How much vocabulary does it take for one to become a writer—or, at least- to be able to write and make sense and be understood? People have this notion that writers should have his bag of tricks overflowing with deep words. But is it really the case in good writing?
As in everyday speaking, everyday writing needs only a few—and in some rare cases, a few more exceptional ammunition in the arsenal for one to be able to get by. Assuming one is alive and breathing, one is surely going to use any or all of the following gadgets today: a smart phone, a laptop, a PC. One uses these gadgets for sending and receiving messages, emails, notes, memos, chain mails, memes, advertisements, and whatnot. All these come and go in minutes, sometimes seconds.
Crucial to all communication situations is making sense and sending the correct signal. Let’s take writing a private message as an example: We have heard of relationships going sour and families broken by ill-worded and ill-intentioned messages and posts on social media platforms. Many of these posts may not have been intentional (possibly done in haste was more like it) but because of wrong signals and misplaced modifiers, they all fell flat and got whacked.
“I am board. “
“Yeah. I’m chalk. Let’s get together.”
“Can you listen to me.”
“I like you, OK?”
“And I feel like something is missing in my hart.”
“I think it’s an E.”
Or consider this newspaper headline:
“Headless body found in topless bar”
The thing about getting your sentences out on social media is, it becomes a statement. It becomes a banner of how and what you think. Your words therefore become you: they point back to where they come from. And you wouldn’t want to be caught red handed and shamefaced whenever one of these silly things turn up on your social media posts.
One writer that I authentically admire is Paul Auster. Other that the way he tells stories, I very much like the way he makes his sentences. He can write long complex sentences if he desires, but in most of his paragraphs, I read a parade of average length and short sentences. He avoids using long abstract verbs doing more than what is necessary. After all verbs need only do action and movement. Most of all, his sentences are in the active voice (meaning the subject does the action). Some critics call this masculine writing: straightforward, contrapuntal, predatory and no-frills.
Take this sentence from “City of Glass”:
The cold snap of the previous week was over; the sun was shining brightly as Clary hurried across Luke’s dusty front yard, the hood of her sweater up to keep her hair from blowing across her face.
There is no word longer than two syllables. There is no word above the vocabulary of a five year old. There is no word that reads like it’s been lifted from a thesaurus. That’s what we mean writing with a lot of sense. That’s what we mean by powerful writing. This is powerful writing in that there’s no way you can miss any of what’s being said in the sentences. The author of these sentences is hell-bent at getting a clear message: saying exactly what his words say, leaving out nothing for interpretation. If all emails, social media posts, and corporate letters were worded this way, people would certainly get along fine. Business would run smoothly because everyone is on good terms with one another.