Reading through books by some new authors lately, I’ve developed a trend for highlighting unusual words choices. For those that may not be familiar with writing guidelines, typical commercial adult fiction is targeted at word choices that meet a high school grade level (9-12th grade). A rather informal test put Stephen King’s books at 5th or 6th grade reading level (BellaOnline). That sounded low to me when I first heard it, partly because, well it sounds low. But it makes sense from a ease of reading standpoint for a broad audience. It also keeps the pacing of the stories brisk. You wouldn’t want to bog readers down sending them to the dictionary all the time.
Newspapers are targeted at the 10th /11th grade reading levels (Plain Language). Here’s an older discussion on this (Plain Language) that flagged the Times of India at a 15th grade level and one of the most difficult newspapers to read. If you have content that you want to test, you can bring it into Word and use the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level function (run through checking spelling and grammar at the end of the document and you can choose to display information about the reading level and readability scores).
But I digress.
I enjoy reading books that spin words in a different descriptive fashion and tend to push those reading levels. Not all the time. I like a brisk pace too, but I like to read different things and I don’t typically use the words I’m highlighting. They caught my eye and were used in a interesting fashion, so I thought I’d go through this exercise. I have also put in one or two words that are often targeted as misspellings but aren’t. Many times we expect to see certain words together, and when a new combination appears or a new word is injected the instinct is to assume the word choice is incorrect or a typo.
So to start, book excerpt/snippets for some creative word usage:
- *A cataract of strawberry blond hair fell in ripples. (cataract referring to a less used definition of waterfall or downpour, not hazing lens of the eye)
- *…ophidian gaze (ophidian referring to ‘like snakes’)
- *…adamantine knot (adamantine as in rigidly firm, resembling a diamond in hardness – not surprising that Wolverine skeleton is lined with adamantium – a fictional word)
- **…vertiginous trail (as in vertigo – this one’s pretty straightforward but not usually seen used in this fashion)
… given them a scrofulous appearance (as in morally contaminated, a diseased run-down appearance)
- **…touch of red left in the incarnadine sky. (the pinkish color of flesh – a very exacting word)
- **…they found his bedchamber turned into an abattoir (slaughterhouse – needless to say, this is from a thriller book)
*From books by Kat Richardson
**From books by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
And words that are often flagged as misspelled/ misused but aren’t:
- Magick for magic (the first is an old English form of the word – so magick is an acceptable alternative for magic. Especially in stories with myth and historical basis. This doesn’t discount an author creating words to suit their world building. Heck, if George Lucas can do it then everyone else should be able to also.)
- roiling emotions (yes, roiling, as in stirred, turbulent, and agitated – not boiling)