Last week I talked about the pros of using short and simple words in writing.  It tends to keep prose clear, concise, and on track; good aims generally.  I do however think a hard-line fundamentalist view can limit your options for language. 

The wonder of English, after all comes from a fairly simple syntax with a huge well of vocabulary.  There is great joy in dipping into that well.  Fancy words, slang words, old fashioned words:  each can serve to add texture or heighten effects in writing. 

Clear is good, especially if you want a fast pace but what if you want a more leisurely pace?  Maybe you can get the reader engaged in the nuances of different words and phrases.  A glass window might be clear because you can see through it but a clear person and a transparent person are two different things.  An opaque window means you can’t see through it but if a person is opaque it might mean a number of different things. 

Adverbs are reviled by many writers as weak but sometimes you might want a man to breathe heavily rather than pant.  We tend to use adverbs naturally when we speak so if you really like them you can hide them in dialogue.

  Dream-like or fantastical pieces almost need lyrical, florid words to paint the right picture.  Poe and Lovecraft were going for radically different effects than Hemingway and London and the word choice reflects that. 

The danger, of course, is when you’re at your desk weaving what you’re sure is a rich and vibrant tapestry when, in fact, you’re stirring up a big plate of hash.  This is where feedback from a writers group can come in handy.  It’s okay if they’re diplomatic as long as they’re honest ( ‘dense’ and ‘a lot to chew on’ are code for ‘cut this beast down’ ).  But hey, as long as you’ll have the nerve to cut it down later if it needs it, don’t be afraid to strike out into labyrinthine passages of purple prose, rife with tangled description and resplendent in lyrical glory.  Why learn all those words if you’re never gonna use ’em, eh?

About Eric Bahle

Eric Bahle stopped going to his real job so he could be a full time digital author and storyteller. He loves being in the woods with his bow or on the water in his kayak. He lives in Pennsylvania with his lovely wife and a mongrel dog. He is working on his next bestselling story.


  1. What is “I thought they were cannibals” code for?

  2. I enjoy a man who can properly use an adverb. Nice post.

  3. Eric Bahle says

    @Tim. It probably means one of us is pretty messed up.

    @Snotty. Thank-you kindly. Anyone reading this should check out Snotty’s blog if they want what the TV commercials might call ‘refreshing honesty’. Especially those beuatiful sunsets on the beach.