Searching for the Right Words? Tip #24

Picture via

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.


“Everything was so cold that night that it made me ache.”

Wow! So full of atmosphere. Let’s face it, this is pretty poor.

Shall we try again?

“So cold. The seat was cold. The walls were cold. The stone flags of the floor were cold. The very air that wrapped my skin was cold. I ached with cold. I hugged myself and shivered through that endless night without sleep.”

This sample comes from my romantic thriller, Breaking Faith, and shows the reader what it felt like to be the woman experiencing this situation. Note the repetition of ‘cold’ used to reinforce the idea of coldness. Variation in the adjective wouldn’t have the same numbing effect on the reader and would be less likely to engender empathy. I wanted the reader to shiver whilst reading this piece.

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.