Use Your Thesaurus with Caution

As writers, words are our friends. Our best times are when they flow from us with beauty or power. They can sometimes trip us up too though, when we overthink them. A thesaurus can be very helpful when you’re stuck for a good word, or when you want to avoid using the same word excessively in the same paragraph. It can sometimes take a nasty while to create a sentence when there’s only one word available that you can think of to convey what you want to say or project, or when you sort of remember the word you want, but it insists of hovering just south of your thinking mind. That font of awesome wordiness can also be a problem when overused. It’s not only adverb overuse that can get you in trouble, but also the use of too many big, flowery, or misinterpreted words sometimes. Some writers avoid the use of said like the plague, and can end up with some decidedly odd dialogue. Said is a great word. It’s innocuous and not noticed, and so the sentences spoken by your characters assume a natural flow. Much better she said than she expostulated.

Think about those times when you were happily reading a book, totally immersed in the story, and you got to a word or sentence that made you cringe and stopped you in your tracks. Not anything sweary or rude—those things can often make for fabulous dramatic flow, but something pretentious or jarring. Often what you want to get across becomes much clearer when you leave something out completely. It depends on the style of the particular story that you’re writing. If you’re writing a winsome story that you want your readers to perceive in a poetic way, then adjectives and adverbs are going to hold forth happily. If you’re writing a murder mystery then terse dialogue with or without he said and she said could be the way to go.

Mostly, if you say that “she left the building, saying…”, your readers will picture that vocal exit fully in their minds—we all have our own mind movies of the books we read. Unless you want to make a particularly peculiar point for current or future reference, saying that “she turned left out of the kitchen, adjusted her lime green maxi skirt with her damply perspiring petite fingers, and ambulated down the stairs before gushing the words…” is going to have most eyeballs attempting to absorb those words glazing over. That being said, never try to exterminate any adverb that comes to you. They have their place in all great works of fiction, and sometimes a few excessively floral words are just what is needed. Everything in moderation, but use a bit of everything in your writing. That’s the joy of the scribbler’s life. We, mostly, get to make the rules in our worlds.

 

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14 thoughts on “Use Your Thesaurus with Caution”

    1. Have you seen the You Tube clip of the Friends Series (TV) where Joey (in hoping to seem smart) uses his computer thesaurus to write a letter, and he refers to the heart (as in I feel this in the depths of my heart) as a systolic pump. It is about 1 and a half minutes and is hilarious!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Yes, I understood exactly what you meant Jo about stopping in your tracks while reading because of an odd word usage. Cringing indeed. I’m working on a book of fiction right now that has poetic language so I have a bit of latitude but I still have to be careful not to get too far out there with word choice. Good reminder.

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