2011-08-03

Should I write using a large or small vocabulary? I think that's a false dichotomy.

My sister is a writer. My brother-in-law is considering being a writer. I'd like to be a writer. So we have recently started having some good discussions about becoming good writers—of fiction, in particular. Our latest discussion has been revolving around the question, should we use unusual words or common words? Big words or small words? Another way to put the question is, should my characters have a large or a small vocabulary?

A related page

The thing with writing fiction (and perhaps anything else) is, there are two opposing forces you have to deal with: (1) the small vocabulary force and (2) the large vocabulary force.

The tendency to use a small vocabulary comes from the way each of us has his or her own set of preferred words. We naturally use a small vocabulary—a much smaller set of words than what we can understand. And this is an important fact: we need to be able to understand a larger vocabulary than what we use in our own speech because we need to be able to understand a diverse set of people around us. (This fact becomes important below.)

The tendency to use a large vocabulary comes from our trying to overcome the above tendency (and trying to not sound too dumb). But the thing is, you shouldn’t over-correct. The point is to not use a large vocabulary, per se, but rather to use words that your character would use had he actually been a real person with his own preferred words, and that set should be different from your own—and in fact each character would have its own set of words, just like real people have their own unique vocabulary.

That, I think, is one of the big tricks to writing: to sound like you are someone else—even multiple other people—and to use their vocabulary and their idiosyncrasies in combining words. That is pretty hard to do.

I think it's closely related, or at least analogous, to acting. Most of us have one personality. (Some of us struggle with even having one of those.) But we all can hopefully appreciate and understand each other, with our various and sundry and diverse personalities. In other words, it's easier to comprehend more personalities than we can produce or exhibit. A good actor plays off of this ability that each of us has in appreciating other personalities if he can act like someone else—even multiple someone-elses.

Therefore, I think one possible technique of writing well is to actually pattern each character after some real person (the more diverse, the better), and then try to match their language. Matching a real person will likely make the character’s language natural and understandable, giving a proper diversity to the vocabulary you write.

So, whether I should write more words, or bigger words, or more sophisticated sounding words is not the question. It's, which real person's words should I use?

2011-07-20

Sociality in Heaven

Hello people with an interest in religion or family

I have a large and strong cardboard box full of letters in my basement, mostly letters that I, personally, sent or received during my life before the Internet.   I skimmed through them recently so I could organize them and put them into the file cabinet I just bought at a good price at a surplus sale at the local university.   These letters are vehicles and instruments of nostalgia now.   They place back into my mind events and relationships that have long since been pushed out of my head by all those day-to-day concerns that pile up day after day, one after the other.

A thought struck me while I read random parts of a few random letters: It can be sad to leave old friends, although you don't really know how sad it is until you take the opportunity.   So many memories of events that can never be re-lived, connections that were taken for granted are now severed by space and time.

I have lived in at least eight different places during my life.   That is not a lot of places compared to other people, I know, but it is enough for me.   There is very little of connection among the groups of people who lived in each of those places.   They don't know each other.   Sometimes when I'm talking with a friend from one place I'd like to say something about another of my friends from another place, but then I realize: they don't know each other.   The friends in one place know hardly anything about the friends in the others.   Once you leave one place and move to another, that is the end of your interactions with all but the most enduring friends.   My box contains groups of letters that mirror these groups of relationships.

While reading my letters, I wondered for a moment: what ever happened to the art of writing a letter? The Internet, especially Web 2.0, has taken it's place.   Facebook is amazing in its ability to reconnect with old friends.   But Facebook makes this sadness so much more real instead of just helping us re-connect.   I see old friends on FaceBook and so it is so easy now to remember them.   I don't necessarily need to dig up my old box of letters to do so.   I think the sadness of missing old friends will exist until we find a way to truly accumulate, reconnect and carry on relationships indefinitely, without the limitations of life.   By that I mean, we have only a finite capacity to spend time with other people in life--and it is not enough.

I am a religious person.  I think of heaven from time to time, partially because I'm also an idealist.   As an idealist, there is a part of me that believes the ideal is attainable.   I believe, or at least wonder about the possibility, that heaven will be the place where my unattainable ideals will finally be realized.   When it comes to ideal relationships, I believe this is what heaven is all about.  Exaltation (in the LDS perspective of heaven) is about leaving the finite bounds set on friendship in this life.

And that includes family.  Look at the generations before us. 

Look at our two parents.  We love our parents.  So much of who we are and what we experience in life comes from them.  But eventually we must leave the nest.   Eventually, they even die. 

Look at our four grandparents.  They die sooner than our parents.  We know them for a much shorter time, but do we love them less?   Perhaps only because we knew them less.  In some ways, we loved them more, since we likely saw them in fun settings, were not disciplined by them, were probably spoiled by them instead.  Simply being with them can explain so much about the idiosyncrasies our own parents.  They are where our parents came from, which in turn is where we came from.  Do we not long to be with them again as we were when we were younger?

Look at our eight great-grand parents.  Few of us ever knew them.   I never knew any of mine.  But is it likely that if we could have known them, that we would not have had a similar bond of love between us?  Of course, looking at numbers, if we had known them all, we would have known eight different, unique individuals.  How well could we really know that many people in this life?  Again, it’s a symptom of our finite natures in this life.

If heaven exists, should it be like this life?  Heaven, if it lives up to its name, would not be limited by the strain that finite numbers and finite time place on relationships.  I believe that Heaven is a place where there are no such bounds on the development and the enjoyment of relationships. 

Until we can see heaven for ourselves, we ought to do the best can with what we have.  How do we keep and expand those connections, especially considering that so many of past generations have already passed? 

Look at our children.

More later.