Okay I have a confession. I don’t really know Pete. So for my sake and the sake of all your readers, the sake of your writing and your reputation and for all that’s good and right in the world, please please please BUY and (here’s the important part) USE a Thesaurus.
In case you don’t know how to find one (because surely that’s the only reason anyone would use the same word over and over and over and, well you get the point), here’s a good inexpensive reference book:
You can get a pocket set that is under $5 for a dictionary and thesaurus. I just recently bought one of these for my briefcase, so I’ll be able to come up with the correct word regardless of where I decide to write.
There are also free websites that allow you to search for words and their synonyms. Thesaurus.com (http://thesaurus.com/) has a lot of cool resources. One I especially like is the audio feature … just in case you’re not quite sure how to pronounce a word.
If all else fails and you just don’t have access to anything else, whatever word program you use more than likely has a thesaurus built in. It might not be all encompassing, but check it out under tools. It’s definitely better than nothing and it’s saved my work more than a few times.
So why am I on a thesaurus kick this morning? Becaues the night before last, I read a book from a New York Times best-selling author that was riddled with the word “jolt.” I’m not exaggerating to say that this word in some form or other was used every two or three pages throughout a 350+ page novel. On the conservative side that would be approximately 116 times. And I mean conservative. I saw this word occasionally twice on the same page and at least once in the same paragraph.
Someone was inevitably being “jolted” awake, feeling a “jolt” of recognition, or having a “jolting” cup of coffee that “jolted” the senses. Okay. So I made that last one up. But it’s not much of a stretch.
What I want to know is how the author couldn’t have seen this? Really. I know it’s often difficult to see things in our own work. But come on! If you’re typing a word that many times…sheesh!
Forget the author for a second. This is a traditionally published book by one of the big houses. Where were the copy-editors? An editor of any kind? What about the author’s agent? The friends, the beta readers? Did not anyone actually read this before it went to print? Hopefully it was fixed prior to being made available in eBook format, but it will have to be read by someone other than me to find out.
The first ten times or so I read this word, I got a little niggle (that’s a word, I‘m pretty sure) in my brain that something just wasn’t right. After that my eye began to twitch and my blood pressure increased. I was completely “jolted” out of the story EVERY time afterward. That’s not a good thing. To have someone forced out of your novel every two or three pages is very detrimental to not only that book but your career.
Not everyone would have finished reading once the eye twitches began. Why did I? I’m not sure except that it hit me sort of like a train wreck. You don’t want to look, but you can’t seem to turn away. I think I wanted to see if the author finally got a clue as the writing progressed.
At one point when I was “jolted” out of the narrative twice on the same page , I threw the book so hard against the wall it bounced back and hit me in the head. I’m glad it wasn’t a hard cover. Hopefully I won’t be scarred for life.
How could this have happened? It’s not exactly like it was a well established author at the time. The book was published in 2004 near the beginning of this author’s career. (Yes, I’m aware I keep saying author, but I don’t want to use gender. It’s not my intention to single out the writer or give you enough clues to figure out who this is. I like this person and have read other books written by him/her that I enjoyed.) My point is, at that early stage at least, shouldn’t someone have caught this? I mean it’s not like James Patterson or Nora Roberts who have proven themselves time and time again and no longer require intense scrutiny of their work before publication. Heck, they could probably get their grocery lists published if they were so inclined.
But a newbie author? With a big publishing house? When I see things fall through the cracks like this it certainly makes it harder for anyone to sell me on the fact that traditional publishing is the only way to preserve the integrity of the written word. I didn’t believe it before I read this book and I sure don’t believe it now. There are many talented indie writers out there who never would have made this sort of error.
The best thing ANY writer can do whether traditionally or self-pubbed is to write the best darn book he or she can. Use the resources available to you: reference books of all kinds, writing classes, critique groups and beta readers to name just a few. And if anyone ever points out an over-used word, find another. Read your material aloud. This probably helps me more than anything else I do on my own to assist me in finding frequently used terminology/phrases. (It also helps me make sure I have the pacing correct, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Did this particular author ever figure out there was an obvious problem? Well, I don’t recall having this be an issue in other books I’ve read by him/her. However, there was an excerpt of the author’s next book at the end of the one I was reading. And, guess what?
The VERY FIRST LINE of the next novel had someone being “jolted” awake. I
kid you not. Guess I won’t be reading that one.
I originally published this post in 2011 under the title, For Pete’s Sake — Buy a Thesaurus Already! at my website. You’ll find other comments there. Or you can leave your own comments here if you like. What about you? Have you had an experience like this with an author you like? Is there a particular word that you find yourself using repeatedly? What reference books do you find useful?