The Book Doctor on BIG WORDS: Advice for the self-publishing writer

Q: I started writing books this summer, when family problems started. My books are interesting, or so say my friends, but I feel they lack something, like maybe they are weakly written. I know “big” words make a book seem like the author is intelligent, but it makes it harder for ten- to fifteen-year-olds to understand. So I ask, how do I make my book more interesting without using “big” words?

A: You pose an interesting question; should you write to impress your readers or entertain them? Do you want your readers to think highly of you or of your books? Today’s books entertain, rather than impress. You’re already on the right track to avoid words that others may have to look up in a dictionary.

Big words don’t make a book interesting; conflict and tension do. Fascinating characters do. Realistic dialogue that moves the story forward does. Unique plot turns and unusual situations help, too.

Because you just started writing books this summer, don’t despair. Most writers spend years honing their craft. At least you have begun. Not only do you need good ideas and a strong desire to write, you also have to learn as you go. Besides reading books about how to write a good story, spend time reading or rereading books by authors you admire. Analyze what makes you like that person’s writing and why you enjoyed reading the story. Apply those techniques (but not the story ideas) to your writing.

Also, know the market you want to write for. If you are writing for young adults, read the books young adults are buying and analyze what makes those stories interesting.

Above all, don’t get discouraged. Join writers groups and discuss your issues and learn from others. Do not, however, discuss your story lines. Talking about them not only gives your ideas away but also drains energy from the ideas. Instead, use that energy to write down your ideas and turn them into books.

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Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at

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