Tuesday, December 2, 2008
I was going over my notes from critiquers today as I (finally) printed my ms., and noticed that more than once, a critiquer suggested that I pick a simpler word, that the word I had (i.e. petulant) was above the heads of mg-ers. While I totally respect her opinion and am fully aware that I often use vocabulary above my students' heads, I wonder if I should change the words? On the one hand, it makes sense to write to the audience's level--on the other hand, it feels like doing that would mean "dumbing down" my ms. What do y'all think?
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Ohhh this is tough. I LOVE learning new words. Choosing odd words. Knowing "hard" words... but they seem to end up stumbling blocks more than not. I've had that same critique ~ especially at work. It's tough! I try to settle within my intuition ~ and I always lean on the side of "dumbing down."
I wouldn't dumb down your work. I can understand that if the narrator is a 13 year old to not use words that a 13 year old wouldn't use. If that is not the case and petulant is the best word then it is the best word.
MG kids are not stupid and as long as there are not tons of advanced words you're good. Kids hate for things to be dumbed down for them.
As a 4th grade teacher, I would say that it depends a LOT on how it's used. Are there tons of hard words or only a few? Is it used in a context where the reader can get a feel for what it means or does it require understanding of the word in order to understand the sentence? Does that help at all?
I just finished reading A Great and Terrible Beauty and there were a number of words that (red face here) I didn't know! I had to look them up. But I think sprinkling a few higher level words not only will challenge your reader but empower them.
So my take, leave them in and if an editor has you change them, then that's another story.
Wow--thanks for all of the interesting comments!!! I am still unsure of what to do. There are about 4-5 words specifically that worry me--petulant, belied, quelled, contemptuous, and one other one I can't remember. But I am still up in the air about it--because, Susan, you're right--I don't think my main character would think those words...on the other hand, Liza, you're right--there are context clues...and on the other other hand, Christina's right--there are just a few of them and they would, hopefully challenge the reader.
Can you meet in the middle? I think it's important to have words that kids have to figure out the meaning. A mix, maybe. :)
"...I don't think my main character would think those words..."
If your main character is thinking out of character, drop the words.
If she isn't, keep the words.
I was going to say exactly what Justus said. :) It's actually a matter of Voice - are these words consistent with your character's Voice? Would she use them in a conversation? If not, then I'd use words that she *would* use in a conversation.
I think using a handful of good/new words in a ms is nice. It does give kids the opportunity to learn new words.
But maybe not too much.
So tough. Ultimately, I left in words where the meaning could be figured out from the context, but it's so hard to know what to do with things like this, isn't it?
I agree that it will empower them (if used in moderation, of course). I personally love it when I find a word I don't know.
And thank you so much for commenting on my one-year post! ^_^
I learned the word "tangible" in the 4th grade from reading A Wrinkle in Time. Most kids read that book in 5th grade. If it's the right word, use it.
Though if your critiquer was an editor or agent who is interested in publishing your book, I'd pay more heed to that. Pick your battles, and all that. But "petulant" is a good, strong word.
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