Searching for the Right Words? Tip #15

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

Do you want to inspire readers with joy, stoke their terrors, romance them with love, fill them with horror? This set of posts looks at ways of influencing mood by selecting the ‘right’ words for the job.


“She took them down to the old wine cellar. Julie shivered with more than the cold.”

This is a statement of fact, but it says nothing about the conditions of the place or what else might have caused Julie to shiver.

Let’s try again.

“She led them between rows of wine racks showing plunder by an irregular drinker. Some sections were almost stripped whilst others remained virtually untouched, the dust of decades lying undisturbed on prone bottles. Webs festooned the ceiling and corners. The whole place was musty and the yellowed bulbs gave barely enough light to avoid stepping on occasional broken bottles. It was the sort of place that might feature in a gothic ghost story and Julie shivered, telling herself the chill alone caused it.”

From my gothic horror short, Heir to Death’s Folly, this sample shows the reader the nature of the cellar and its owner, and gives a hint about what might be to come.

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 Roget’s Thesaurus when editing, the 1987 edition, which I started with; it still lives within reach on my reference shelf. Other books of word choices, which I consult when the apposite word continues to evade me, live with it. But first I try to gather that ‘right’ word from the void within my skull: it’s good mental exercise.

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.

One thought on “Searching for the Right Words? Tip #15

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