Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Do You Use a Thesaurus?

I've heard some writing advice to the effect that if you need a thesaurus to find a word, you shouldn't be using that word. There's a danger that the word won't fit the tone of the novel, or won't capture the exact meaning you want to convey.

I do use a thesaurus occasionally. Mainly I use it to generate alternatives for words or phrases I overuse. As I revise my novel, I've realized how many times my character's "stomach tightens" in a tense situation. Thanks to the emotion thesaurus over at The Bookshelf Muse, I've managed to think up some new ways to show how my character is feeling. Thanks, Angela (and Becca)!! My alternatives aren't always words taken straight from the thesaurus, but reading thesaurus entries does get the ideas flowing.

Some ways I check whether a word works:

 1) I read my story (or that section of the story) out loud to hear how it sounds.

2) I ask myself, "Would my character use this word?"


  1. My thoughts exactly. I also use a thesaurus when I'm not using the right word. I know what I want to say but the tone or the feeling just isn't right so I'll go on a word hunt to find one that fits.

  2. YAY! I'm so glad that the Emotion Thesaurus still helps you. :) Thanks for mentioning us!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  3. I used a thesaurus recently to vary the language in a synopsis. I'm a big proponent of your point #2. When a 6-year-old sounds like an adult, or a 1980s high school dropout like a 1920s Oxford grad, something's off.

  4. I don't think thesaurus are that bad. I just think the overuse got the book a bad rep with writers!

  5. I'm off to check out the emotion thesaurus. I do use one, but primarily when I can't think of the word I want to use. Usually I can get to one the is close, and then the thesaurus brings up the one I wanted all along. Thank you for reading and commenting on Middle Passages.

  6. Like you, I use a thesaurus when I overuse words/phrases. It's not often, but it can come in handy. I, too, will check out the emotion thesaurus. I am focusing my writing on picture books and have some flexibility with my characters' emotions through the illustrations. Thanks for the post!

  7. Liza sometimes I have a word that's close but not quite right, and a thesaurus can be a big help with that for me too.

    I probably use it more when I'm revising than writing a first draft. During the first draft I can stick in any close approximation.

  8. Ooh good ideas. Emotional thesaurus? How cool.

  9. I do admit to using a Thesaurus. It's like so many other writing tools...I can get all caught up looking up this word and looking up that one too. Then I'm not writing.

    The version on my word processor is less distracting. I especially find it useful when I've used a common word like "red" four times in a paragraph.

    If I can't find a word that fits, many times I'll change the whole sentence or paragraph around.


I love to hear your responses and thoughts! Your comments will appear after moderation (I’ve decided to enable moderation due to excessive spam).