Searching for the Right Word? Tip #2

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Do you want to inspire readers with joy, arouse fear, romance with love, or does your story need the reader to sink into despair along with your protagonist? This set of posts looks at ways of influencing mood by selecting the ‘right’ words for the job.

  1. Abundance:

Listed in Roget’s under the header, Productiveness (noun), abundance gives the following synonyms: wealth, riot, profusion, harvest, great quantity; teeming womb, mother earth, rich soil; hotbed, nursery, propagator, seedbed; cornucopia, horn of plenty, land flowing with milk and honey; milch cow; second crop, aftergrowth, aftermath, sequel; rabbit warren, ant heap, multitude.

Clearly, although each of these suggestions involves the idea of abundance, not all can be used as a direct replacement. Context is all.

e.g:

“Heather felt secure within the forest, the abundance of trees masking her from the rest of the world.”

This tells us something about Heather’s insecurity and location, but it hardly evokes emotion or paints a picture, does it?

Let’s try again:

“The confusing world of work threatened Heather’s security and she had to escape. She constantly glanced about her as she made her way deeper and deeper into the peace of the forest. At last, the simple profusion of the trees surrounding her allowed her to slow down and listen to the birdsong, the gurgling brook nearby and the soft soughing of the breeze through the canopy gently swaying overhead. Peering with pleasure at the dappling of the forest floor, she rested her gaze on patches of sunlight enlivening the darker mysteries of shadows. She closed her eyes and leant back against the rough bark of an ancient oak, her hands resting against the solid trunk in a soft embrace of wholeness with her environment.”

This hopefully allows the reader to empathise with the character and form a picture of the environment to which she’s escaped.

However, abundance of this type might create more of a threat, depending on the situation in which your character finds herself.

e.g:

“Heather had wandered the forest alone for some time, stories of wild boar and other wild animals initially relegated to the back of her mind. But dusk now dimmed the odd patches of light managing to penetrate the dense canopy. The sheer abundance of trees prevented direct sunlight reaching the surface and she peered into gloom, no longer sure of her route back to the open. Somewhere too near a branch cracked beneath the weight of a moving creature and she could no longer stay still. Her flight forced her through whipping branches and over tripping roots until she lurched and stumbled, crashing against the rough bark of a gnarled oak and, with the hand she used to sweep hair from her eyes, smearing blood across her face.”

More atmosphere?

The opposite of abundance is scarcity.

e.g:

“Heather had hoped to find solace amongst the trees of the forest, but the work of lumberjacks meant her favourite spot now suffered from a scarcity of trees.”

Let’s fill this bald statement with a little more feeling, shall we?

“Heather walked to her favourite spot in the forest, her pace increasing as she approached the place in expectation of spiritual calm. But, on reaching the ridge, her hand went to her mouth, and she halted abruptly. Where once had stood a riot of greens, the land was scarred with dead discarded timber, ugly stumps, and the deep muddied tracks of heavy vehicles. All the precious beauty had diserted the place under the pressure of felling and clearing for profit and she crumpled to the ground, head in hands, and wept.”

When possible, I’ll present antonyms to offer contrasts in mood and tone, but the subtleties of the English language mean these don’t always exist. If nothing else, I hope the series will increase used vocabulary and enhance our writing with words that more precisely reflect what we’re trying to convey to our readers.

The examples are just that: examples. There are many thesauruses around; I prefer the original Roget I started using in the 1980s, and it still resides just behind me on my reference shelf. I have other books of word choices, which I consult at those times when the apposite word evades me. But I try to acquire that ‘right’ word from the scarce grey matter that takes up some of the void within my skull: it’s good mental exercise.

And, please, keep in mind that whilst any thesaurus will provide you with alternatives for the idea of the word you seek, not all those suggestions are true synonyms, so always consider context.

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