Searching for the Right Words? Tip #13

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This series aims at helping writers find the right words to express their meaning. Your thoughts and comments are welcome here.

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.


‘He drove past the big house and into the old coach house. The hinges squealed. Inside, it was empty and old and had space for lots of cars. Julie closed the door after he parked.’

A simple report, stating the facts but creating no atmosphere and providing little in the way of detail about the place or people.

Shall we try again?

‘He drove past the front of the house, counting ground floor windows and stopping at thirty-four. The coach house door was ajar and Julie opened it, making it squeal on unused hinges. Inside was space for four cars amongst the spider webs and abandoned garden tools. Julie kicked a fallen rake to the side and he parked in the centre. She closed the doors again, and he winced at the protesting ironwork.’

This sample, taken from my horror short, Heir to Death’s Folly, presents the reader with some insight into the nature of the place and the people.

If nothing else, I hope this 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.