“The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain
Writers love words. Some might say that writers are obsessed with words, with finding the right words. In each and every project writers journey on a constant and continual quest for the perfect words to express their thoughts, their visions, their characters and their stories. This is not a futile quest. Words are all a writer has at their disposal to tell a story. Words give flesh and bone to a character. Words create images in the minds of an audience. Words make an audience feel. The right word, the perfect word has a lot of power. Finding the right word differentiates good writing from great. The perfect word helps a writer become specific, effective, and efficient.
Unless you are blessed with a vast computer data base of a vocabulary to draw from, the easiest and best place to search for the perfect word is the dictionary. This is more than finding the correct spelling of a word. When it comes to the perfect word, the dictionary is your best friend. And you shouldn’t just have one dictionary. All dictionaries are not created equal. Every writer should have a variety of dictionaries on their desk and at their at their fingertips:
Start with a standard dictionary (such as the Concise Oxford English Dictionary), a Thesaurus, and a rhyming dictionary. Sometimes it’s easier to open a book than to search online. Perhaps you’re working intently with pen and paper and don’t want to get out of that rhythm to open your computer.
Having said that, books are finite and are not always up to date. They may only have room for one or two definitions. Access to online dictionaries such as www.dictionary.com will provide an infinite number of solutions to finding the perfect word.
You should have access to a dictionary with archaic definitions. Sometimes the meanings of words change over time. If you’re writing a period piece, hunt around for a dictionary of the era. Not only do meanings change, but words appear and disappear depending on their usage.
What else? Specialized dictionaries that have lists of words for a specific profession (such as a medical or law dictionary), phrase dictionaries, slang dictionaries.
Further to to finding the right word for a certain project, use the dictionary as an exercise tool. Open up your dictionary to a random page, and point to any word. Go to the word of the day on an online dictionary. Write 50 words on that one word. Describe the word using the five senses. What character would have their word as part of their vocabulary?
A writer should use every available tool to take their writing to the next level. Use the dictionary to create a specific vocabulary of a character. Use the dictionary to find the exact word you want to describe a location, a behaviour, an emotion. Use the dictionary to find the perfect word.