Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Just One Word

Last week, I inadvertently joined what became a heated debate on whether or not writers should use a Thesaurus.  I’ve got to say, I love my Thesaurus.  So much in fact, that I accidentally bought a second, identical one, because I couldn’t remember if I’d kept mine, or if I’d left it at my parents’ house.  

Using it is almost like a scavenger hunt: I have to search for the exact right word for my writing.

Who knew there were so many different words for blue?

Despite my love for the book, I can also understand the caution used for writers.  There’s that desire to sound sophisticated, or judicious, or sensible… oh wait.  Those don’t all have the same meaning.  When I use a Thesaurus, I search for a word I already know.  Usually, I’m writing, and my brain shorts and for some reason, I cannot think of the word I want to use.  I know words that are similar, but they’re not quite there. 

I know firsthand the difficulty of finding the exact right word.  I also know that the wrong word can alienate a reader forever.  It doesn’t always have to be a sophisticated word either.  Any word can be wrong.

When I was younger, my mom liked to read any books that she bought before any of us could – to make sure that it didn’t have anything that she didn’t want us to read.  As I got older, she couldn’t keep up with the number of books I read, and she started to have me read books before allowing my sisters to read it.

I remember one particular series she had me read.  It was set in Colonial America, just as the revolution began.  There was one sentence, one word, that pulled me out of the series, and even now, over a decade later, I still remember it.  Not because it was written so well, but because in my opinion, the author had used the wrong word.

A soldier visited the family of a girl he’d fallen in love with, and as a token, he’d given the mother two silver candlesticks. 

“Thank you,” she said.  “This is totally unexpected.”

Totally?  Did they use that word in Colonial America?  I don’t know, but if the author had used completely, or even very, I probably wouldn’t remember it to this day.  But I do, and when I think of the series, I think of the word ‘totally.’

Now that’s a lot of pressure for writers.  One single word can ruin a book, or in my case, a series.  So it doesn’t matter if we use a Thesaurus or not.  As long as we get the right word, that’s all that counts.