Writing Tips #1: Pompo-verbosity

Tip: Keep it Simple

“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what–these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank.”
(William Zinsser, On Writing Well. Collins, 2006)

It’s called pompo-verbosity–using an overly pompous word where a simple one will do. If you want an example, the word pompo-verbosity is a good starting point. This is a trap I used to fall into a lot when writing as a teenager. I loved long words! I wanted to use them everywhere–spread the love of long words around. Show off. Ah.

That is the problem with using long words. You’re showing off. No one likes a show off. It’s fine to use the occasional long word if no other word will do–but only if no other words fill the same gap. There’s no point in using words no one else will understand because no one will understand them. You’re telling a story or you’re trying to get a point across. Don’t over-complicate it.

The same goes with sentences. Don’t be overly-poetic where you don’t need to be. Sure, poetry sounds lovely when read aloud, but most people read in their heads. It doesn’t have the same effect. Instead, use imagery to paint the picture in a concrete way. I read a piece recently that described running through long, yellow grass as “running on the back of a lion”. It worked. I can see that. If you describe it as “running through the gold of a sunset as the planet turns and the river of time flows forth”… well… what on earth does that mean? I can’t see that! Lovely words, but no meaning.

 

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