Why Clarity is More Important Than Vocabulary in Creative Writing
As creative writers, we are all enticed by the allure of rich vocabulary and fancy language. The prospect of constructing a sentence that shimmers with complex and sophisticated words is nothing short of enchanting. However, when it comes to effective communication, clarity is more important than the vocabulary you use, especially for your first draft.
Why vocabulary is important (and when it isn’t)
From an early age we’re told to improve our vocabularies to make our writing more interesting. And advice like “show, don’t tell” feeds into this. While descriptive writing is great, and I do recommend improving your vocabulary in ways that serve your craft, many writers make the mistake of using unnecessary adjectives because they think it will make their writing better. This simply isn’t the case. It can lead you to use words that aren’t well-known or too complex for the average reader. There exists a pressure to impress with language, but writers must beware of sacrificing understanding for the illusion sophistication. It’s always better to be clear than fancy.
The Pitfalls of overcomplicated language
The risk of alienating readers is real. Many might not comprehend convoluted sentences, causing them to lose interest. If you can’t immediately think of an alternative adjective or description, then it likely wouldn’t have come to your readers either. Overcomplicated language can also lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding, which defeats the purpose of storytelling. The distraction of convoluted prose can lead readers away from the plot and the message that you are trying to convey. It’s how you end up with messy descriptions like “sapphire orbs” instead of just saying “blue eyes” which is both clearer and better to read.
Clarity is the essence of creative writing
The primary goal of creative writing is storytelling and connection. It aims to elicit emotions and transport readers to another world. Balancing language and storytelling is crucial in order to achieve this. While rich language can enhance the story, it should not become the story itself. Simplicity in language is often better at conveying complex ideas, ensuring that the message gets across most effectively. If your story is good, it will stand on its own, regardless of how extensive your vocabulary is.
The power of clarity
Clarity in creative writing means expressing ideas in a simple, concise, and coherent manner. It enhances reader engagement, as readers can focus on the plot and characters rather than struggling to understand the language. Vivid and concise descriptions contribute to clear writing, as they bring the story to life without any unnecessary complexity. A description can still be vivid without being complex. All you really want your language to do is effectively portray context.
Balancing vocabulary and clarity
There’s certainly a place for a rich vocabulary in creative writing, to paint vivid pictures and evoke strong emotions. The key is to use the right word at the right time, and not to shoehorn in complex words for the sake of it. For your first draft, you should always focus on telling a good story, and not worry too much about the details of vocabulary. And while you do that, use techniques to expand your vocabulary like those outlined in this post, to help improve your language skills and achieve the right balance between clarity and complexity!