Tag s | Writing Craft

Choosing Your Words Wisely, Part 2

Here are some of my all-time favorite jokes:

  • To get to the other side.
  • Hugh and only Hugh can stamp out florist friars.
  • Silly Rabbi, kicks are for Trids!
  • Oh, my baking yak!
  • Minnie was called, but Chew was frozen.
  • I better run this through again!
  • Give me a couple of eggs.
  • Place one of these on every corner and wait for my signal!

After all these years, those jokes still make me laugh.

What? Didn’t get the story behind the punch line?

Now you know how some readers feel when they read Christian books filled with “spiritual-speak” containing favorite words and phrases Christians use. The author assumed everyone knows what is meant when they may or may not know about what you are writing.

It’s how Christians keep our book readership lean.

There are Christian words or phrases, which only committed believers know:

Original Sin
Redeem (not involving a certificate or coupon)
Blood of the Lamb
O’ (used in a myriad of contexts)

And potentially hundreds more

You can pray out loud in public using Christian mystery-words and the unbelieving or unaware person who might be listening will only recognize a few…like “the” and “Amen,” when they know you are finished.

The same principle applies to old words not in common use today. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t take 17th Century English vocabulary in school so my tendency is not to use words like hast, thou, thy, thee, ye, shalt, thine and spake too often in my daily conversations.

But if I want to appear super-spiritual to someone, I might use all in a single prayer. I can become a member of King James Court in no time at all.  (I’ve never used the word, “chasten” in a prayer, but I heard it used recently and needed to look it up afterward. Thank you Google.)

Language can either bring people together or drive them apart. Christian writers can choose words or phrases which either expand or limit the potential readership of the their books. Assuming readers know the meaning and back-story of every word can be self-limiting.

Certainly there is a place for “insider” communication between believers, but Christian authors who desire to write to a broader Christian audience or to unbelievers need to watch their words carefully. Inadvertently you might be speaking another language.

In scripture where God interacted with people, he used words and phrases, which were anything but complicated:

“Adam, where are you?”

“Moses, take off your shoes.”

“This is my son. I am pleased with him.”

“Who touched me?”

“Who do you say I am?”

“Whose image is on the coin?”

“Will you give me a drink?”

“Your sins are forgiven.”

“Go and sin no more.”

“I will give you rest.”

“Lazarus, come out.”

“Follow me.”

There’s a story behind every one of the above phrases, both interesting and compelling.  But God still used simple and powerful words, not flowery words.

Even the sermons of Jesus are pretty simple. They contained plain and powerful words. Nothing too complicated, but certainly strong enough to make another think about and remember them.

Any one, who ever wrote something on behalf of another or represented someone else in their work, knows you first spend a lot of time to understand the “voice” of the other person, which is how they uniquely communicate. Speechwriters for other people have a knack for this. It’s the speaker’s voice, which comes through, not the speechwriter’s voice.

Christian authors are somewhat like speechwriters or co-authors with God. The best ones don’t let their words get in the way of his.

Attempting to be too literary or complex as a creative writer can often hide the message. Don’t assume everyone knows the story behind complex words.

Something to ponder.

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There are No Shortcuts

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