Try Not to Sound Like a Writer!

Lesson 3 Napkin Dad

Cartoon courtesy of “The Napkin Dad”

Marty Coleman, Photographer and Artist

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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. xtreme no scam on February 29, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    Snooki is my favourite individual on jersey shore. I think she is cute and cuddly. I would like to cuddle with her.

  2. Teresa Watson on August 9, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    Bente Gallagher shared this with me this morning. I desperately needed a good laugh this morning! I just started working as a freelance editor. Last night, I read a prologue for a writer who was using words I had never heard of before, and using words in a different way than they were intended. He said they were properly used and that obviously I was not the editor for him. He left me questioning my decision to go into editing, until Bente showed me this cartoon. Thank you for sharing it!

  3. Taz on August 6, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    I once read a novel on one hand a carried a dictionary in the other.

  4. Beth MacKinney on August 4, 2011 at 11:43 PM

    It’s like that line from the Rocketeer:

    “Acting is acting like you’re not acting.”

    So is writing.

  5. Lenore Buth on August 4, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    Love it. Early in my writing career I read the advice to never use a five-dollar word when a nickel one would do. I write that way.

    I found the downside is that apparently one can come across as too blunt.

    My pet peeve in novels is the French word, frisson. It crops up so often I’ve wondered if that’s the new “must” word. Every time it sounds out of place with the rest of the book. My guess is it’s thought to add a touch-of-class to the book.

    But then, I write (blunt) nonfiction.

  6. Reba J. Hoffman on August 4, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    And I won’t even go into cultural phrases like, “well ain’t that a kicker?!” and “that’s so funny it makes ya want to slap yer mama!”

  7. Peter DeHaan on August 4, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    When writing my dissertation, I purposely begin using bigger, more academic sounding words instead of smaller, simpler ones.

    I think that effort was both expected and rewarded.

    Unfortunately, I sometimes fall back into that habit.

  8. Melanie on August 4, 2011 at 12:32 AM

    So is it bad that my 5 year old daughters are using words like famished and satiated instead of starving and full? 😀

  9. Constant Writer on August 4, 2011 at 12:20 AM

    We used to talk like this in high school because nobody else knew how to talk consistently with such big words. I love using big words when I can but not in speech. Nobody’s going to look up a word while you’re talking, but if they’re reading it, they might bother to look it up if they find it interesting enough.

  10. Laura W. on August 3, 2011 at 11:46 PM

    So effing true! Drat those Latinate words!!!

  11. Debbie Baskin on August 3, 2011 at 11:43 PM

    Too cute!

  12. joan Cimyotte on August 3, 2011 at 11:07 PM

    The above animation brought out the joyous response of hilarity. I do believe it to be a fine example of sardonic behavior by the writer. I feel fantastically like the potentate, exasperatingly so.

  13. Marty Coleman, The Napkin Dad on August 3, 2011 at 7:03 PM

    Thanks everyone, I love all the responses! It took me quite a while to come up with the sesquipedalian phraseology for ‘I think he’s dead’. It was harder than you thi…I mean logicalize.

  14. Rebecca Monaco on August 3, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    That’s brilliant, and completely true. There’s a difference between clever word usage and ridiculous word usage.

  15. Loree Huebner on August 3, 2011 at 12:35 PM

    Too funny.

  16. Kathryn Elliott on August 3, 2011 at 12:18 PM


  17. BJ on August 3, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    How well timed, I’m reading a book right now called “The Book of Flying” and it is full of this sort of thing. The book is heavy on poems from the character as well though so it works here, but barely.

  18. Colin Smith on August 3, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    I wonder if the temptation for an author to flash his vocabulary credentials comes, at least in part, from the fact that so many classic novels were written at a time when long words were part-and-parcel of written communication. In other words, we think that to write a classic novel, we have to adopt 19th century vocabulary.

    My brothers and I used to enjoy (and still do) playing with language, and finding convoluted ways to say simple things, so I appreciate the well-chosen word. But the “well-chosen word” isn’t necessarily 15 syllables long. I was recently struggling over a good way to describe a character falling hard on her posterior. After numerous attempts, I settled on “she fell butt first.” I though the simplicity and “bounce” of the words made me feel the action more than any of the more eloquent alternatives.

  19. Irene on August 3, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    Wow, thank you!

    Unmitigee… mitigah…

    The best writing lesson I ever learned: use ten-dollar words at your own peril, as it’s easier for a reader to throw your book against the wall than to reach for a dictionary.

  20. Ramona Richards on August 3, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    Love this. I asked a former editor about this tendency, especially among young, academic writers. He said, “Amazing, isn’t it, that they feel the need to demonstate 8 years of college in one paragraph?”

  21. Krista Phillips on August 3, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    My mom and I used to joke that some authors would scour the dictionary for a big word they really liked, then try to insert it in their novel as much as possible to make them sound smart.

    I haven’t seen that nearly so much in the last five – ten years or so, thank goodness!

  22. Frank DiCesare on August 3, 2011 at 11:07 AM

    As an writer and editor, nothing irks me more than writers who use a sesquipedalian word in the middle of sentence that contains one- and two-syllable words. More often than not big words disrupt the rhythm of an otherwise well-written sentence.

    It has also been my experience that writers who use big words in simple sentences are typically the worst storytellers. They use big words to mask the fact that they do not know the fundamentals of good storytelling. It’s the writing equivalent to the bad golfer who insists on playing with the best clubs but refuses to take lessons.

  23. BK Jackson on August 3, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    Timely post as I recently read a novel where there were a ton of $10 words. I like to be challenged to go to my dictionary once or twice in a novel to look something up. But if you’re reading and it feels like the author sat at his computer with a synonym finder in reach, trying to find the most complex words for the simplest sentences, it makes you want to throw in the towel.

    I did manage to finish the book, but it wasn’t easy, and I would not be in too much of a hurry to read another work by this author–though I’d probably give them the benefit of the doubt because I believe it was their first book. No doubt they’ve gotten feedback on the issue.

  24. Anna Banks on August 3, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    This is true EXCEPT that recently I switched to Marilyn Monroe blonde for the summer (and loved it, BTW), and people kept treating me like a ditz. Talking down to me. Seriously. I had no idea the “dumb blonde” stereotype still existed. So, I had to reply to their stupidity with words they could not define, let alone spell. And I LIKED it. Don’t judge me.

    But otherwise, I agree. I say things like “Y’all” and “Simmer down, skillet” all the time, unless provoked. 🙂

    • Colin Smith on August 3, 2011 at 11:28 AM

      “Simmer down, skillet!” LOL–I’ve not heard that one before! That’s cute. I’ll have to remember that one. I had a co-worker that used to say “what’s the deal, pickle?” whenever I needed to discuss something. Deal-Pickle… it took me a moment to get it. I suppose it helps if you live in the South. 🙂

    • Jill on August 3, 2011 at 2:07 PM

      Oh, so that’s how the reply feature works. I guess I’m a dumb blonde, after all.
      Okay, I had the opposite experience. Being blonde all my life, I didn’t realize how poorly people treated me until I dyed my hair red. I thought my shyness or femaleness caused the general lack of respect. But the condescension magically ceased when my hair was red. Weird, isn’t it?

  25. otin on August 3, 2011 at 7:16 AM

    Yea, I am guilty of that sometimes. In one line I said that a person had “the overwhelming urge to urinate.” My girlfriend said, ” you could have just simply said she had to pee.” lol

    • BK Jackson on August 3, 2011 at 9:42 AM

      RE: Words like “urinate”–guess it depends on your frame of reference. Coming from a healthcare background, I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash at that usage, unless it was completely out of keeping with the character.

      • Rachelle Gardner on August 3, 2011 at 1:58 PM

        Hopefully you WOULD bat an eyelash at the use of that word in a non-medical setting, or coming from a non-medical person!

  26. Sarah on August 3, 2011 at 6:39 AM

    Sesquipedalian is one of my favorite words. I could repeat it over and over- just like Hobbes saying “quark.”

    But while it’s a fun word to say, it’s a horrible way to speak. Thanks for the laugh.

  27. Prue on August 3, 2011 at 6:01 AM

    K.I.S.S works for business writing too. Keeping it simple in documents, presentations and email leads to greater comprehension and less misunderstanding.
    If only people stuck to it.

  28. Jeanne on August 3, 2011 at 4:30 AM

    Love the reminder to speak English, not high fallutin’ language.

  29. Jacquelyn Sill on August 3, 2011 at 3:50 AM

    I think my son, who is a third year English Literature major could benefit from this cartoon and advice. Wow…that was extremely loutish of me. I didn’t envisage that I could be so sanctimonious of my offspring.

  30. Kathryn Roberts on August 3, 2011 at 2:44 AM

    This is great. I always prefer to read something in English.

  31. Caryl on August 3, 2011 at 2:18 AM

    That’s hilarious! I used to work for a woman who insisted on using the word “utilize” instead of “use” in every single instance. Drove me nuts!