Have you ever noticed?

Have you ever noticed that some writers have pretty strong opinions about using a thesaurus? Like it is cheating in some way. I thought of it just now because I'm revising a short story and reached for my thesaurus. I needed another word for "dejected". As a writer, I figure I'll use any tool on offer. It seems crazy not to. Writing is hard enough without me sitting here banging my head off the desk wasting an hour trying to think up another word for dejected when I can just quickly flip open a book and find a dozen options. So there's my two cents worth on thesaurus use. What do you think? Is it cheating?

(I went with "broken-hearted", in case you are wondering, but I might change it again. You know how it is with revising.)

6 comments:

Kristie Leigh Maguire said...

I use this tool all the time. As you said, why bang your head up against a wall when the tool is available? Concentrate on more important things, like the story line!

Kristie Leigh Maguire -
http://kristieleighmaguire.com

firstlinefiction said...

Kristie, we're kindred spirits! And I agree - concentrate on things like the story line. There's too few hours in the day to waste any time. Thanks for stopping by.

~ Lori

yasminjoo said...

nope, i don't think it's cheating.. LOL.. by the way, I like your blog.

firstlinefiction said...

Well, I'm glad the consensus around here is that using a thesaurus is not cheating. Whoo. Maybe I'll stop feeling guilty now every time I reach for one. And thanks for the kind comment Yasminjoo - I'm glad you like the blog.

~ Lori

Samuel Snoek-Brown said...

I think that aversion to the thesaurus comes either from academics who see too many students use it wrong, or from former students who used it wrong so frequently their teachers finally beat them over the head with it. And I get that instinct--I'm one of those teachers. But the trick is not to shun the thesaurus but to learn how to use the thesaurus properly. Too many well-meaning teachers take the short-cut of simply banning the thing, maybe with the dry explanation that "if you don't already know the word, you shouldn't use it." (These are probably the same teachers who still teach the five-paragraph essay.)

I say, the more words you learn, the harder it is to keep track of them all. We're not all Shakespeare, after all. So I view the thesaurus as a kind of personal data assistant, reminder of the words I'm looking for but can't remember right now. I think a better teacherly bit of advice would be this: If you can't think of the word you know is rattling around in your head somewhere, reach for the thesaurus, but if you have to look up the synonym to make sure it's the right word, maybe save it for later and run with a different word.

Also, I always tell students and beginning writers to save the thesaurus for revisions, because the real danger of the thesaurus is that it's an excuse to procrastinate. Or, it used to be before Wikipedia came along (that's my new excuse). ;)

firstlinefiction said...

Great advice Sam. And interesting to hear it from a teacher's side. Now I understand the thesaurus debate a bit better!

~ Lori