Searching for the Right Words? Tip #18

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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.


“I cried, and tried to speak, but I was too confused and felt insecure.”

A pretty bald statement. The facts are all here, but there’s nothing to engage the reader in the emotion.

Let’s try again.

“I wept. Words punctuating my tears were random thoughts my mind gave out. Confusion mastered me as I wallowed in a quicksand of emotion, doubt and betrayal that threatened to drown and consume me. I could find no solid ground. There was nothing I could grip and hold for support.”

From my romantic thriller, Breaking Faith, 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.

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