By Mark Stevens
Do you have “crutch” words?
Words you inject into your prose without thinking?
I mean, they are such great freaking words that you when you ask a reader to plow through your latest incredible best-selling novel, she comes back and says:
“Well, not bad. But did you know you used the word ethereal 187 times?”
Or (fill in the blank for your go-to word)?
Guilty as charged. I’ve got a few. They change from one piece of writing to the next.
They are words my inner brain fell in love with, most likely, decades ago.
I pull them out of the dust-covered brain cells that are my word filing system and I drop into the prose without really thinking.
(Question: Why can’t my ability-to-edit brain see the heavy repetition of my crutch words? When I read manuscripts by other writers, their crutch words jump out at me like something from Sharknado. “Did you mean to use the color ‘salmon’ on page four and page 196?”)
Which brings me to Visual Thesaurus. (http://www.visualthesaurus.com/)
It’s a word lover’s daily jolt of caffeine.
First, take your crutch word and enter it in the search engine. VT will give you a visual rendering of the universe in which your word lives—all its relatives, close and distant.
If you want to tweak your favorite plum word in one direction, you click on that word within the sphere (Do mean “hot” as blistering or “hot” as spicy?) Suddenly, you are charging down another path looking for the right word.
Plus, VT has daily columns about word derivations and interesting takes on word usage. A recent column looked at “anxious” versus “eager.” Knowing the difference is the kind of distinction that might give your prose more accuracy.
If you subscribe ($25 per year), you get a daily ‘word of the day’ in your email and lots of nifty/nerdy info to go with it.
As I write this, today’s word is ‘theurgy.’ (“Magic performed with the help of one—or more.”) Recent words were cheroot, caliphate and hypernym. As Visual Thesaurus says: Dog, for example, is a hypernym for dachshund, Chihuahua, and poodle. Some folks call 'em generic terms or superordinates.
In fact, Visual Thesaurus will help you avoid hypernyms (and your damn crutches) and be as precise and fresh as possible.
Mark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.
Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014