Find the right word

King - thesaurus

I could not disagree more with King on this one. While a novel should not necessitate grabbing a thesaurus for every other word, it should also not be dumbed down, simplified or obligate the writer to use a less fitting word because we are patronising and under estimating our audience. I don’t agree that the first word the writer chooses will be the best or the most authentic one. Sometimes after mulling over a sentence a better, more fitting word comes to mind that more concisely fits the meaning being expressed. Part of the editing process is tightening up, improving and ensuring the writing is concise, clear and engaging. Perhaps it depends on how you write, but if you write blind – that is without any significant editing while you write –  then the editing process is vital to eradicate grammatical and editorial errors that in the passion of writing slip into every ones writing.

One of my favourite lines of writing advice is:

‘Write hot, edit cold’

If writing in this way then the first word you use may not be the most accurate or be the word that most concisely describes the meaning you are trying to convey. Edit cold, edit dispassionately with a critical eye and in doing so you often find that you have another, often less common word that is more suited to your meaning. It does no harm to elevate the vocabulary and the calibre of language used in your writing, I for one will make my readers occasionally reach for the thesaurus and the dictionary.  If my writing is any good, then they will garner my meaning from the surrounding text or they will be happy to look it up and learn another word.

It saddens me when I see this kind of advice given to writers, our language is so rich and diverse to not use every facet of it will lead to the untimely death of too many words and the narrowing of the language we use.

The English language is beautiful. It should be explored, used, tasted, evoked, invoked and enjoyed. Or in a more common phraseology, ‘use it or loose it’.

About V C Willow

V C Willow has always loved to write and read for pleasure. During her teenage years she wrote a lot of poetry but graduated to writing Science Fiction, Fantasy, Epic Fiction, Urban Fantasy and Suspense as she reached her twenties. She is a geek and comic nerd. A very keen reader, an enthusiastic cook and gardener and loves to craft. She's even been known to get down and dirty and do some DIY. V.C live in Manchester, England with her ball of cat fluff, Willow. She is currently writing her début fantasy novel. You can follow her authors page on Facebook at: Connect with her on Linked in at: Follow her on Twitter: Follow her on Goodreads: )O(
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8 Responses to Find the right word

  1. thisisbadday says:

    I respect Mr. King dearly, and learned plenty from his advice (I was going to say a lot), but the second program I open every morning before I write–is the thesaurus. Not everyone that writes is an English professor. There are many times I look for a word so I don’t have to use -ly or -ing. There are other times, when I don’t wan’t to use the same word twice on a page. Lastly, it increases the vocabulary for creativity.

    • V C Willow says:

      Hi Thisisbadday

      I also respect Mr King. Needful things is my favourite horror novel, the shopkeeper still crawls under my skin like a tape worm creeping between my flesh and my bone making me shiver in disgust. However I also love language and my very old and very well used thesaurus is, apart from my dictionary my most used reference book in my house. It has been a constant source of information and improvement in my writing

      Sometimes we grapple to reach the word that precisely captures our meaning, why would we not contemplate using the best word for the job? In the same way a footballer would contemplate the best move to get past his opponent and score a goal, I like to think of editing and replacing words as a tactical move to ensure the best results.

      I may have already said but I’m also a word geek so Love using and exploring new words that allow me to express myself with exact clarity and precision.

      The English language is a beautiful mistress isn’t it.


  2. While I agree with the basic sentiment of your post–i.e., let’s not dumb it down–I have a different interpretation of King’s words. I’ve read enough slush to know when someone is trying to write above his ability; it’s full of the eccentric and obscure and the oft-times inappropriate.

    If you go to the thesaurus to _find_ a word, you’re not being authentic to your voice. You’re trying to impress or fancify your prose.

    If you go to the thesaurus to _remind_ yourself of a word, that’s acceptable (in my opinion).

    King doesn’t say we should only use words that dullards know. He’s saying we should only use words that we ourselves know. If you don’t know enough, expand your vocabulary.

    That’s my take on it, anyway.

    • V C Willow says:

      I don’t think that going to the thesaurus necessarily make the use of the word inauthentic, it often means we can’t quite grasp the word we want to use at that precise moment. I often won’t look at the thesaurus but will contemplate which word I want to use so it is as exactly placed and my writing expresses exactly what I mean. But does my hesitation make my choice of word inauthentic? I don’t think it does it means simply that I contemplate how I can best write the scene and engage the reader in the writing.

      I agree some writers use an excess of verbose language and obtuse wording to obscure the lack of clarity in their plot or the absence of well written characters. However I think fewer writers do it than justify using that as a counter argument. It seems to be to be a bit of an ad absurdum argument as the most extreme example is not representative of the frequency with which it is used.

      I also seek to keep expanding and increasing my knowledge and breadth of understanding of the language. One way to do this is to keep reading as that is by far the most common way in which most people expand their vocab. Another is to refer to that handy little thesaurus and consider that perhaps occasionally we should stretch ourselves to consider words that we are either familiar with but would be less likely to use or to embrace new words that are much closer to our meaning.

      • Again, my distinction was, are you looking up a word you already know, or a word that’s brand new to you. And, as I said, I’ve read a lot of slush where it was obvious the author was using words he did not know. So, among new writers anyway, this is not an ad absurdum argument. I’ve seen it in use.

        There are lots of times when the word I’m seeking just does not come to mind. “It means translucent, and starts with a ‘d,'” I’ll say, but just can’t come up with it. A quick ping at the thesaurus gives me “diaphanous” –Yes, that’s it!–which, after consideration, I might or might not end up using. This is not inauthentic.

        However, if I want a word that means translucent, find “diaphanous” and have never heard it before, and then I use it, (in my opinion) that’s inauthentic.

        I have a pretty good vocab, and I expect my readers to have one also. While I don’t use words like “sesquipedalian”–well, not often–I don’t dumb it down just so a 6th grader can read it. In that I think we’re in agreement.

  3. This! ♥ “The English language is beautiful, it should be explored, used, tasted, evoked, invoked and enjoyed.”

  4. I finished reading this post, and was scrolling down to leave my comment… except that Seattle Author has already said it. I agree with you, SA…. both in your interpretation of what King was trying to say, and in your agreement with him. There are too many nuances to many words to be able to just pick an alternative from the thesaurus.

    • V C Willow says:

      Laurie that makes the assumption that the person reading the thesaurus does not understand the nuance between the words. Any writer who has skilled themselves in the art of writing should absolutely have a firm grasp of the language and either make sure they understand the nuance or learn the subtle contextual differences between words. Language is an ongoing learning process that never stops, I would hope that most writers would be looking to constantly expand their vocab and not be afraid to explore and learn a wider and more varied knowledge of words.

      I know no other writers who would go to the thesaurus simply to pick another word out of the air, that would mean randomly inserting words. And on that front I would agree it would be counter intuitive to a good writer, however I would hope that if a writer was having ‘a moment’ or knew that the word they were using didn’t quite fit their meaning they would use the resources and reference sources available to them. If that means picking up a thesaurus and using a new word then as long as it is in context and fits the text it can only be a good thing for writers to have more words at their disposal.

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