A Rose by Any Other Name

One of the most frustrating aspects of having the capacity of language is the concomitant reality of the attributed meanings found in the words themselves. Despite access to more than a million words in our shared English language, the average adult tends to use only between 20,000 and 35,000 of them. Predictably, we opt for those in which we find comfort and familiarity when using.

As a new writer, I’ve been asked what sort of books I write. As they are something of a smattering of genres, the only consistent thread I could pull among them was the style of writing, which I thought was fairly well characterized in a description I found online.

I’m paraphrasing here:

Upmarket fiction authors tend to employ a slightly more sophisticated use of language than commercial fiction writers in addition to focusing on themes and emotions that go deeper than the basic plot.

Despite my self-assessment, which I believe to be fair and accurate, a dear friend and regular “beta reader” of my stories told me she had come across a couple of articles which pointed out some people interpret the use of the term “upmarket” by authors as “arrogant,” and others find it “controversial.” While she subsequently assured me she knew my self-characterization was not made to be either arrogant or controversial, she wanted to put me on notice for how others might see it.

And while I appreciate her investment in my reputation, I’m not inclined to apologize for using “25-cent words.” If this means that I lose an occasional reader who finds my language stilted or haughty, I’m all right with that — for there must people out there who find themselves unperturbed by the use of “upmarket” or even seek out that sort of writing. I use words to tell a story, not to show arrogance or spurn controversy.

If you point to a rose and call it a skunk, it’s still pleasantly fragrant. If I call my books “upmarket,” then I consider myself as having used the best descriptor out there. Until and unless another one comes along, I guess I’m stuck with the judgment which some might opt to make.

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