Searching for the Right Words? Tip #40

bwsun sea
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This is the final post in the series aimed at helping authors express the full meaning and emotional content of their fiction. However, I intend to start a new series, again about word choice. I’ll begin that on Thursday with the next post. Keep an eye out for it. It’ll be titled, ‘Looking for the Best Word?’

Writers seek to inspire readers with joy, stoke their terrors, romance them with love, overwhelm them with horror, inflame their passions. This set of posts has examined how we can influence mood, illustrating how word choice and sentence structure alters the reading experience. All thoughts and comments are welcome.


“The sea was calm and the sun was hot. They were all exhausted. He tried to stay awake in the boat that was drifting with the current. But he didn’t know where they were going.”

This is a pretty banal piece. No significant detail to relieve a narrative that gives us basic information without supplying any atmosphere or showing anything that might actually engage the reader.

Perhaps we should try an alternative?

“The sea, calm now but for the long, regular swell of the retreating storm, lulled their exhausted bodies into drowsiness as the rising sun heated and dried them. Aglydron struggled to stay awake as the other two fell into the sleep of the spent; the boat drifting with the current and a warm steady wind toward a point Aglydron could only hope was their chosen destination. Darkness and cloud had robbed them of any sense of direction and they might be sailing anywhere but that the sun told him they were heading more or less the right way. How far off his intended course they were, he had no way of knowing.”

This passage follows a lengthy piece describing how the boat’s occupants spent the night in a torrential rainstorm that threatened to sink the open vessel. Exhausted, they’re ready to sleep under the heat of a rising sun. Aglydron, who considers himself in charge of the small party, is desperately trying to demonstrate his suitability for the position of leader by fighting his urge to sleep. Taken from Joinings, book 1 of the epic fantasy trilogy titled A Seared Sky, this short sample gives the reader a flavour of the outcome and shows the effect of the night’s labours on the characters.

If nothing else, I hope this series has helped you enhance your writing with words that more precisely reflect what you’re trying to convey to readers.

I prefer to use Roget’s Thesaurus when editing; the 1987 edition. It’s within easy reach on my reference shelf. Other books of word choices, which I sometimes consult when the apposite word evades me, reside alongside it. But, first, I try to glean that ‘right’ word from the teaming void within my skull: it’s good mental exercise and trains the brain to seek and find the right word in the future.

A good thesaurus provides alternatives for the idea of the word you’re seeking, but not all the suggestions are true synonyms. Always consider context by placing it in the sentence and making sure it actually makes sense.

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