The Prompter Room


For Friday, June 23, 2017:


We need not fear a future elimination of the book. On the contrary, the more that certain needs for entertainment and education are satisfied through other inventions, the more the book will win back in dignity and authority. For even the most childish intoxication with progress will soon be forced to recognize that writing and books have a function that is eternal. It will become evident that formulation in words and the handing on of these formulations through writing are not only important aids but actually the only means by which humanity can have a history and a continuing consciousness of itself.

Hermann Hesse, ‘On Little Joys’ in MY BELIEF: ESSAYS ON LIFE AND ART


Hermann Hesse

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, June 6, 2017:


Nothing else does quite as much [as imagination] for most people, not even the other arts.  We are a wordy species.  Words are the wings both intellect and imagination fly on.  Music, dance, visual arts, crafts of all kinds, all are central to human development and well-being, and no art or skill is ever useless learning; but to train the mind to take off from immediate reality and return to it with new understanding and new strength, nothing quite equals poem and story.

Ursula LeGuin




The Prompter Room

For Friday, February 3, 2017:


According to Genesis, the world begins with a word.  Speech gives way to substance and forms every living thing.  I wonder if this was the first time God spoke.  And I wonder if God began to create because God longed to hear her own voice, to see it take form and flesh in the unfolding of the world.

Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust and … spent the rest of his life turning its horrors into stories, says that God created people because God loves stories.  We are the vessels of God’s voice, her words blowing through us, bidding us to tell the tales that only we can speak.


The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, December 13, 2016:


Words come in textures; words are hard or smooth or squishy soft.  Words have colors; they are pastel, they are bold.  They are neutral.  They are colorless.  Words have sounds derived from their meanings; timid is soft, savage is hard, clamor is loud.  Words are sharp, words are blunt; words have edges that are keen.  There are scalpel words and razor words and words that have a saber’s slash.  Words are dull, words are sparkling.  Words are alive, they are languid.  Words fly, sail, drive, race, creep, crawl.  So many words!  If we are patient – if we will work at the task – we will begin to find the right ones.

James J. Kilpatrick, FINE PRINT (1993)

The Prompter Room

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.”

Stephen King

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.