made the right choice.

I’m a writer of two minds when it comes to being long-winded (aka verbose). One appreciates succinctness, which explains this series of posts about tightening up your writing. My other side likes to create a meandering combination of words that leads readers down an unexpected path, the end of which they were unable to see at the beginning.

Consider this journey vs. destination. I think both styles are important. One of the writer’s key responsibilities is to know when to use which.

–Mike

PS: If you’re interested in the previous posts in this series, here are links: One, Two, Three, Four.


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this from Michael!

© Michael Wallevand, November 2018

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