While touring the Acropolis Museum in Greece, I stumbled upon a stone relic that caused me to smile, as though I’d just learned a powerful secret. The English translation said simply: thesaurus, a treasure box.
The meaning that fueled my interest is the idea of a storehouse or a treasury. The ancient Greeks used a thesaurus to store treasures, and for writers, our words are our treasures.
Since grade school, we’ve used a thesaurus to find synonyms and sometimes antonyms for specific words. This valuable resource helps writers locate specific words when the ones normally used are not exactly what we intend or the concept needs to be bigger, more definite, unique, or the writer wishes to avoid repetition. Meanings twist and turn according to culture, dates used, and what the writer is desperately seeking.
Word lovers can get lost in a thesaurus.
But there are dangers in tossing aside creativity and diving into a treasure box each time we want to sound distinct or extraordinary. The result builds barriers in our writing. We lose our voice and our character’s voice in an endless pursuit of the perfect word when often the most common fits our passage. Communicating with our readers is an invitation to a relationship. We want to use appropriate and recognizable language not chase them away with word choices that send them to the dictionary.
A treasure box is valuable when we open the lid rarely. For then the jewels inside are priceless and we value their worth.
Years ago, I started a treasury of words and their meanings. I titled them, “Di Words.” Those gems were the ones in which their sound and meaning appealed to me, the way they rolled off my tongue and their detail. I wanted to use them for special characters and how they viewed life, to bury them deep in narrative where they could be explored and mined like treasure. Many times only one of those words was used throughout the story because a gem is of immeasurable worth.
A thesaurus is indeed a storehouse of treasures. Used sparingly, they cause our writing to sparkle—overuse and our readers are blinded. How do you find the balance in searching for just the right word?
About DiAnn Mills
Expect an Adventure
DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.
Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.
DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association; International Thriller Writers, and the Faith, Hope, and Love chapter of Romance Writers of America. She is co-director of The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.
DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.