Looking for the Best Word? Tip #13

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A series exploring similar and dissimilar words for ways writers might make their work more varied, accessible, interesting, accurate and effective.

A good thesaurus gives substitutes for the idea of a word, but not all are true synonyms. Context is vital. Placing alternative words in the same sentence to see if they actually make sense is a way of checking their suitability. But it’s not foolproof, so a good dictionary is essential.

My chosen dictionary is the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. For word choices, I prefer the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus, which sits close by my desk. However, I try to dig the best word from my overloaded memory first: it’s good mental exercise. Other books of words, which I consult when the pertinent term evades me, live on my reference shelf, behind me.

So, to this week’s words, which can be seen as opposites:

Fiction – Roget lists these headers: product, idea, ideality, falsehood, untruth, literature, novel. Under the sub-heading ‘literature’ it lists another 60 alternatives, including creative writing, literary genre, metaphor, and Symbolism.

Reality – Roget lists the following headers: reality, substantiality, event, truth, chief thing. From ‘truth’ flow 60 further options including verity, accordance with fact, actuality, verisimilitude and candour.

Let’s look at usage for fiction first:

“If she recovers fully, it’ll be some sort of … I was going to say ‘miracle’, but such things are fiction.”

We could substitute ‘falsehoods’ or ‘untruths’ here, both of which would be more inflammatory for believers, of course, though equally correct in usage. Which is best is for the writer to decide.

Now let’s look at reality:

‘Taught me the reality about guilt, the truth instead of myths about deities, the rational approach to authority in place of emotional slavery imposed by religion.’

Here we could substitute ‘truth’ or substantiality’ but ‘truth is used as an emphasiser later in the sentence and ‘substantiality’ is at best a clumsy word. Again, we need to decide which is most effective as a sentence.

Both sample sentences come from my latest science fiction novel, Blood Red Dust, and are examples of some of the dialogue that takes place between characters.

I welcome your comments and suggestions here. Please use the comments section for your ideas and thoughts.

If you read this post, you’re in good company. I recently did a Google search for ‘Writer Help’ to answer a Quora question. The search brought up 270,000,000 results. 2 of the posts from this series were listed on the first page in the 1st 10 results!

For a short introduction to this series, please click this link.

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