Wordsmith Wednesday–Word Choice

Cover of "Flip Dictionary"

Cover of Flip Dictionary

I’ve read varying opinions on the use of a thesaurus when word-painting. Some writers will tell you not to even go there. Others swear by this reference book as an adjunct to their writing experience. I think the bottom line is–choose words that flow within the context of your narrative. If a word sounds stilted, if it forces the average reader (based on your intended audience) to run for a dictionary, if it’s out-of-character to the speaker or your narrative, then I say, forget it.

I do like to consult the thesaurus and from time to time will go to Rodale’s “The Synonym Finder” or Kipfer’s “Flip Dictionary.” That may be a function of the aging process, I’ll admit, when that word is just hankering to jump out of your brain but you can’t catch it.

Back to the litmus test for word choice. How does it sound? Does it fit into your style and is it suitable for your intended audience?

Much, much better to go with something simple and unnoticed than a word that screams “Look at me reader! Ain’t I something?”

5 thoughts on “Wordsmith Wednesday–Word Choice

  1. Yeah! I was raised not to use a thesaurus. Never heart of a “flip dictionary.” I’ll have to check that out.

    Suggestions: Perfect!


  2. My mom majored in English. Although it was wonderful being around someone who valued good grammar and had a good vocabulary, the down side is that I use words that are familiar, but may be just slightly out of context.

    Hopefully I’m catching myself, but am delighted that I only need to simply keep the story flowing.


  3. trisha says:

    I also think using dictionary etc helps.


  4. timkeen40 says:

    The whole purpose of telling a story is to do just that, tell the story, to make the story flow and be very interesting. It is not a grammar lesson or a spelling bee. If the reader has to stop and look up a word, then the writer has lost momentum in the story. Sometimes that is just enough to make a reader quit being a reader.

    That is my thought.



    • I agree, Tim, in that stilted word choices can make it so cumbersome. Anything that interrupts the flow of the story doesn’t work. A word shouldn’t call attention to itself. That can happen with a lot of word echoes. And sometime when you get to be my age (!) you know what word you want and it just doesn’t make it to the surface.
      I rarely resort to looking up words but now and again….


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