Searching for the Right Words? Tip #19

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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, overwhelm them with horror? This set of posts looks at ways of influencing mood by selecting the ‘right’ words for the job.


“Agatha removed the candle from Julie and took them down a tunnel that looked as though it hadn’t been used for years.

This bald statement relates the facts, but there’s not enough detail to engage the reader’s imagination.

Let’s try again.

“Agatha retrieved the second candle from Julie and led them into the darkness of a low narrow passage hacked through the bedrock. Black smudges of slime and fungus, the colour of dead flesh, created hideous patches on the damp dark walls. Drips of moisture fell soft onto the dusted stone of the floor. It was clear to anyone not bent on potential riches that no one had passed this way for decades.”

From my short horror, 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.