Writing It Sideways has a great post on filter words … those sneaky little words that put space between the reader and the protagonist, keeping the reader from being immersed in your story world. Words like to wonder, to think, to touch … The post has fantastic examples of how not to use these words in your prose.
Word choice strongly influences how we sculpt the world of our story. Creating slang or lingo for your world can add word choices that pull the reader in even more, but even subtle changes in words can flavor your story. Words like luster instead of shiny or tenuous instead of weak. Of course picking the just right verb turns jump into spring or pounce, which are entirely different things. I’m not suggesting using aphotic when murky will suffice, but writers shouldn’t be afraid to use “big words” in children’s literature. How else will children learn how to use these words, if authors don’t use them in gloriously well-drawn context?
Some middle grade (and young adult!) authors (and possibly editors?) believe that the language in these books must be “dumbed down” to be accessible to kids. But I look to the masters for examples in this regard.
One of my favorite authors, Lemony Snicket, outright teaches vocabulary:
Eavesdropping – a word which here means ‘listening in on interesting conversations you are not invited to join’ – is a valuable thing to do, and it is often an enjoyable thing to do, but it is not a polite thing to do, and like most impolite things, you are bound to get into trouble if you get caught doing it.
Another favorite, Scott Westerfeld, blithely rolls the vocabulary list out and mixes with generous helpings of political intrigue and adventure:
Dr. Barlow looked away. “Yes, the loris was designed with a high degree of nascent fixation. Like a baby duck, it bonds with the first person it sees.”
Glorious, I tell you! Makes me want to go around saying, nascent fixation. That, or barking spiders, because Westerfeld is a master of lingo as well.
Kids love these words – LOVE THEM. Especially lingo, because they have an innate love of something shiny and new that leaps out and captures their imagination. I don’t shy away from using big words, but I think I’ll be more intentional with them in my next middle grade novel. Because kids slurp them up like ambrosia stolen from the gods.
Do you intentionally choose your words, or do you write in your native vocabulary, the one you naturally carry around in your head? Do you try to dumb down or smarten up your word choices, depending on your audience?