Can you write a novel without a big vocabulary?
You want to write a novel but your vocabulary is limited. What’s an aspiring author to do? Is writing a lost cause? Can you be successful with a standard or small choice of words at your disposal?
Can you write a novel without a big vocabulary? Yes, you can write a novel without a big, rich, wide, or vast vocabulary. If you ask famous writers like Stephen King or Ernest Hemmingway, they would agree wholeheartedly. In fact, having a standard or limited vocabulary might help you write a better novel.
However, it’s often not as simple as it sounds. There are certain tings to consider about using a smaller vocabulary so that you don’t turn off readers.
The rest of this post digs into the how and why of using small and big words in your writing. You don’t want to miss this!
Read all the way to the end and check out the videos for even more learning.
Let’s get going!
Can You Write a Novel Without a Big Vocabulary? Why it Might Actually Help
Most readers don’t care about big, fancy-schmancy words. They just want a good story or good information. Sometimes both.
Why? Big five-dollar words usually get in the way of the content instead of improving it. And your job as a writer is to put content first. Anything and everything you do should highlight the content.
I’m not alone in this belief, either. Numerous famous and bestselling authors promote plain language.
Use the smallest word that does the job. ~E.B. White
That’s the real basis of word choice: Does the word do the job? Does it get the idea across to the reader? Does it ping with clear understanding?
Then there is this roast of William Faulkner by none other than Ernest Hemingway:
Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.
Suggested read: Why Do Writers Hate Adverbs?
What’s the takeaway?
There are many good reasons why you can write a novel without a big vocabulary:
- Simple words do the job
- Simple words promote clarity
- Simple words focus on the content
- Simple words do not distract the reader
Can you write a novel without a big vocabulary? Yes, and sometimes authors purposely limit their vocabularies.
Why would they do that? Let’s dig into their reasons.
Why Writers Purposely Limit Their Vocabulary
Some authors limit their vocabularies on purpose to write in a particular genre or for a specific audience. For example, when someone writes a children’s book or young adult novel.
Not only is a limited or reduced vocabulary helpful, it is often required by publishers.
Writers might also limit their vocabulary to reach to a wider audience (I’ve always tried to write for a third-grade reading level). Sometimes a big word slips in but I do my best.
It’s not about dumbing down your writing or insulting your readers. That’s the last thing you probably want to do. Instead, it’s about clarity, understanding and – most importantly- it’s about your readers.
According to The Literacy Project, “The average American reads at the 7th- to 8th-grade level.”
So, keeping your language simple and clear can help you reach more people. Using big words can turn some readers off.
If you are writing to impress your partner, boss or professor, then by all means, use gargantuan instead of big and plethora instead of many. But if you want to impress your reader, use plain language that makes your message clear.
The Risks of Writing a Novel Without a Big Vocabulary
Can you write a novel without a big vocabulary? Yes, but it comes with a few risks.
If you write with a limited vocabulary, your stories might sound basic or amateurish, your sentences might not flow, and there might be thoughts that you can’t clearly articulate.
Some readers enjoy 15-letter words, rare words, and learning new vocabulary.
Also, if you write certain types of stories such as science fiction or about topics like technology, you will often need to use at least occasional big words to show that you know your subject.
A limited vocabulary is not an excuse to shortchange your reader. You still must wow them with words, just shorter, simpler words. Make your words fly, sing and dance.
Using big words when you don’t need to can annoy a reader, but so can using short words without intention. You still must be a great storyteller. You still must choose the best word for the job.
Should You Work on Your Vocabulary?
Just because you don’t need big words doesn’t mean they aren’t useful. The more words you know, the more choices you have as a writer.
An anonymous Reddit user says it well:
To write without the use of complex words is certainly possible. To write without knowledge of them is less advisable.
A large vocabulary gives you a wider choice every time you select a word to use. Vocabulary is freedom. You might never use your fancier words, but having them at your disposal means that prosaic prose is a choice, not the result of a limitation.
There are many ways to increase your vocabularly.
Here are my favorite:
- Read more books (shocker, right?! 🙂
- Use Thesaurus.com
- Get the best thesaurus for writers
- Buy a Word-a-day calendar
Serious self-reflection time. If you were a painter and had 20 colors to work with can you make a beautiful painting? Yes, obviously you can. Do you need 100 colors? That depends on whether or not you are good enough that you are at the limit of what 20 colors can do and having those extra colors would make a real difference in your work.
If you are interested in growing your understanding and use of words, you can find some great videos on YouTube. Hearing words pronounced and used in sentences can be a really easy way to learn new words.
Can you write a novel without a big vocabulary? Absolutely.
Simple, plain language is all you need. Period.
Are big words bad? Not at all. The size of your word should match your story, message and audience.
Words, old and new, short and long, can improve your writing. But you do not need a big vocabulary to write a big book. Clear, clean writing is a sign of mastery, not mediocrity.
Thanks for reading!
What to read next: