For Wednesday, April 13, 2016:
“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
Once again I feel compelled – nay, driven, even obliged – to question a statement by a venerable (respected, august, revered, wise) writer.
King’s ‘rule’ is actually a good one for a first draft of anything – fiction, non-fiction, poetry. The same or similar words can serve as placeholders for the first round, but once revisions begin, I think a thesaurus is a good resource to have on hand.
When I read over the first draft of the current novel-still-in-process, I noticed there were two different words I used over and over again. I changed some of those instances without a thesaurus (yay me!), some I deleted, some I rearranged so the context was there but the word wasn’t needed. There were a few times, though, where I wanted more variety in my words, and that’s when I pulled out my trusty friend.
Sometimes the options in a thesaurus aren’t quite right, at least for the particular word itself. The ‘dictionary of synonyms and antonyms, storehouse/treasury of words, language reference book’ I use most often (Roget’s 21st Century you know what in Dictionary Form), also has a section on context that frequently proves more helpful than the options provided for single words. Even if I don’t find or use an alternate word, the myriad contexts help me think deeper and more broadly, and that is when this resource becomes a treasure trove. Sometimes I even learn a new word and that’s always a good thing.
If King wants us to use our brains before we use a thesaurus, I do agree with him. If he means don’t use fancy words when something simple works fine, I agree with him again. At the same time, I believe – in my humble opinion – that we can make allowances for the times we want to depart from the norm or the same old-same old, to be innovative, to suggest different shades of meaning (see exception).
As writers, we’re likely familiar with the adage that we should learn the rules in order to break them. There are some dictums (dicta?), decrees, and tenets (see rule) that can be circumvented, at least, if not broken. This is one of them, I think, but it should be done with due consideration. Don’t rely on a thesaurus only, but do use it to explore all the possibilities – the potential, the prospects, the promises – that live within the words we want to use.