The Thesaurus Dinosaurus (Extinct?)

My other job (not including super mom in tights) is writing resumes for various professional types. I asked for entertainment industry or publishing job seekers because that is my background, but so far I’ve had everything from industrial engineers to general contractors to Vegas drinks managers to healthcare workers. Frequently I write in areas I have no knowledge and practically no understanding of. Do you know what lean manufacturing is? Nope, me neither. Although I have an amateur background in the whole Vegas drinks thing. However the format is basically the same. A 1 or 2 page resume followed by a 1 page cover letter. And I have to use power verbs. No passive voice here. I have a suggested word print-out hanging above my desk–interfaced, optimized, implemented, executed, stimulated, maximized, targeted, expedited… I have to cram as many of those in as I can and shunt the piddly connecting words as much as I can. (It might be similar to writing porn, perhaps?) And I have my trusty Roget’s thesaurus. I don’t use it much when I’m writing stories but for some reason after an hour or two trying to think up alternatives to ‘managed’ I reach for it. I’m allowed some leeway in the job. I think they like creative writers rather than someone who’s used to filling out forms. I’ve used cleaved, adhered and liaised quite frequently (and none of those were on the LIST). Some writers (of novels I mean) abuse the thesaurus. Many novice writers are prone to this. It’s like opening a treasure box and it’s easy to lose your head when confronted with so much wealth of language. Oh glorious words!!!!! But then you end up writing in a way that no one speaks. And the writer’s voice or rather the narrator’s has to sound natural inside the reader’s head. Almost like someone is sitting beside you (but not too close) and telling you a story in calm, modulated tones. Someone like Meryl Streep, maybe or Neil Gaiman. But there are nuances within the synonyms. You wouldn’t casually pick any one at random. For example–shiny. The choices are: glossy, sheeny, polished, bright, clear, sunny. They won’t all fit. It depends on the context. You can play around to some extent (in a poetical sort of a way) but too much and you sound like an idiot. “Her hair was polished mahogany/ebony/cherry wood”. It’s always tempting to go for the million dollar word. The one that shines/glitters/glistens/gleams AND sparkles and demands attention. And shows everyone just how clever you are. So that with a sentence or two, you can edify, astound, enlighten, and divert, engendering complete, utter, consummate, aggregate, exhaustive worship of your words. Or you can just write the story which has so much plot and such interesting characters that it begs for the simplest words possible.

This entry was posted in posts, the writing process, writing tips. Bookmark the permalink.


3 Responses to The Thesaurus Dinosaurus (Extinct?)

  1. Anonymous says:

    radiant, brilliant and dazzling!

  2. Marisa Birns says:

    Oh, I so agree with you. I love reading stories where the characters and their worlds are so interesting that I don't need grandiose, voluminous, misinterpreted words to tell me anything.

    Many times, they're like speed bumps, and then I don't enjoy the ride.

  3. Jo Treggiari says:

    Marisa, you're so right. Those big, unnecessary words are just like mental speed bumps! It's almost as if the writer is shouting, "Look how clever I am!!!" and it interrupts the story. Enough of those and I'll put the book down.