I have a confession to make. I frequently get lost in the abysmal black void that is Thesaurus.com. See, I don’t necessarily mean to do this. I may look up a word for options to substitute it; I look for synonyms; I click on those synonyms; I click on the synonyms of those synonyms; I click on the synonyms of those synonyms of those synonyms. In all honesty, I am entranced by the amount of replacement words one can find on a simple search engine. It’s quite a transfixion.

Whether I may have a strange addiction or not, getting lost in synonyms isn’t exactly a bad thing. After all, one of the best ways to improve a piece of writing is to substitute “throw-away” words for “trophy” words. These are the words that you are proud to showcase in your writing, words that give your piece the extra shine it needs to succeed. Thesauruses and related programs offer you that opportunity. For instance, if you read a sentence you’ve written and are not satisfied with its content, pinpoint specific words that are dulling your sentence. Many times, flavorless verbs or adjectives are the culprits shadowing your piece; it helps to always be conscious of those types of words (they end up being the meat of your sentence). Replace the dull words with vibrant, golden ones that give your work a certain sense of literary luminescence.

Always be conscious that your words have a powerful effect on your reader; connotation means everything. Therefore, when you do use the thesaurus for word substitutions, be aware of two things: one, that the synonym you choose makes logical sense, and two, that the word consists of a connotation that agrees with what you are trying to achieve. For example,  say you are writing a narrative and you write the following sentence: “She seemed sad, her chin resting upon her knuckles.” However, you are not satisfied with the way this sentence feels; you feel as if you need to thicken the character’s emotional state a bit more. You try it a second time: “She seemed miserable, her chin resting upon her knuckles.” Both sad and miserable are similar words but possess distinct connotations, with “miserable” showcasing a stronger connotation in the reader’s mind.

As one of my last pieces of advice, don’t be afraid to use various sources to hunt for the best synonyms. If you are not satisfied with the results you uncover, scavenge the Internet to find more. Use websites like Thesaurus.com, Merriam-Webster.com, or a simple Google search to find that perfect trophy word for your piece.

Yes, a dog may be a man’s best friend. But a thesaurus is a writer’s lifelong companion. Leave a comment below about your experiences with thesauruses, your preferences, or whether or not you find that they are helpful. If you have not used a thesaurus yet while writing, or feel as if you do not not use it enough, give it a shot. You’ve nothing to lose, squander, ruin, or waste.

Oh dear.

Image courtesy of Janet Rudolph.

4 thoughts on “The Thesaurus: A Writer’s Best Friend

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