Pompous Words—Oh, How I’m Learning

There was a time when I was so proud of my “hold” over the English language that I would throw in big words to conversations or choose unusual sentence constructions with simple ones while sipping coffee with friends at Starbucks or walking down the halls to a meeting with coworkers.

I thought that if I didn’t, it would slip my friends’ and coworkers’ minds that I was smart. I felt there was truly no other way for them to know, and maybe that fear was well-founded. I didn’t have any educational or extracurricular achievements to recommend me as an erudite thinker (or someone to listen to), after all.

But those days are past, and it’s only now I come face-to-face with what is truly having the tactfulness of using the right words in the right ways.

I started noticing because I’ve been reading critically lately because I’m writing a novel-length story. No, it’s not my first try, but the first one in a while, and the longest I’ve persisted (in terms of word count). Along with my increasing word count has come a maybe as of yet inexplicable and slightly useless anxiety about doing well. All sorts of questions pop into my mind as I write: can I make this scene more descriptive and sensuous to attract the reader’s attention? Does this action defy my character’s motivations? Is this flow of words boring?

And all this writing and wondering has naturally led me to find out just what is all this rightness that famous/top-selling authors find themselves with all the time! Of course, I don’t have time to read every best-seller or good story, so I’ve also scoured quite a number of reviews on Goodreads, and what am I noticing?

The pompous reviewer that thinks big words, overuse of literary devices, formal constructions, etc. validate their opinions, somehow elevating them above those of the other reviewers (who are normally writing like regular human beings in an informal forum) or even that of the work they are reviewing. I mean, give me a break.

Here’s an excerpt from one I just came across for a James Patterson book (but it’s NOT the only one of its kind, believe me):

“It’s the worst thing I imagine a book can be. It’s the bane of my existence. Its prose, bone dry and then suddenly flashing purple, dogs my literary footsteps. Generic characterization, stilted dialogue, predictable plot, cheap shock fodder …”

COME ON. This is James Patterson you’re talking about, and while it might not be down your alley, I’m damn sure it’s not the “bane” of your existence, nor is it the worst thing a book can be—unless you don’t read very much.

Anyway, I’m back to working on my story.



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