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Posts Tagged Roget’s Thesaurus
Devils for detail – dictionaries, grammar and editing considerations for authors. Ep 31 FREE podcast for writers
This is the pedantry episode! There’s a large part of the bookmaking process that’s about detail. The writer has to pay close attention to factual details or the plot might not work. There are also the details of grammar and spelling. But there isn’t just one correct way, there are subtle variations according to which variety of English you use (US? Canadian?), which dictionary you’re following (Collins? OED? Webster?). What about house style? Each publisher has their own. If you’re indie, you might set your own or discuss it with your editor. What even is house style?
That’s what we’re discussing in today’s episode.
Usually I say that Peter asks the questions and I answer them, but today we are each as opinionated as the other. (Who’s Peter? He’s independent bookseller Peter Snell.)
If you live for this kind of detail, you might also like this post – Love writing? Love the tools of the language.
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PS If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, try my Nail Your Novel books. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. If you’d like to support bricks-and-mortar bookstores (US only at present) use Bookshop.org. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, find my latest newsletter here and subscribe to future updates here.
Canadian English American spellings, copy editing, dictionaries for authors, Grammar, house style, Roget's Thesaurus, should you use a thesaurus, So You Want To Be A Writer, spelling, which dictionary should a writer use
One of the best proofing tricks – reading your work aloud – won’t necessarily help you spot repetition. A passage that irks on the page may seem satisfyingly emotive when read out loud.
(What’s more, you might even cheat, imagining different stress as you vocalise your prose, thus fooling yourself there is no need to change anything… Yes, I know the tricks.)
So how do you tackle it?
It helps to know where the danger areas are.
Look for the modifying words that don’t need to be there. Just, suddenly, actually, very, effectively, eagerly – these are frequently overused in an attempt to emphasise or add a different quality to a verb, but it would be better to find a more precise verb or description.
Certain verbs are easily overused too. Feel, see, think, supposed, hoped, wanted, tried all flow from our fingers without hesitation, or while our mind is on the hundred other things we need to juggle in a scene. But they usually have much truer alternatives.
A good way to spot your own verbal tics is Wordle. You can dump an entire novel into it (and honestly it will cope) and you’ll get a pretty – and alarming snapshot of your lazy words. And if you’ve got a few pet interesting verbs that appear too often with no justification, it will make you aware of those too. (Hold onto that thought of repetition being justified; we’re coming back to it later.)
We hear a lot of disapproving noises about Roget’s tome. What folks are objecting to is:
1 very obscure words
2 synonyms swapped in indiscriminately with no feel for connotation or rhythm.
To which I answer:
1 the thesaurus has ordinary words too – all of them
2 if you’re staring down an unbearable repetition and your mind is blank, where else are you going to find a better option?
I use the thesaurus all the time when editing, to remind me that more precise, more exciting options exist than the first word I thought of. I also use poetry, to encourage me to reach beyond the literal. (That might suit your genre, it might not. But Roget suits everyone’s.)
Repetition gets a bad rap because it’s usually a sign of unpolished writing. But it can be a powerful tool. Because it’s so noticeable - which of course is why it irritates – it can emphasise and echo.
It’s good if you have characters with distinctive phrases, or you want to intentionally echo a scene or a feeling. It’s especially good to underline themes and images, creating the sense of an ordering web that’s holding the book together. A repetition with well judged variation can send readers loopy with satisfaction – look at Richard Adams’s Watership Down, which opens with the line ‘The primroses were over’ and closes ‘The primroses had just begun.’
Use with a light touch
Readers are wired to be detectives. All readers are trying to fathom which characters they should look at, what the story is really about, what the moral and physical rules are. They look for and latch onto patterns, even if they’re not aware they are doing so. Repetition is one of those, and we need to be exquisitely tuned to it, use it deliberately and with care.
What’s your feeling about repetition? Do you have any tips for spotting it? And any lovely examples of where it works well?
…And have you any idea how few viable synonyms there are for ‘repetition’?
advice to writers, authors, beginnings, deepen your story, endings, how to write a book, how to write a novel, lazy words, literature, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, novels, poetry, polishing your prose, prose, redundant words, repetition, Rewriting, Richard Adams, Roget's Thesaurus, Roz Morris, should you use a thesaurus, thesaurus, verbal tics, Watership Down, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing style
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