I recently took my children apple picking. As a native New Englander, apple picking was a customary fall event during my childhood and my southern-transplanted children were excited to give it a try. Trudging through the apple strewn orchard, we came upon a sign with a diagram that showed how each row of trees contained a different variety. This sent my kids scurrying down the rows, snatching apples to sample each one. Apparently they liked them all.
“Which ones should we pick?” they asked.
“Well,” I explained, “it depends what you want to do with them. Cortlands are good for baking, MacIntosh are great for applesauce and Macouns are just excellent eating.”
Choosing the right variety for our needs was an important decision. In fact, it could be the difference between a good pie and an awesome pie. Similar in the way choosing the right verb can be the difference between a good story and a great one.
Think about it. An action sequence interspersed with normal, run-of-the-mill verbs is a good read. But change those everyday words into creative ones and suddenly that action is popping off the page.
Here’s a quick example :(Good)Johnny ran home with the barking pack of dogs biting at his ankles. (Popping) Jonny sprinted home with the snarling pack of dogs tearing at his ankles.
By using a less common verb, you can bring more excitement to your pages. Anybody can run, but great characters sprint, dash, dart, and race from danger. How do I know? My thesaurus told me so. Not only do I take advantage of my computer’s built-in version, but when that doesn’t satisfy me I have two or three dog-eared varieties on the shelf for further reference.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ve become too dependent on it. Could I write a creative scene without my loyal lexicon? I know if I sat and thought long and hard enough, I’d eventually come up with my own synonyms and antonyms, but whose got time for that? A Thesaurus saves me time. Time I can use to concentrate on my story instead of on specific words. It’s an invaluable tool and if you don’t make good use of one, give it a try.
As writers, our goal is to create memorable characters full of unique charm and appeal who do thrilling and exhilarating things. (Note the use of my trusty thesaurus.) Therefore, we must go that extra mile for our readers and make our words explode from the page. After all, do we want them to like our work, or do we want them to love it?
By the way, we ended up picking the Macouns. My kids didn’t care about pies and applesauce. They wanted an apple worth sinking their teeth into; instant gratification.