I made a character sit on a hassock. The word came easily, so naturally I began to worry a hassock was some kind of clothing rather than a surface that could be sat upon. While my sense of it as a padded footstool is one definition, another (primary, per some sources) definition is a pillow for kneeling on at church. If some readers think the character is sitting on a padded stool and some readers think she’s sitting on a throw pillow, it’s imprecise imagery. I hate writing physical description as it is—I don’t want to waste the labor on something that ends up unclear anyway.
Discarded options include “tuffet” (too evocative of nursery rhymes for my taste) and “stool” (functional, but a single-purpose item I can’t see being given space in these close quarters). The closest term to what I mean would be “ottoman,” in the sense of a padded footstool with storage inside, but I have a MAJOR peeve about blatant real-word geographic and historic references in stories that take place entirely in not-real worlds. It’s staggering how often stories in which China doesn’t exist contain things that are as fragile as china. There are so many fragile alternatives! Porcelain! Glass! Eggshells! Dry leaves! Yet the default simile is immersion-shattering china.
“But Ren,” you say. “Porcelain is of French origin!”
Yeah, but it’s not francelain. If we eliminated all words with real-world origins, we’d have to make up entire languages to tell fake-world stories, and no one would be able to read them. I’ve drawn a hard line at direct references to proper nouns. I go with my gut for other words. “Porcelain” feels generic enough to get away with, whereas “croissant” and “guillotine” are overtly, specifically French, so I’d avoid those. (ETA: “Guillotine” is derived from the name of Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who popularized use of the device during the French Revolution, and is therefore covered by my proper noun rule, but I forget that every time I use it as an example.)
At any rate, that character is now sitting on “a square chest topped with a cushion” because it least offends my internal copyeditor.
Why does it take me a year of full-time-job hours to write a book while someone else might weekend-warrior one of similar length in two months? Because I obsess this much about what imaginary people put their butts on.
I don’t recommend this method for anyone else, but alas, this is the brain I’m stuck with.