Sandy Writes – In defence of the Thesaurus

Cartoon by Dave Walker. at We Blog Cartoons.

I’m always interested to read what other writers having to say about their writing process, I have a Pinterest Board for Writers On Writing where I have begun to pin my favourites. There’s not a lot there at the moment so I’m looking for suggestions if you’ve got one to recommend.

Sometimes I find myself disagreeing, even with someone as talented as Stephen King. His books are wonderful and I learned so much from his On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, but when I he said: “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule”, I had to shake my head. It’s not like that for me at all.

I understand where he’s coming from. The thesaurus is often consulted to find a ‘better word’ for a variety of reasons – more unique, more formal, more literary – and invariably a word chosen on such basis will ruin any sentence it is placed in.

But there are exceptions. There are are different ways to use a thesaurus. I open the thesaurus when the word I have in my head doesn’t feel right – it doesn’t match the feeling I have in my heart. I am rarely looking for a replacement word – I am looking for a different word that may set me thinking in a different direction. A word may lead to an image, almost never to a direct insertion.

I particular like how the Visual Thesaurus works in this way. Sometimes the word I end up with is not a synonym by a long shot, but it is a word that feels like it fits or helps me to find a more fitting string of words. The Visual Thesaurus is an organic way to search for a word. As you step out along the nodes the correlation between word and meaning widens but the correlation between word and feel is not lessened.

Well, that’s the way it works for me.

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