Searching for the Right Words? Tip #21

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

You want to inspire readers with joy, stoke their terrors, romance them with love, overwhelm them with horror. This set of posts examines ways of influencing mood by selecting the ‘right’ words for the job.


“They’d found him because someone had been forced into betraying him. Seven were hunting him with weapons and he must run, hide, or be tortured to death. The wetlands should hide him, but had his enemies set a trap? Unlikely, but it concerned him that one of his followers had been hurt in order to find him.”

This account gives readers facts, but there’s no emotional content or detail to allow them to live through the real situation with the protagonist.

Let’s try again.

“Someone had betrayed him. Otherwise, how had they found him? Aklon-Dji glanced over his shoulder and counted seven in the pack; three were Holy Ones. All bore arms, but only two carried bows. His dipping and zigzagging wasted their arrows. But he couldn’t run forever. He must hide soon. The Mire would suffice, with its tall reeds and unreliable tracks through the wetlands. Would they have planned for that? The Holy Ones weren’t noted for strategy, so a trap seemed unlikely. More probably, they’d discovered one of The Few and tortured him or her and acted impulsively on whatever details they’d burned and carved from that unhappy flesh. He worried about who they’d broken.”

From Joinings, Book 1 in my fantasy trilogy, A Seared Sky, this sample gives the reader more detail and allows engagement with the character, encouraging curiosity to discover what happens next.

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.