Searching for the Right Words? Tip #17

bwstonestepsin tower

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.


“When Julie returned from the kitchen, her aunt was ready to take them to the treasure. They all went down to the wine cellar and walked along the stone floor. Michael placed a porcelain egg on the steps so the old lady might step on it later and fall.”

The facts are all here, but there’s no atmosphere; nothing to engage the reader in the action.

Let’s try again.

“Julie carried the tray to the kitchen and returned to find her aunt ready to lead them to the treasure trove. They followed her through corridors leading to steps down to the wine cellars. It was clear she still made visits here as the stone bore a path through the dust. Michael left his final porcelain egg on the second step down before descending. As with the rest, he polished away his fingerprints on his handkerchief first. The stairs were open on one side, a worn rope banister hugged the wall side; a perfect site for the unfortunate fall of an old lady.”

From my horror short, Heir to Death’s Folly, this sample shows the reader more of the detail that will allow engagement with the characters and the story.

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.