"...as long as people use language, tell stories, and want to know about themselves, they will read fiction," opines William Deresiewicz as part of the NY Times discussion.
While I'm not disputing that fiction is here to stay, I do wonder whether we, the reading public, have emulated Corporate America: eschewing the experienced, educated brain trust in favor of something younger, hipper, hotter (and cheaper).
"Are we just heading toward the dumbing down of everything?" Atlantic Wire writer Jen Doll asks after inflicting the opening of 50 Shades of Grey on herself. It's a valid question. One that, in the light of two beta readers' comments on a manuscript of mine, I have been contemplating from a practical standpoint for the past few days.
"I loved your book," one beta said. "It's very well-written, with great descriptions and a unique story that really used a lot of imagination." (Cue happy song, confetti flinging, and Kermit arm-flailing, 'cause I'm just that pathetic when it comes to hearing people say nice stuff about my writing.)
This beta reader and one other mentioned that they had encountered words they didn't know when reading my manuscript, an adult literary novel with commercial aspirations.
"I don't like having to look things up in the dictionary while I'm reading," one said.
"It makes the book more like work," agreed the other.
I was somewhat taken aback. I had no idea what they were talking about. Had they encountered some slang with which they were unfamiliar, or gotten stuck on the few foreign words I included in my book, I wondered?
No. They just ran into words they didn't know. One of them was kind enough to write them down for me. And I -- God help me -- seriously considered changing them. Until I saw the vocabulary list. Here it is (with excerpts from the novel to put the words in context):
* "The crate rocked back and forth, caroming off the sides of the van."
* "They drowsed, ignoring the diatribe in the background."
* "The puppy gamboled over to the cage to investigate."
* "Something in the older woman's voice concerned her. If she didn't know better, she would have said it was fear. That, of course, was impossible, for in all the years they had known each other, she had never seen Ellie quail."
* "The afternoon sun streamed through the window, backlighting a shaft of light – a God’s eye – dancing with dust motes and dog hair."
* "He choked down some of the detox slurry, begrudging every swallow."
* "If she stretched on her tiptoes, she could almost keep her chin above the morass of trash."
* "Now people constantly commented on his physical beauty. Sycophants and toadies wanted to be near him, to claim some sort of ownership of his looks."
But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it would help my chances of finding a major publisher and a massive readership if I reworded things so as not to tax my readers' vocabulary. Perhaps I expect too much of my readers, or am just a hopeless literary bee-yotch. ::sigh::
What are your thoughts? Should I rethink the vocabulary used above? Is it, in your opinion, too advanced or esoteric for today's readership? Have you ever rewritten something you thought was fine -- even "good" -- in order to