Searching for the Right Words? Tip #12

Low key concept photo of woman looking through window jalousies
Scared woman’s face.

Please add your thoughts and comments. Are you hoping to inspire readers with joy, arouse their fear, romance them with love? Or, maybe your story needs 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. I welcome contributions; just pop your ideas in the comments box.


‘Her face showed how frightened she was and he felt like slapping her. But they weren’t in his place and she’d object, and his smacks would mean she wouldn’t do as she was told. In any case, the only person who could get them out of this trap was her Aunt.’

This gives the reader some details of a situation of conflict and some indication of the nature of the narrator, but it lacks emotional content and fails to provide the reader with any understanding of the real relationship.

Let’s try again:

‘Her eyes were wide, the mouth he knew so well as a sensual organ of delight was now a rictus of stress. He felt her tension and wanted to slap her stupid face to bring her to her senses. But this wasn’t the security of his own house. Here, they were two alone. And he might need her on his side. He couldn’t explain his actions and then smack her into obedience when she complained, as she would. They were locked in the Folly and the only person who knew, the only one who could let them out, was her Aunt Agatha.’

This sample, taken from my horror short, Heir to Death’s Folly, presents the reader with emotional hooks and some insight into the nature of both the people and their relationship. It also gives a hint about their situation and gives the reader reason to continue exploring the story.

If nothing else, I hope the series will enhance our writing with words that more precisely reflect what we’re trying to convey to readers.

I use a thesaurus during editing, when necessary, and prefer the original Roget I started with in the 1980s; it still lives just behind me on my reference shelf. Other books of word choices, which I consult when the apposite word continues to evade me, live beside it. But first I try to gather that ‘right’ word from the scarce grey matter that takes up some of the void within my skull: it’s good mental exercise.

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

There’s an interesting variation on this topic on a great blog I follow. John Yeoman’s site is full of fascinating posts on writing. You can visit it by clicking here.

4 thoughts on “Searching for the Right Words? Tip #12

    1. I think we all do, from time to time, Noelle. It’s remarkably easy to fall into the habit of allowing the first thoughts to be the ones we leave on the paper. It’s why I write a whole story first, leave the entire thing to mature for a while, and then revisit and try to get the best I possibly can out of it before I make it public.

      Liked by 1 person

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