There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Writerly Tools: Thesaurus Edition December 16, 2012

Writing is not just a hobby, as those of us who write know. Sometimes it can feel more like a chore than a passion, especially when you hit a rough patch. Maybe your characters aren’t behaving or your prose is getting to be repetitive. Do your characters tend to shrug their shoulders or purse their lips a little too much? Or maybe organizing the massive plots, subplots, and plot twists in your head is becoming an overwhelming task.

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Whatever flavor of road block you happen to be hitting, the point is that as writers we are sometimes in need of aid when putting our ideas to paper. Today’s blog is dealing with just that: Writerly Tools. There are quite a few on the list, but let’s start with the obvious ones.

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When you are writing, the thesaurus is your best friend. Obviously you can go with thesaurus.com but there is also an alternative that seems to think outside Webster’s box. The website Thesaurasize is completely free and definitely a big help in getting those synonym balls rolling in your head. Simply type in a word and hit Thesaurize, then you can begin to browse the many different possibilities. The last one I used was for the word shard and the list the site gave me was of 95 synonyms.

 

Sometimes we don’t need a thesaurus just for adjectives and adverbs, though. Sometimes we need to think about a character’s emotions and try to channel their feelings onto the page. When a character is mad you don’t want them to always just glare at someone or scowl. You need more than that because your characters are more than just a mundane set of robotic actions on repeat. Challenge yourself! Easier said than done, right?

 

ImageWhich is why I whole-heartedly recommend The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (available on the Nook and Kindle as well as hard copy). I have to say that this book has been my saving grace for some really sticky points in my books. I’m a very conversational and dialogue driven writer, so when you get down to descriptors I am usually banging my head against the keyboard with a lot of choice expletives, but not exactly the kind of words I’m searching for. This book has really helped me to expand on the way I describe the emotions of my characters so that I am not depending on the dialogue so heavily and I am not resorting to just telling the reader how my characters are feeling (“He was sad. He cried.”=lame).  Instead, I can look up “sadness” from the list of emotions they give you in the contents, and find the physical signs of sadness, the internal sensations, the mental responses, cues of acute or long term sadness, cues of suppressed sadness, and even what sadness might escalate to.

 

Now, of course, you could just take exact phrases from the listings they give you. But I really like that it makes me think a whole lot more about everything my character might be experiencing in that particular moment. If my character has difficulty expressing what they are feeling, they might have more subtle signs of those emotions, like in their posture or voice. If they are emotional basket cases, they might have the more obvious signs. The point is, the listing is all over the spectrum and it has only served to help me get to know my characters better. I know that with some googling you can probably find all of the contents yourself, but that is more time consuming than I have patience for and I love the organized way the information is presented. This book is really the best five bucks I have spent.

 

In my Nook book browsing for a better thesaurus than the one followed by a .com, I also found a book called The Ultimate Fiction Thesaurus by Sam Stone for $0.99 (also on the Nook and Kindle) and think it was worth the dollar. In a good way. It’s a nice exercise in expanding your descriptors and training yourself to really paint a picture for the reader. There are exercises as well as thesaurus entries for things like body type, voices, facial expressions, conduits of expression, body language, movement, and violence. That being said, it is only fourteen pages in length, so it doesn’t go into quite as much as The Emotion Thesaurus but it does touch on topics The Emotion Thesaurus doesn’t. However, there appears to be a second edition that might be worth checking out. I’ll be sure to let you guys know!

 

My list of Writerly Tools goes on, but for now I will leave you to digest the many different thesaurus options. Check back next month for more tools and be sure to leave your own thesaurus suggestions in the comments!

And as you continue down your magical journeys of writing, keep in mind what the great Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander always said…

Nothing is ever easy.

-Mara Valderran
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3 Responses to “Writerly Tools: Thesaurus Edition”

  1. That Zed always did have a way with words. I agree that writing is more than a hobby – it’s a calling (just so you know the ‘vocation’ element of that has 48 synonyms in thesaurasize). Thanks for the tips – I have a trusty old Roget’s thesaurus that has seen years of use. Does anyone know a good fantasy thesaurus? If not maybe we need to look into starting one…!

  2. EM Castellan Says:

    A Fantasy thesaurus! Awesome idea 🙂

  3. kathils Says:

    Never heard of the Emotion Thesaurus, but definitely going to add that one on my list because that is something I tend to struggle with.


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