Complex Words and Verbosity – Two of the Not-So-Deadly Sins of Writing

Sin Number One: Using complex words where simpler ones would suffice.

I think this idea is largely dependent on the effect you are trying to achieve with your writing, your genre, and your audience. Personally, I have always found that reading is a great way to expand your vocabulary. I learnt the definitions of many words as a youngster simply by their context within a novel, and have never minded needing to reach for the dictionary every now and then. My love of reading, language, and writing are all strongly interconnected.

While you don’t want to litter every sentence with obscure, multisyllabic words, which would make your writing needlessly dense and essentially unreadable, I don’t think writing necessarily has to be about reducing every word and phrase to its simplest form. If we do, I think we are both underestimating the reader and missing out on the joys of language, the different rhythms, sounds and meanings that can be evoked by utilising rich and varied vocabulary.

Le Guin Quote

Sin Number Two: Verbosity.

I find the excessive use of empty and pointless words as irritating as anyone else. However, the trend towards succinctness and the complete removal of any words deemed surplus removes a lot of the character and lyricism from language and writing. It’s ok to luxuriate in language a little bit. I have come across passages in novels that are so beautiful, that I didn’t mind at all if it didn’t advance the action of the story in any way, it was simply a pleasure to read.

Such an approach is rarely recommended, however, with very few able to meld words so wonderfully that they can make it work, and modern readers having very little patience for any form of purple prose. As a reader I am not opposed to a little verbosity as long as it is well executed. This could be because I have always been partial to 19th century literature, the majority of which is considered verbose by modern standards, but I find the writing exquisite.


Of course, these are just my opinions. Every reader and writer is different and has different preferences. There are no hard and fast rules for writing, beyond basic spelling and grammar 🙂

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. – W. Somerset Maugham

Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously.Lev Grossman


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