Searching for the Right Words? Tip #22


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

As a writer, 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.


“He ran without choice, guided by the voice in his head of a man he’d never met. He had no idea where he was going, because he couldn’t feel or see anything.’

This tells readers the basic facts, but there’s no connection with the protagonist. There are no hooks on which the reader can hang any empathy and therefore experience the situation.

Let’s try again.

“He had no choice. He must trust Ivdulon; a man he’d never met, a man he spoke to in his mind. A man who lived far away, on the mainland. He could no longer see; his world a blank, black void. But he kept turning, twisting, running still. His legs had lost all feeling, the ground beneath his feet no longer solid. But still he ran. Whether he ran round, or through, obstructions he had no way of telling. Whether they still pursued him, he didn’t know. He ran. Blind. Dead, to all intents and purposes. A dead man running for his life.”

From Joinings, Book 1 in my fantasy trilogy, A Seared Sky, this sample allows engagement with the character, encouraging curiosity to discover what happens next. It’s also written in short sentences, to increase the pace, as this is an action scene. Note, also, the repetition of ‘still’, which acts as a running counterpoint to the motion, producing an unconscious conflict that should translate as undefined doubt in the mind of the reader and create added tension.

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 prefer 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, reside with it. But first I try to gather that ‘right’ word from the tumultuous 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.