1. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    Upgrading words

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by live2write, Jun 12, 2012.

    After proofing through my rough drafts of short stories I came across a word problem. Or I should clarify and say "many word problems that conflict with the language of the story". To sum it up in quick sentences I have an issue between my words and the thesaurus.

    An example would be worlds like exciting, good, bad, like, walked etc. I have tried methods like looking up these words and finding similar words that a character might use instead. However when speaking in third person, creating the language and usage of words becomes a process of trying not to detach my voice.

    How do you go by this? I have been given suggestions on writing and when proof reading going back and upgrading from there or practicing my vocabulary and keep my own thesaurus of words that I want to use or ones that I personally like.

    My second question would be how do you not overuse words?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't understand your question. Can you explain in more detail?
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Let the thesaurus accumulate dust. It will get you in trouble more often than it will save you.

    If you're repeating a word too much, make sure you aren't saying the same thing over and over in different ways. Don't beat the point to death. It happens more often than you may realize.

    Try restructuring what you are saying. You may be able to reword it with fewer uses of the word in question. Also, if you vary the structure, the repetition od a word might not stand out as much.

    Use repetition to your advantage. Sometimes repetition can be add emphasis or rhythm.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The idea of "upgrading" words makes me nervous. Simple, plain words that anyone can understand are not a downgrade; they're good words. If your concern is that your words are not fancy enough, I'd suggest that you stop being concerned; words don't need to be fancy. If your concern is that you're being repetitive, I'm curious to see an example or two, to see what we could suggest.
     
  5. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    In my experience thesaurus is useful only when you already have good grasp of English. It is best utilized when you just can't remember the perfect word or don't have the right word in your vocab, but the irony is that you'll know you don't have the right word only when you have a good command of English. Thesaurus to upgrade words may actually downgrade your work.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    my standard command to all the aspiring writers i mentor is to lock away the thesaurus until they don't need one...

    live2write...
    the advice given above re your problem is all sound... i suggest you follow it...
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    A thesaurus doesn't help you write better. It has certain limited uses, but as others have said, it's best to just leave it on your shelf and admire it from afar. Expand your vocabulary by reading the work of good writers instead. It's a more time-consuming process, but it'll give you a far better grounding in the use of language, and besides, it's TONS more fun than using a thesaurus!
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with plain, common words. Nothing wrong with repetition either as long as you're not using the same word five times in the same paragraph. I don't understand the hype with "upgrading" words or using a thesaurus.

    A thesaurus can be useful for reminding you of words you already know but that you don't use often. But it's not for just finding new words. Only ever use words you actually know.
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The Thesaurus is only helpful when it's used properly. And most of the time, people ( myself included ) don't have a clear sense of actual word meanings. To jazz up a sentense and avoid using - say walk - they'll toss out strut, which trips up an alert reader, who will ask - what's that character strutting for?

    I wouldn't worry about upgraded words just use a variety of them , ordinary but interresting words used in unique ways are far more memorable. Tell us a character has pickle breath, and a reader will remember him. Tell us a girl is wearing raspberry jeans too sizes too small, we'll remember her, too.
     
  10. lallylello
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    lallylello Member

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    Hi live2write
    In answer to your second question about overusing words - checking for these is part of the editing process. I use the Find option to look for overuse of words such as: that, quite, usually, really, perhaps etc. Over time you'll get a list of the words you commonly overuse, everyone is different. I find myself using the phrase 'he headed for' way too much: 'he headed for the door, she headed for bed etc.'
    Once you've written your first draft it's useful (and loads of fun) to put it through a program like Wordles which creates a word cloud out of the most commonly used words. The more you use them the bigger the font in the word cloud. I've done word clouds of a lot of my short stories, used them for editing purposes and then kept them because they look nice!
    Hope this helps.
     
  11. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    This reminds me of an episode of the popular TV series Friends. One of the characters Joey wrote in a letter of recommendation for adoption for his couple friends Monica and Chandler: "They are humid prepossessing homosepians with full size thyotic (not sure about this spelling) pumps." Without a thesaurus it means: "They are warm nice people with big heart." :)
     
  12. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    I apologize if my main post is scrambled a bit. After reading all of your posts I can see most of you understand and I thank you for the suggestions. I often use my thesaurus when trying to find a synonym of a simple word that does not fit the story. Example would be: walk --> advanced, abstract --> whimsical, lighten --> illuminate.

    Often times I would allow the simplistic words because of the sound and flow of the story. When describing key elements I try to find words that would fit. Especially since I write fantasy and science fiction, details like a city scape, an weapon, an important characteristic in an object or a person and an important happening that needs further detailing.

    I agree with lallylello that the bolded words are overused to a point. that <---I remember my teacher in 2nd grade yelling at me for using that word way to much.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    huh???
     
  14. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    What I find is useful is writing first. Always write first. and as you revise, if you know there is a more specific word or one that fits a bit better [YOU ALREADY KNOW IT BUT DON'T REMEMBER EXACTLY] use the thesaurus to help you find it. Try it out and see how it fits. Sometimes upgrade is confused with "replace with sophisticated language." Often times you can cut down your word count by using exact words, and they don't have to be anything fancy. For example the word "Antedeluvian" means before the biblical flood. You may want to use it to shorten up what you're trying to say and even sound more urbane, but if it doesn't fit the tone, context, or general language of the book, DON't use it.

    Although it is always good, in my opinion, to keep a dictionary/thesaurus to help expand your vocabulary understanding. But the best way to learn how to use words is to read, and READ A LOT of successful writings, especially from authors with a style similar to yours. :)
     
  15. Estrade
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    Estrade Member

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    :) Funny thing - I encountered that today, with the word strut.
     
  16. Program
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    Program Member

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    I think that if you constantly can't get that right word into a sentence without having to use a thesaurus, then you might want to practice a bit. Write more and read more, and when you read, pay some attention to other authors' choices of phrasing. I don't think a thesaurus should be used (in writing) as a tool for varying the words in your sentences (I think that comes more with practice). I'd say it's more useful if you use it when you sort of already know the word you're after, just you can't seem to think of it. Just randomly picking words from a thesaurus can result in a lot of badly constructed sentences (e.g. bad flow, not fitting the mood correctly, contradicting the tone, etc.) and it may just end up doing more bad than good.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It just occurred to me that this might(?) be in part in response to my request for examples. What I meant was, examples of sentences that you feel need different words?
     
  18. Jacobb
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    Jacobb New Member

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    I don't think there is anything wrong particularly with upgrading words as long as you are careful. What some stated earlier
    I think its good to collect your own personal thesaurus of words that you have come across and like to use , as long as your vigilant with
    the overall piece of writing then I think your good to go.
     
  19. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    I prefer simpler language where possible. The point of writing a book is to tell a story, not to display a broad vocabulary.
     
  20. Iron Orchid
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    Iron Orchid Member

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    I think I get what was asked originally. Sometimes you need a word that is more descriptive of an action than the basic word would be. Using live2write's own examples:
    "The man walked across the field." Doesn't describe anything beyond the fact that the man moved across the field on this own legs.
    "The man advanced across the field." Suggests more of a stealthy or military movement, it's describing how he moved better than simply walking.

    "The torch lightened the walls of the cave." Sort of boring and pointing something out that is quite obvious.
    "The torch illuminated the walls of the cave." Suggests something perhaps a little more mysterious.

    Sorry I don't have anything for Abstract -> Whimsical because it's almost 5am.

    But that's my interpretation of what was being asked, and I struggle with it sometimes too. I do like to use a Thesaurus because I do have a broad vocabulary and it's good for reminding me of words I had forgotten about, but I'd definitely agree with not replacing every other word with something you found in a thesaurus because then it ends up looking like a butchered essay by a 7 year old trying to act 25.
    On the other hand, I agree with one of my English teachers at High School, who banned the words "got", "get" and "getting" because they literally have zero descriptive value and can be easily replaced by something better.
     
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  21. Morkonan
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    Morkonan Senior Member

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    There are many times when you simply can not just upgrade one word. It just won't work and language doesn't work that way, to begin with. Sure, those words have similar meanings, else they wouldn't be in a thesaurus. But, if your style is in conflict with an upgraded word, it won't work no matter how big a shoe-horn you try to apply. In that case and if you must upgrade a word and the substitute doesn't fit well, you need to rewrite the sentence. But, of course, only if the use of that word actually adds something to the piece. If it doesn't, don't use it.

    This is a pet-peeve of mine. I can't stand unnecessary repetition. It's impossible to overuse "the", but definitely disturbing if you overuse "disturbing" too much in the same paragraph. And, that's how I judge such things - Where was the last spot I used a particular descriptive word or phrase? Are they too close together? Will it force the reader to break continuity by evoking imagery from an early point in the work? Will it bring with it unnecessary or confusing imagery later?

    Basically, when you find it annoying, it is probably annoying. (That doesn't count as an overuse of "annoying," btw.) As a general rule-of-thumb, I try not to use descriptive words and phrases or even the same cadence more than once in a paragraph unless the mechanics add to piece.

    On cadence and pacing - An example: "Marvin was cold. Marvin was angry. Marvin was dead. /break Marvin didn't like being dead." That's a purposeful use of pacing and repetition in order to evoke certain imagery and feeling from the reader. So, it's fine, if a little pedantic. But, that's Marvin and Marvin is pedantic. Being dead will do that to you.
     
  22. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Ditto mamma - what?? Abstract does not mean walk - I cannot say "Mary abstracted to the shop". And when you describe a story as whimsical it is quite different to saying "this story was illuminating!"

    According to the Oxford Dictionary, here's what whimsical means:
    adjective
    1. playfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing and amusing way:
    a whimsical sense of humour
    2. acting or behaving in a capricious manner:
    the whimsical arbitrariness of autocracy

    Which is NOT "to illuminate"!

    As for abstract - here's the dictionary definition - I have picked the verb form since you likened it to "walk":

    verb
    Pronunciation: /əbˈstrakt/ [with object]
    1. (abstract something from) consider something theoretically or separately from (something else):
    to abstract science and religion from their historical context can lead to anachronism
    2. (usually abstract something from) extract or remove (something):
    applications to abstract more water from streams
    used euphemistically to indicate that someone has stolen something:
    his pockets contained all he had been able to abstract from the flat
    (abstract oneself) withdraw:
    as our relationship deepened you seemed to abstract yourself
    3. make a written summary of (an article or book):
    staff who abstract material for an online database

    And absolutely NONE of that means "to walk"!!

    And if you were trying to show us how walk turned into illuminate and still apparently mean the same thing... o_O

    Your best synonym was probably "walk --> advance" but even then, you'd hardly "advance to the shop". There're implications within the word even when the action of the word is very similar or basically the same. You advance an army. You walk to the shop. You don't walk the army.

    My best advice? Throw your thesaurus into the bottom of the ocean and let the fish have it. It certainly sounds like your writing is incomprehensible at best if you are using absolutely unrelated words and taking them as apparent synonyms.
     
  23. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    My interpretation of using a theasaurus:

    Vocabulary is like a tool box. The more tools you have, the wider range of things you can repair, and build. But, one wrench doesn't fit every bolt, nor does a drill take the place of a screw-driver. If you are simply cutting two by four's, would you use a chain-saw? or a hand-saw? There are specific tools for specific jobs, and some have a wider range of applicability than others. A theasaurus creates this sense that a phillips screw-driver can serve as a wrench, hammer, and saw, which is never the case.

    The only way you'll discover which words can be used interchangably, or correctly, is by reading and seeing how masters have used their many forms in the right context. They are the ones who use a wrench, when the bolts of a sentence are supposed to be turned, and a screw-driver when they are supposed to be screwed. Rarely do they attempt to turn a bolt with knife, or take apart a motor with their shoes.
     
  24. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You're misreading the original post. To clarify:

    walk --> advance, meaning that "walk" gets upgraded to "advance"
    abstract --> whimsical, meaning that "abstract" gets upgraded to "whimsical" (this one is pretty dubious)
    lighten --> illuminate, meaning that "lighten" gets upgraded to "illuminate"

    I'm not sure how you managed to misread this.

    I've made my own comments about avoiding the use of a thesaurus, except as ballast. I think that too much word-upgrading of this kind leads to H.P. Lovecraftian prose more likely to elicit laughter than any other reaction. But before we comment, we should at least agree on what we're commenting on.
     
  25. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Cheers for the clarification - I mistook the commas to mean that it is a list, rather than something that separates a category, in which case I'm pretty sure OP should've should a semi-colon?

    Walk --> advance is all right, but really, just when would you think to use "walk" in a situation that could be neatly substituted with "advance"?

    Abstract and whimsical are definitely not synonyms I think :D

    Lighten --> illuminate - potentially all right, depends on context. But you don't say "The sun lightened the sky" - I mean, I don't remember reading it anywhere. I'd much prefer "The sun lit up the sky" - way better, even better than illuminate. I dunno, when I see the word lighten, I think you're trying to lighten somebody's load, or lighten the make-up on the poor girl's face. "Lighten" just sounds strange for the cases of lighting up something to me.

    EDIT: ok this is why I thought lighten sounds wrong - it is because it IS wrong, it is no synonym of "illuminate" - that would have to be "to light --> to illuminate". I just checked the Oxford Dictionary and here's the definition:

    verb
    make or become lighter in weight, pressure, or severity:
    [with object]:
    efforts to lighten the burden of regulation
    [no object]:
    the strain had lightened
    make or become more cheerful or less serious:
    [with object]:
    she attempted a joke to lighten the atmosphere
    [no object]:
    try to lighten up and think positive

    Overall, my point still stands - absolutely none of the OP's examples are good uses of a thesaurus - 2 of them are erroneous and the only one that's correct can't even be simply replaced like you'd want to when you're upgrading words.
     

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