I finally got my erotic novella-that’s-no-longer-a-novella-but-now-is-category-length off to some of my critique partners the other day. It’s come back from a couple of them. As I was skimming through the comments, one of them noted that they didn’t understand a word I’d used – that they’d had to look it up.
The word? Palavered.
Here’s the sentence:
Bubba called the waitress to order another beer and palavered with her before Tiny finally grew impatient.
Now I like the word palavered, and I thought it gave a good small-town sense of the characters and what they were doing but obviously it stopped my critique partner mid-read. So I went onto Twitter and asked if other people knew what it meant. A couple people said, no, they had no idea what it meant but perhaps they could figure it out in context. Robin Rotham (who lives in Oklahoma but has lived in small Texas towns for years–oh oh!) said she had to look it up. Lauren Dane says she likes to use it in futuristics and off-world stories–she thought it old-fashioned yet out-of-time (which describes me perfectly!). Wylie Kinson said she loved it and had used it in her own manuscript, but then wondered if perhaps it was a Britishism (which means it has to go since a Britishism has no place being thought by a Texas police officer in a Texas bar.)
But if even if it is correctly used, if palavered throws off a reader, as an author, do I leave it in and hope they’ll understand it in context? Or change it to “idly chatted”? If I do that, am I dumbing down my writing for a reader?
So as I try to decide if I need to take it out or leave it in, I have to ask you …and I’m not talking just about “palavered” here, but any word you’ve not seen before.
As a reader, do you like discovering new words? Or does it throw you out of the story?
Do you keep a dictionary on hand and look up the new word, or for an ebook as this will be, flip over to dictionary.com for a definition? Or do you put the story down and not pick it (or the author) up again?