HALLIE: Words. They are a writer's stock in trade, our coin of the realm, our legal tender, the rope with which we hang ourselves. I confess, I do agonize over words, and so often I can just about taste the one I'm reaching for but it's hopping around, just beyond my peripheral vision (to mix metaphors.)
Do you agonize over finding, as Flaubert would have it, "the mot juste", the precisely appropriate word, torturing your brain and anyone with the bad luck to be in the house with you when you're writing, or Googling thesauruses until you do?
Or do you grab the first word that comes to you, following author Roddy Doyle's sage advice: "Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, e.g. 'horse,' 'ran,' 'said.'"
Do you eschew or embrace the Thesaurus? (Do you eschew or embrace "eschew"?)
HANK: Oh, when we're writing a news story and searching for words, my producer always says--"get the Thesaurus!" And I say: "No, we can think of it on our own. The Thesaurus never works. Never." (The other difference is that when she goes to the thesaurus, she goes on line. I turn for my battered book. But that's another blog.)
So in my real job, no. I don't use it. The right word is never there.
How, um, ever. When I'm home, and writing books, sometimes when I get stuck I pull up the Thesaurus, yes, on line, and read through the words. I hardly ever use any of them. But it's just--shopping. And seems to get my brain working.
HALLIE: "Mercy buckets"... as we used to say when I was a kid. Followed by "Yucca, yucca, the laugh of the desert puh-lant." Can't find that in a Thesaurus.
RHYS: I am dismayed at the way our vocabularies have shrunk these days. Everything has to be quick and efficient--CU Later. when I read letters written by Victorians I am ashamed at how we have let them down. On the other hand I do not like reading books in which the writer has tried hard to be "literary" and has agonized over a metaphor or a poetic description. When I write I don't want my readers to be conscious of the words on the page. I want them picturing the scene I am creating.
Occasionally I'll get stuck and usually reach for something called The Word Menu which is like a Thesaurus-lite. I often find the word is on the tip of my tongue and as I browse it suddenly comes to me. Sometimes when I'm writing and I can't come up with the word I want I'll leave a row of xxxx's and come back to look it up later. That way I don't break the flow of a tense scene.
ROBERTA: I tend to keep things simple too--but I do have a thesaurus on the desk and I do also Google a word if the prose sounds too boring. Yes and I use Rhys's technique of the row of xxxx's--for everything--names, words, plot points! Words seem to evaporate more easily these days from my overloaded brain so I don't mind using any prop that works.
JAN: Usually what I'm fussing over is a new way to express an action, so it's a verb I'm looking for, and a verb I plan to use in a slightly different way, so the Thesaurus wouldn't be any help at all.
And I agree with Hank most of the time the Thesaurus doesn't work, but every now and then, when I know the word I'm searching for but just can't access the brain file, the Microsoft Thesaurus bails me out.
HALLIE: Ah, verbs. I remember in "Mary Poppins" P. L. Travers describes one of the children as "trapezing" across the floor. I confess to having stolen it...once.
ROSEMARY: I tend to put the pedestrian word in the first draft and if it needs jazzing up I hope I remember it the next time around. Sometimes it strikes me as silly to have someone "sprint, bolt or jog" when run would do just as nicely, so I let them run.
I do have to remind myself to put in adjectives and I try not to use "beautiful, nice or very" but I'm sure I do! In those instances a thesaurus might help but I think mine is holding up a plant...
HALLIE: That's not a bad thing. After all, the fiction writing gurus tell us to eschew adverbs and adjectives and stick to nouns and verbs.
So what's your word for word?
Synonyms: term, expression, name, verbiage...