I'm writing a short story told in first person by a character who, an avid book lover, is much more likely to grow her vocabulary by way of ancient books than by talking to other people. Because of this, she tends to use rare or even outdated words when telling her story. This is an important part of her character, and I love how her personality shines through in her voice. However, I'm starting to wonder if I'm overdoing it and it's making the story too difficult to understand.
Of course this is only my first draft, and I know I'll have to tone it down later. But how can I do that without losing part of the main character's personality?
This is only a problem for the narrative. I've yet to encounter a piece of dialogue where another character would have to ask her to "translate" her own speech. Sometimes, she'll preemptively repeat a statement in different words, but most of the time, other characters get the gist of what she's saying without even that. But there's no reason for her to "dumb down" the narrative inside her own head, where she'll happily make use of her large vocabulary. (She's not writing a book or letter that would force her to simplify her thoughts for an imaginary audience.)
- I'm writing in English, even though it's not my native language. While I'm more than comfortable writing in English, this makes it much harder for me to guess what the average reader might understand.
- My usual beta readers have a lower level of English than I do. (They're great at pointing out mistakes in the plot or character development, but I wouldn't ask them to proofread.)
- My audience is likely to also include non-native English speakers.
If the reader doesn't understand the literal meaning of every word, that's exactly the effect I'd like to achieve, but they should still be able to follow the plot and the main character's thoughts based on the surrounding context. In other words, the story should absolutely not require the reader to consult a dictionary every 5 minutes (or, worse, give up in frustration).
I already know not to use words I don't understand. While I frequently use a thesaurus to help me find the right synonym, I only ever pick words I know and have seen used in a similar context to mine. (Maybe it's because English is my second language, but I often have to check the list of synonyms to recognize the one I was looking for, which might not be unusual at all. For example, when looking for a synonym for "large fire", I'll end up picking "blaze" over "conflagration".)
Can you give me any advice, possibly other than "try to find better beta readers"?