You don’t want to nickel and dime your readers to death, so you opt for the twenty-five cent word. Throughout your manuscript you are giving the reader a lesson in vocabulary. In fact, they might have to use a dictionary ten or eleven times just to finish page one. Wow! They will be so impressed.
I’ll never forget the first time that I heard the word minutiae. I have always prided myself on a strong vocabulary, but I sat and stared at the movie screen. Minutiae? What the heck is minutiae? I wasn’t even able to tell by context. Once at home, I researched it and voila! Minutiae. Was I any more impressed than I would been by simple saying the small details? And I’ve actually caught myself wanting to slip minutiae into conversation from time to time because it really does fit better than very precise, small details in certain circumstances, but I don’t. And why is that? Because it could easily be a conversation stopper.
My maternal grandfather, each evening when the girls were all gathered around, would take out the dictionary and word by word, start to finish, work his way through. The girls had to spell each word and know the meaning. He was college-educated, but more often than not, quite self-taught. His English was atrocious, but he worked at it each day. This was by far one of the best parts of Mom’s early education. But did my mom elucidate the specifics of those assemblies to me in that milieu? HUH?
Did Mom tell me about it in that manner? No, she just said it like it was; he believed very strongly in words. And in our stories, as authors, we often have to just tell it like it is as well. Do we want our reader grabbing a dictionary in order to wade through the work? Line by line?
Depending on which stats you draw on, the average American reads between a 7h and 9th grade level. So most novels are written at the 7th grade level to accommodate. Grant you most avid readers go beyond that level, but you see the dilemma here, you don’t want to write above your reader by too much or he’s lost.
“But I can give them a great education!” You can and you will by writing it in your own words, not Noah Webster’s. You do it subtly when you have written the word look too often and switch it up with glance, glimpse, gaze, look, observe, watch, behold, regard, examine, or many others. But to completely give over your writing to the thesaurus means that you often use words which don’t really fit with that exact meaning anyway. And risk coming off sounding a tad pompous or silly.
There’s nothing wrong with well-placed words in your writing, but remember the expression KISS, keep it simple stupid! You will naturally slide in words that this person or that might not know, but don’t set out on a mission to re-educate the public. Let your story do that with details—minutiae that define your genre, not your intellectual prowess. Your job is to tell the story the best way you know how. Bits and pieces will be given to your reader which over time and hundreds of books, will have increased her vocabulary naturally.
Readers will always find a word here and there that will increase their knowledge, but if you determine ahead of time that it’s your mission, you will lose a lot of folks who simply wanted to sit down and have a good read.
I’m not suggesting for one second to dumb down your book, I’m just saying to let your writing unfold naturally. Don’t write to impress, just write your story. And don’t rely on a thesaurus to beef it up!
However, if cultivating the scholarly aptitude of your bibliophile is your aspiration, then go for it, just include a lexicon in the back of the tome!