The Indelicate Editor – Situate the Thesaurus Yonder and Recede Deliberately

by Gayle Towell


Disproportionate use of a thesaurus in your writing is deleterious for voluminous reasons, not the slightest of which are the following:

1. Playing excessively with the patois habitually results in inconsistencies in the narrative voice. Whether your narrator is third person or first person (or even second person—but don’t do that without absolute necessitation.), there is customarily an established voice or style in a piece. Getting too rococo with the thesaurus and giving your country-bumpkin protagonist a Harvard lexicon will fling your readers out of the story. The language commences to appear forced, and, exasperated with your pretentiousness, most bibliophiles will not only throw your book away, but they’ll feel obliged to apprise everyone of just how pretentious you are. The only phenomenon ghastlier than losing a reader is acquiring a critic. You see, individuals often possess a dread that others will perceive idiots to be more ingenious than them. So while they are proficient at diagnosing the author’s exploitation of grandiose verbiage, they possess trepidation that others might be bamboozled by it. Hence they make it their vocation to set the record straight.

2. You keep using these words…. They do not mean what you think they mean. In an endeavor to impart variety by using innovative and infrequently used vocabulary, you end up with expressions that work in opposition to your narrative objective. Instead of “dirty” you select “foul” which some more thesaurusing turns into “filthy” and then “obscene” and then “offensive,” but categorically what transpired is you ran through a mud puddle and now your shoes are… dirty. Muddy, perchance? But probably not offensive.

If you’re endeavoring to employ uncommon vocabulary, make certain the words are more accurate to the incident you’re portraying than the simpler words. No two words genuinely connote the same thing. Word selection should be premeditated, and going for the statelier language should be done only because it’s ostensibly more suitable. Like, if your character is legitimately ecstatic, and not just happy. Otherwise, not only will you lose readers who never did well on spelling assessments, but your prose will emerge obscured as opposed to clarified even for readers with substantial vocabularies.

3. Resorting to a thesaurus is often an attempt to liven up prose that is “telling” instead of “showing.” But by converting “sad” to “dejected” you aren’t turning a tell into a show, you’re merely generating a more elaborate tell. Instead of telling us you’re sad or dejected, ponder describing the ache in the chest, the desire to curl into a ball and hide from the world, the dropped shoulders and the frown, staring out the window at the sun and musing that the rest of the world is getting plenty of vitamin D out there while you wallow in your deficiency.

On that note, have an incomparable day! But for the affection of Yahweh, step away from the thesaurus.

In case the preceding was challenging to cognize due to obscuration resulting from verbosity, here are the main points in plain language:

Overuse of a thesaurus will turn your writing to shit. Here are a few reasons why:

1. It can result in inconsistencies in the narrative voice. Most people—even third person narrators, don’t talk like dictionaries.

2. Fancy words are not always better words. If you’re going to use a thesaurus-derived word, make sure it is more accurate instead of less accurate than the word it is replacing.

3. Resorting to a thesaurus often replaces a “tell” with a slightly more elaborate “tell,” when what you should be doing is trying to “show.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s