Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writers: Walking Thesaurus's

If you ask a writer for ways to say the same word differently, I wonder how many words with similar meanings they could give you?

One of our jobs as writers is to find that absolutely perfect word and plunk it down, a glowing jewel, amidst all the clutter of sentences. Not an "almost" perfect word. Not a "sort of" perfect word. THE perfect word.

For instance, you can't have a group of sentences with one redundant word occurring throughout the whole paragraph. It would get-- well, redundant. I mean, look at this sentence:

"The darkness lay like a bandage across my eyes. My groping hands reached through the dark, and my eyes tried to pierce through darkness' shield, but to no avail. The pressing dark was too much for me to penetrate. I lifted my foot and took a brave step forward, a blind man in the dark."

This might be a good sentence, but sheesh! Look at all those "dark"s! TOO many! You start getting hung up on how many darks are in that sentence. So, you have to be creative. What other words OTHER than dark can you substitute instead? Gloom. Black. Dim. Shadow. Murk. There's a bunch, isn't there? Let's rewrite that sentence again.

"The darkness lay like a bandage across my eyes. My groping hands reached through the shadows, and my eyes tried to pierce through the gloomy shield, but to no avail. The pressing dimness was too much for me to penetrate. I lifted my foot and took a brave step forward, a blind man in the murk."

Which one read better, one or two? See what I mean?

Writing isn't just about putting words together and hoping it's good enough. Writing is putting good words together inventively, and knowing that it's as perfect as you can make it.


  1. Your blog is beautiful, I am very impressed! I enjoyed your post because I completely related to it. I joined your blog and hope to see more of you on She Writes! Best Wishes.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Elizabeth! I'm so glad you like it here. It's my little cyber-home. :)

  3. Cat, I completely agree. When I revise my own work or critique for others, I look specifically for words that are overused. If you read aloud they are much easy to spot because yours ears are great hunters in this situation. I find that if a word is used over and over, I can't follow what's happening in the story. All I see is that word, again and again.

  4. Seeing the same word over and over again drives me crazy!! That is why one of my trusty companions thesaurus. It's always good to mix it up!

  5. You can use to get at those overused words. It's also free.

  6. Ooh,I've never heard of! Thanks for the link, LM Preston.

    Kelly, Halli, I know! Isn't it SO distracting! The funny thing is, I wasn't aware of that kind of irritation until after I joined a critique group. Then I was like, Ooooooh.

    Thanks Debra!

  7. This post feels like my life - luckily I love words and the effects they create on the page. There's also rhythm to consider: a very subtle process whereby you know instinctively what sounds right, and what doesn't. Lovely blog - found you on SheWrites.

  8. It's the difference between lightning and a lightning bug (Twain)
    :-) And writing isn't nearly as easy as it sounds.

  9. It's the rhythm and the sound of the words as well as their meaning that is important. You're so right and your examples great.

  10. This is so true! And like Natasha, I was thinking of that Twain quote about lightning as well! I think the hard part is that I get stuck on specific words, favorite words (slam, jerk) and use them all the time.

  11. I have my students do a thing I call "word mining". I give them a short phrase, and I have them write down about ten to fifteen ways to say the same thing. It really helps them when it comes time for them to do research papers! I also try it when I'm stuck. Yes, redundancies sound awful. You must root them out!

  12. AutoCrit opened my eyes not only to my overuse of distinct words, but to the many 'invisible' words I sprinkled throughout my work. After I deleted all the "thats" and "justs," the texts read more clearly than I'd expected.

    I already used the "Online Text Analysis Tool"
    to discover what theme my sentences developed within a piece, and to look for duplicated phrases, but I'd never thought to examine where I used the common words -- the ones my eyes skip.

  13. Deborah, I agree.

    Natasha, I LOVE that quote about lightning and the lightning bug. SO true.

    Cleemckenzie, I love listening to the rhythm of words as I write.

    C.R. Evans, thank you!

    Anne, one of my favourite words is "and". I use that all the time!

    Catherine, that's an AWESOME idea!

    Valerie, thanks for the second link. I appreciate that.


See my comment box? Want to know a secret?

*whispers* It's actually a TARDIS comment box! If you write long enough, you'll see... it's bigger on the inside!

Isn't that cool?

Now that you know that, aren't you going to throw a comment in there? You KNOW you want to. :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...