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Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Thesaurus: Friend or Foe?

I realized I've not included many posts of specific interest to writers. I've got some, but I want to make sure that I continue to incorporate the passion of writing into this blog. So with that in mind... let's talk about the thesaurus.

Mrs. Brain Bomb reviews manuscripts and provides editing services to literary agents. She has some interesting posts and one of her recent ones got me thinking. The post: Inside Dope for Other Writers. The part that got me thinking:

"The obvious avoidance of a thesaurus. I recently read a MS where the character "frowned" throughout the entire story. Umm, humans have many facial expressions. Let's get creative or at least spare me from reading the same word twenty six times."

I would be lost without a thesaurus. I use mine constantly. I have a good ole hardback and I use www.thesaurus.com on a regular basis. Sometimes I can't quite remember the word I'm looking for but I've got a close spelling to it, or I want to confirm the meaning. Sometimes I'm looking for a word that has a certain sound to it, or portrays a tone. Sometimes I'm just trying to avoid repetition.

How important is your thesaurus? How often do you use it?

This also leads me to look at it from the other side. As a reader, do you enjoy seeing new/unusual/unknown words? I do, although, I like it best when the author uses the word in context so that I can figure out the gist of the word. Every now and then I've read something that doesn't put the word in context and I have to do a quick search if I can't figure out the meaning.

Since I like to read new words, as a writer I like to sprinkle words that I view as adding "spice" or authenticity into my writing. Here is a sentence from my work in progress:

"A tangle of lianas wove a web of thick vines before him."

It's short, it's simple... but I've tossed in "lianas", which is a type of vine. I've had readers compliment the use of new terms. Then I've had readers that point it out specifically during the critique with the comment, "I don't know what a liana is."

Where is the line between interesting and confusing? It is impossible to please all the people all the time, but when is a word ok to use if it's not well known... and when should you shy away from it?

Let's discuss...



Blogger Susan said...

Hey, Mitchell frowns ALL THE TIME. That's part of who he is. He also grimaces and does other things that are similar to frowns, but he frowns a LOT. It's what he does. It's who he is. Frowning, growling, and grimacing are all what people expect of him (and they expect a lot).

For other things, a varied word choice is VERY important. But I don't use my thesaurus as often as I probably should; it's buried under a stack of papers and stuff, hiding from Mt. TBR. :(

2:36 PM  
Blogger Thomma Lyn said...

I use my thesaurus from time to time, when I'm close to having just the Right Word but... not -- quite. ;)

And as for Million Dollar words, I like them used in moderation for emphasis, like seasoning.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Bernita said...

My Merriam-Webster is in tatters. I use it a lot.
Lianas? Pfui. It's perfectly clear to the most brain dead what they are from the context. I have no patience with those who are obdurate about any word over two syllables.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Rashenbo said...

Lol! Bernita you are such a gem! :)

6:12 PM  
Blogger LK Hunsaker said...

I love my Thesaurus (capital T)!

Part of the wonderful thing about reading is that it's educational, or it should be. There have been too many "dumbed-down" books in the past few years and too many young people with horridly small vocabularies and shameful reading skills.

I don't want to have to scramble for my dictionary constantly throughout a novel, but now and then, it is nice to see that the author has a respectable vocabulary, as long as it doesn't look like that author is simply trying to show off. If the words fit well without being ostentatious, there's no reason not to use them. It's not your fault if a reader is too lazy to look it up. :-)

10:59 AM  

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