A thesaurus is not a dinosaur!

Posted: September 27, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , , , , , , ,

As writers, we’re often told “show, don’t tell” and “Use as few adverbs as possible.” If parts of speech weren’t your thing in school, adverbs are those words that modify or describe the verb (action word) and tend to end in “ly.” In the sentence, “He walked slowly/angrily/quickly/quietly”, the adverbs are all those “ly” words telling how he walked. I’m partial to a good adverb myself, but I’m going to share how you can cut out many of them in your writing.

If you write flash fiction, where every word counts, it’s important to choose only the ones with the most impact and bang for the counting buck. Even if your word count isn’t limited, the right word is a sure way to ensure both that your readers get the idea and to not bore them with too much “telling.”

Enter the thesaurus. A thesaurus contains both synonyms, words similar to the one you’re thinking about using, and antonyms, words that mean the opposite. A printed thesaurus may be a dinosaur, but the digital age makes it inexcusable to not enjoy the hunt for the perfect word. All you have to do is search for “(whatever word you want), synonym (or antonym)” and off you go to the land of more concise writing.

The art of nuance reigns supreme in the search for the perfect word. Let’s look at the simple word, “walk.” Not all walks are created equal and not all synonyms mean quite the same thing.  When I search for synonyms for “walk”, the first entry lists these possibilities (and there are more):

stroll, saunter, amble, trudge, plod, dawdle, hike, tramp, tromp, slog, stomp, trek, march stride, sashay, glide, troop, patrol, wander, ramble, tread, prowl, promenade, roam, traipse

 A child on the way to somewhere she doesn’t want to go, doesn’t glide. She may trudge, plod or dawdle. A soldier probably marches, strides or patrols, but hopefully doesn’t sashay. If you go for a walk in the forest, to relax and enjoy the scenery, you might stroll or, if it’s wet, you may end up tramping or slogging. Aren’t those all more interesting than plain “walk?” And they “show” much more, too.

All these words mean walk, but each means a different sort of walk. By choosing the correct one (and you can find the definition by clicking on the word), you’ll give the reader a more in-depth feel for what’s going on with your character. You don’t have to say, “Joe didn’t want to go to school, so he walked slowly, trying to make the walk last as long as possible.” You can say, “Joe plodded towards school” or “Joe dawdled on his way to school” and your readers will know immediately that he wasn’t looking forward to going there or at least wasn’t in a hurry to arrive.

Using my first example, rather than say, “He walked slowly”, say “He ambled.” But if he walks slowly and unhappily: “He plodded/trudged.” Instead of walking “angrily”, your character could “stomp.”   A person walking quickly could “stride” or if moving quietly, “creep” or “pad.”

Consider using an online thesaurus often and you’ll see your writing improve. Readers will enjoy the richness of your language and who knows? You may even discover the joy of words and the art of nuance.  Improvement is only a short walk of your fingers away.

 

Comments
  1. What a helpful post! You’re so right; words have nuanced meanings and the right verb for the description can speak volumes.

  2. thanks, that was a great advice… I sometimes write and write and suddenly I have too much words… :o(

  3. I always use, and often times lose myself in for what feels like hours at a time, my Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, which I highly recommend. Just buy the one without me rollicking around on the inside.

    Randy

  4. I have the app on my phone. I use it a lot. 😀

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