Sorry about our brief hiatus. Aristen and I have been busy chipping away at OF GOLD AND FIRE after receiving feedback from beta readers. Consequently, we’ve been neglecting our blog a bit. Oops.
Anyway, I’m going to share with you a few of my favorite books that help me write, especially when I’m stuck on a specific problem. As a disclaimer, I don’t use any of these books word for word, but they often give ideas—especially if I’m stuck! I also routinely use these books to add depth to what I’ve already written.
Yes, I do go online and use Thesaurus.com. But I find that a physical book I can tab and refer to over and over jogs my brain better than searching online. Many of my books are dog-eared and have rainbow-colored wings gracing their fore edges. For a logophile/bibliophile like me, it’s multi-colored happiness.
But my purpose isn’t to go in and copy what these books say, but to get my brain thinking on the ways I can craft my work. I purchased this book because I wasn’t satisfied with what was already at my fingertips.
As said best by the book description, this book is:
“…a browsable source of inspiration as well as an authoritative guide to selecting and using vocabulary. This essential guide for writers provides real-life example sentences and a careful selection of the most relevant synonyms, as well as new usage notes, hints for choosing between similar words, a Word Finder section organized by subject, and a comprehensive language guide.”
I also have a fascination with choosing the best or correct word in any situation. This obsession was one of the reasons I became a lawyer: words matter and one word or one comma can change so much!
I also use this book like a backwards dictionary—to find a word I’m looking for that describes the word I actually want.
1. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, and its companion, Emotional Amplifiers
This is a fun tool I use when editing passages. Lately, it’s gotten a ton of use. When I feel like I need to add more emotion to a scene, I reference this book.
In my opinion, and many others’ as well, emotion is often best written in three ways: 1) describing outer reactions (things that a character does, e.g. fidgets, punches a wall); 2) inner reactions (things that a character feels that others can’t necessarily see such as a pounding heart); and 3) other characters’ reactions to that character (runs away from the other character, or hugs that character). Sometimes 3) turns into displaying at least 1) and 2) for that other character too—and round and round we go. I try to think through each when I’m writing and editing.
If you could see a snapshot of my notes of interactions between two characters, you’d see columns denoting cause and effect as well while keeping in mind 1-3. Character 1 does X, this makes Character 2 feel/do Y. So how does a person outwardly display feeling Y? Well, assuming feeling Y is included in The Emotional Thesaurus, there would be some outward and inner reactions listed, which might inspire you.
Using this book can aid you in your “show v. tell” struggle (if you struggle like I do—if not, move along, move along). Rather than say “Character 1 is X [feeling]”, you can say “Character X’s hands trembled,” which might be something that happens in reaction to an emotion he or she feels. This book might have that sort of detail in a handy-dandy list form. Yay!
These two books are fun. Once you decide what your character is like (idealistic, extroverted or supportive, for example), and how s/he fits into the story, you can use this book to think through how that character will act within your story vis-à-vis other characters. I like these books particularly because they help you think through character interactions, including how a character with certain trait reacts to other different types of characters. The books even have examples from literature, film, and television.
The Negative Trait Thesaurus can also help you think through how tragedy or other events would affect a character, to make your characters and their backstories seem more believable.
4. And lastly, the newest edition to my Writer’s Library:
I’m not using this book as I feel it might have been intended. Here’s what the book says about itself on Amazon.com:
“The Ultimate Guide to Powerful Language
If you’ve ever fumbled while trying to use a big word* to impress a crowd, you know what it’s like to* be poorly spoken. The fear of mispronouncing or misusing complex words is real and leaves many of us consigned to the lower levels* of the English Language.
The secret to eloquence, however, lies in simplicity—the ability to use ordinary words in extraordinary ways.
The Well-Spoken Thesaurus is your guide to eloquence, replacing the ordinary with the extraordinary. While a common thesaurus provides only synonyms as mere word-for-word equivalents, The Well-Spoken Thesaurus is filled with* dynamic reinventions of standard words and phrases.
*lofty word, pretentious word
*know what it is to
*lower reaches, lower echelons
*awash in, instilled with, dense with, rich in
I got this book specifically for a few certain characters in my current WIP/work in progress who have a formal way of speaking. This book inspired to me rethink some of what these characters say.
For example, one character we’d already decided never says the word “no,” but also speaks in a formal manner. On the cover, you can see an example, “no way,” and “far from it.” “Far from it” is something that character would say. And look at that, it doesn’t say the word no!
This book also has a thesaurus-like listing of words and some phrases in alphabetical order that you could use to enhance your writing in various ways.
Some other books that I have in my library and reference occasionally:
- Primal Myths: Creation Myths Around the World, which I’ve use for inspiration on myth in fantasy stories
- Writing Deep Scenes: Plotting Your Story Through Action, Emotion, and Theme, by Martha Alderson
- Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence and Captivating Readers, by Baig, Barbara
- Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene, by Paula Munier
- Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain
If you were wondering about the stacks of paper, those are things I’ve printed out and wanted to keep. Included are my ramblings scribbled all over them…Same with the books.
What are some of your favs?