Searching for the Right Words? Tip #25

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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.


“In the morning, they sat at the table and ate fresh fruit and tea served by the slaves. The sun shone and there was a smell of flowers but it was spoilt by the stink from the bog.”

This tells the tale. But isn’t it bland and lacking in atmosphere?

Shall we try again?

“Breakfast saw them seated at the scrubbed planks that served as a table, as her loyal house slaves brought peeled fruits on smooth platters, and goblets of turned ebony filled with a steaming infusion of tlathan, its bitter tang awaking their sense of taste after the night. The open doors and windows let in sunlight carrying warm air, scented by the pale yellow and dark blue blooms of the trailing plant that clung to the baked mud of the outside walls. But the heat of day already overpowered that sweet perfume with the foetid rankness of the marsh.”

Taken from ‘Joinings’ book 1 of my fantasy trilogy, A Seared Sky, this scene gives the reader a feeling for the event and the setting, providing a more immersive experience.

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.