Looking for the Best Word? Tip #23

Word cloud via Prowritingaid.com

This series offers writers help to make their work more accessible, interesting, varied, accurate and effective by exploring similar and dissimilar words. It also gives language learners some insights into the peculiarities of English.

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

I prefer the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection. And my dictionary of choice is the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. But I try to dig the best word from my overcrowded memory first: it’s good mental exercise. Other books of words, which I consult when the appropriate term escapes me, sit on the reference shelf behind me.

So, to this week’s word: Narrative

Narrative – Roget lists these headers: fable, record, narrative, descriptive. Under the sub-heading ‘narrative’ are a further 54 alternatives, including storyline, imaginary account, tale, myth, allegory, yarn, and history.

Let’s look at usage for ‘narrative’.

‘A narrative can be seen as a series of events given in order; a story, that is. Whether the tale is fictional or factual is a matter for the author of such a narrative.’

Here we can replace ‘narrative’ with ‘yarn’ without substantially altering the meaning of either sentence. Do bear in mind, however, that ‘yarn’ also describes a hank of fibre, like wool, used in making fabrics. If we want to substitute ‘storyline’ we need a little more explanation to avoid the sentences becoming ambiguous. And using the synonyms ‘imaginary account’, ‘myth’ and ‘allegory’ will add a slightly judgmental tone to the sentences, which may or may not be appropriate, depending on the intended meaning.

For language learners, there’s a great group page on Facebook, which you can find through this link.

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

By the way, a Google search today for ‘Writers Help’ brought up 150,000,000 results. One post from this series was 4th in the list and a second was 6th! So, you’re in good company when you read this post.

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