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Friday, January 31, 2014

To Thesaurus, Or Not to Thesaurus, That is the Question

This quote from Stephen King comes from his book On Writing, which is an excellent investment for anyone who wants to write.  It's got a lot of great advise and tips about the craft, and whether you're a King fan or not, you can't argue the man's success.

I see this quote all the time on social media sites and across "the internets."  It gets thrown around a lot by people who I have the sneeking suspicion don't live by it themselves.

I sure don't.

I use my Thesaurus all the time.  I don't use it to try to find impressive  words or to try to make myself look smarter than I am, and I partially agree with what I believe King is trying to say.  I don't mean to put words in his mouth, but I believe he's speaking about the need for language to flow naturally.  It's more desirable when the words in a book flow organically and don't seem like they were forced or over-thought.  I agree with all that.

However, I use my thesaurus all the time.  I find it an invaluable tool when I'm working on my books.  Here are a few reasons why.

1.  Sometimes a word is on the tip of my tongue, but I can't remember what it is.  I look up its synonyms to find the word I'm trying to remember.

2.  From time to time, the word I'm using doesn't quite fit.  It's almost the right word, but not quite.  I use the thesaurus to see if I can find a word to more accurately describe what I'm seeing in my head.  Most of the time, I find a word I already know, but wasn't thinking of.  I don't use obscure words that my readers won't recognize unless some explanation can be given to define the word for them.

3.  Sometimes, I want to double check a definition.  I'm 90% sure of the meaning of a word, but want to make sure I'm using it properly.  The dictionary is the primary tool for this, but the thesaurus can be helpful as well.

Much of what Stephen King writes in this book is a record of the way he personally does things.  It's excellent advise, but what works for him isn't always going to work for you or me.  We're all different, and we all have methods and strategies that work best for us as individuals.  The best way to approach any advice (mine included), is to eat the meat and throw away the bones.

I for one love my thesaurus, and it's not going anywhere.  What about you?  Any thoughts about this quote or others from Stephen King's book On Writing?  Feel free to leave comments below.  I'd love to know what you think.

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