Reference books . . . for pleasure reading?
Is there a modern lesson in Hemingway's approach to writing? JK Rowling, Tom Clancy, and that writer who attracts enormous criticism from literary critics, Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame . . . they all became successful using words average people understand. Readers inject themselves into stories, and if undistracted by dictionary visits, they experience the full impact of the writing. Shakespeare did the same thing. Sure, his plays sound odd by today's American English standards, but, back in his era, commoners raved about his pithy themes and every-day dialog.
Don't we writers all want the same thing? We hope our stories entertain readers, and maybe, just maybe, they'll become fans of both our stories and our writing styles. How can our word choices help this reader-to-fan metamorphosis?
Writers actually pick an audience when they select words. If your intended readers are college-educated professionals who demand literary eloquence, then, by all means, dust off the thesaurus and engage in the synonym dance. But, if the planned-for reader is a typical person, someone who works all week and wants a little escapism during their cherished weekends, then the author's writing should match readers' needs. We should write to the audience, not to our English professor!
In my personal experience, even highly educated people like doctors and lawyers want to relax when they pick up a book for pleasure reading. They're not much interested in passing the GRE exam's writing section . . . yet again. If a simple word gets the job done, then why complicate things with a five-syllable alternative? Sure, there are times when a word like anthropomorphism must be chosen for just the right meaning, but more often than not, a simpler word will be effective and easier to read. Pace in a story is a carefully constructed flow that carries a reader from one important scene to next. Correct pace depends on ease of reading.
Can it be overdone; perhaps too simplistic? Certainly. And, that's a fine line writers must walk. The old acronym, K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid), works in fishing, building a porch, assembling a child's bike and most any other task in life. It's no different for writing.
Don't kill your genius by forcing readers to keep a dictionary close by. Awesome mental images and dynamic dialog wilt under interruptions by visits to a thesaurus. Great stories rely on pace, or more accurately, carefully planned variances in pace, to unfold their plots. They engage a reader's imagination and run effectively as long as there are no distractions. Avoid the curse of big-word-itis, and let your story's pace flow naturally. If it was good enough for Hemingway...you get the rest.
Now, where did I put my thesaurus? I need to edit this post. lol.