Monday, 8 June 2009

Word – noun

1. a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning.

Being the fledgling author that I am I have an obvious interest in words. After all I have used over 41,000 of them so far and have the intention of using maybe three times that amount in my final manuscript. Because of this I am concious that I use the same words a lot when writing.

This is highlighted by a comparison with arguably the world's greatest writer - Shakespeare. In his complete works, Shakespeare used 31,534 different words! (Although he did coin a lot of them himself, which I think is verging on cheating.) It is also estimated that he knew over 66,000 words*.

I've not got a bad vocabulary when compared to my peers I took this test and knew 463 of the words listed:

What this highlights in my case is not necessarily an obvious lack of a sufficient vocabulary more a lack of actually being able to use those words in a written document and that takes practice and exercise.

To this end I have instigated several different tactics:

The first is to start playing Scrabble and Lexulous on Facebook. They are pretty much the same word game with which I suspect any reader of this blog will be familiar. The great thing about them is seeing some very strange words being used, on the negative side is the fact that there is no definition and no context to those words so I still have to use a dictionary to look them up.

Secondly I've signed up to at least two 'Word of the Day' emails just because you never know what they will send you. This may turn out to be completely fruitless after all am I ever going to use tergiversation in a book? Even my Firefox dictionary doesn't recognise it.

For the record it's a noun:

The act of practicing evasion or of being deliberately ambiguous.
The act of abandoning a party or cause.

The third and probably most important step I have taken is to start reading again. Even books I have read before, I am going to re-read in the hope of picking something up. I'll probably even expand my reading horizons and steer away from my usual fantasy, sci-fi and thriller leanings.

If you have any ideas that you think might be useful please let me know.




  1. Hi Phil, some of the best writing is not particularly wordy, it is often very accessible language in short, sharp sentences. I am currently reading a crime novel by Henning Mankell, an author I havn't read before and I have been stuck by the effective simplicity of his style. If your writing for kids an extensive vocab isn't essential, the kids where I work quite like plot, action driven stories with relatively simple language, they havn't got the patience to be always reaching for a dictionary.
    I think Neil Gaiman's latest book The Graveyard Book is a good example of the kind of writing that is very effective for kids. At a library conference recently a speaker who is a successful writer and teaches creative writing spoke about the importance of reading, if you want to write.
    Good luck with the writing, I admire people who can do it, wish I could. Love the dragon picture by the way.

  2. Bookpusher,

    Thanks for your comments.

    You know it's interesting you should mention short, sharp, sentences I've just started to re-read the Harry Potter series and used almost exactly the same words to describe the style of JKs first book in that series too.

    I think my book has a decent balance but I've got a pair of decent editors lined up to proof it when I'm ready so hopefully they'll be able to give me a lot of useful feedback.

    I don't think writing is too hard, it's finding the time to do it and having the inspiration at the same time. Often I get inspiration when I'm walking down the road and that's hard to keep hold of until I get to somewhere where I can write it down/type it out.