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?

Palavering about edits
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7 thoughts on “Palavering about edits

  • October 15, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Hi, Leah! Ooh, an interesting question šŸ™‚ I tend to not mind words a little off the beaten path as long as I can get a sense for the meaning from context. I'm a little too lazy to look stuff up as I read (usually), but don't mind words that really fit the situation. Oh, and one other thing–with unusual words, I just want to urge authors to make sure they are used absolutely correctly; otherwise if I look it up and it doesn't make sense, it just annoys me and makes me question your writing/editing. That just bugs. šŸ™

    Anyway, enough palavering about šŸ˜‰

  • October 15, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    I could definitely figure it out from context and if not, would probably look it up online. (I'm virtually always near a computer.)

    I had an interesting reading experience recently – I encountered a new-to-me word, "adamantine", which was clarified as "diamond-like"… every single time the author used said word. At three instances and not even to the halfway mark in the book, my brain sort of exploded…

  • October 15, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Fedora – yes, if it's used incorrectly that's even worse.

    Chris – couple things going on in that instance. First, if I don't think the word is understandable in context, I would offer a definition somewhere close by, but only the first time. However, when you use strange words, it's better not to use them a lot because the reader will notice them just that much more. Hence why you noticed the three instances of adamantine, where you wouldn't have noticed a diamond if it had been used three times. My last editor pointed out that I had a tendency to use a specific word (for the life of me I can't remember what it was now) but it was unusual enough that it was jumping out to her. It got chopped in all but one instance.

  • October 15, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    I have no idea what that word means. LOL. When I'm reading and find words I don't get I read around them and hope I can play 'guess the meaning'. LOL. If I see the word a lot in a book I often go look it up but that's about the only time. I think it just depends on the author's 'voice'.

  • October 15, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    I like learning new words. I don't want to be looking up half the words in a book, mind you, but a few — that are figure-out-able in context, I like just fine.

    As a writer, I find my characters speak how they speak and I'm merely the note-taker. šŸ™‚

  • October 15, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Naaaaah. I don't keep a dictionary around for when I'm reading for pleasure. But I can't recall ever reading a romance where I couldn't grasp the meaning of a word from the context in which it was used.

    I also don't ever recall coming across a word I had never heard of before (paranormal terminology excluded).

  • October 16, 2009 at 11:52 am

    I know what palaver means. It appears a lot in westerns.
    I can usually figure out what a word means by reading on. If I can't figure it out, I always have a dictionary(I work crosswords)close a hand.

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