Say what you mean…

There’s a certain school of thought when teaching writing that says to write exactly what you mean. They often want you to write as simply as possible. You’ll see a lot of “Sally said,” and “He is tall, with long, black hair and bright, green eyes.”

There’s another school of thought when teaching writing that says to write what you mean, but in minute detail. This often results in students keeping thesaurus handy, because they learn that the instructors want you to avoid writing as simply as possible. Now, you will see “Sally expound broadly,” and “He stands higher than all others, his extensive, ebony locks offset by brilliant, peridot eyes.”

The problem with the latter is sometimes the synonyms don’t have the same meaning, exactly, as the word the student started with. Extensive can mean more than long. It often means “large” or “thorough”. And brilliant can mean “bright,” but it can also mean “very smart.” It depends on context. And sometimes, if the context isn’t there, the results are very silly.

Now, there are people who disagree on both sides. Some vehemently.

I happen to think that a nice blend is more natural, but I was raised by a librarian and a speech/theater professor. My natural speaking pattern is extremely odd, in comparison to some people. For others, it’s not so much.

I personally prefer reading things that are a blend of simple (especially if that simplicity underscores a mood or moment that needs basic truths to be told) and somewhat flowery language with less-used words (because I love words, and if later I want to go to a dictionary and look up something that made sense in context, but that I want to learn the finer nuances of after the story has been read through, I call that a win). I don’t particularly enjoy overly frilly books with a lot of gingerbread trim words, nor do I love overly basic books. Both are hard for me to sink my teeth into, for completely different reasons. If I’m constantly wondering about authorial intent, then I’m not really enjoying the story.

I hope, as I try writing fiction and other pieces more, that I succeed in a balance. I think my blogs do already, but it’s always hard to be sure from the inside.


I agree with him about the elitism, by the way. I can be elitist about some things with language, but this isn’t one of them. The only reason I can see for writing exclusively simply or exclusively using “expressive” words is to achieve a particular tone. (And frankly, as a tongue-in-cheek joke – a parody for instance, would be perfect.)


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About amusedreams

Semi-Geek, Bibliophile, Cat Person. I post about life stuff. Music, books, food, wine, CHOCOLATE, and geek stuff.

2 responses to “Say what you mean…”

  1. jacki perrette says :

    I enjoyed your observations and thoughts on this topic. Makes good sense to me.


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