The Thesaurus: Friend or Foe?
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?
Labels: General Writing