My Writer's Toolbox: Thesauruses I Love

1:07 PM


I don't know about the rest of you writers in the crowd, but there are times when I struggle to get the right words to come out onto the page. The debate over using thesauruses amongst authors can be fierce. My personal opinion is that there is definitely a place and time to use them (they've saved me from missing deadlines on a few occasions), so long as a writer is careful not to overuse them.

Because I do consider them an essential in my writer's toolbox of resources, I thought I would share the ones I make the most use out of and where you can find them.

1. Webster's New World Thesaurus

(credit: @catpollockwrites IG, posted 8/24/2017)
When you were in grade school, did your teachers ever hand out those monthly or bimonthly Scholastic book catalogs with all the age-appropriate books coming out that they wanted you to buy? That, my friends, is how I got a hold of my thesaurus. It's almost like mid-thirties me traveled back in time and whispered into thirteen year old Cat's ear about it. 

You'll need this one day, Cat.

I say that because I reach for it all the time now. Sometimes, when I have all the words swimming around inside of my head, I need a way to narrow it down to exactly the right one. Other times, when all the words are deserting me, I reach for it in the hopes of finding a place to start.


Where to find it:

Just check in with your favorite online book retailer, especially if you love hard copies of books.


2. The Positive Traits Thesaurus/The Negative Traits Thesaurus

Angela Ackerman/Becca Puglisi


Right, so I hope the rest of this list does not come off as a screaming fangirl post. It's just that this duo has been beyond helpful with my writing projects in recent years. I only found them because they came up in my recommendations on Amazon, and my stories are seriously so much better for investing in them. 

What makes this traits thesaurus duo so amazing is how thoroughly detailed each entry is. The trait is defined, its possible roots are listed, and associated behaviors/thoughts/feelings discussed. These entries also look at the positive and negative aspects of a given trait, examples of characters with the trait from literature, potentially challenging/character building scenarios, and traits in other characters in a story that could create conflict.

It almost feels like cheating, except that it's not. I firmly believe that having this information on hand is what helped me get past the finish line with last year's NaNoWriMo project.

Where to find it:

Visit the Writers Helping Writers bookstore for links to your favorite book retailer. As of the day this post was written, electronic copies are $5.99 and hard copies are around $15.00.


3. The Emotion Thesaurus

Angela Ackerman/Becca Puglisi

I warned you that this could come off as a fangirl post, didn't I? Let's just say I bought all three of these at the same time.

The Emotion Thesaurus is part of the same series of thesauruses as the Traits Thesaurus duo I just finished talking about (collectively referred to as the Descriptive Thesaurus Collection), but this is less directly related to character development and more directly towards depicting the emotions a character is feeling at any given time. It gets into body language, internal responses, thoughts, immediate and long-term cues, and other emotions the entry can evolve into.

This thesaurus was another life saver during NaNoWriMo because it helped create depth in each character's emotional responses to their circumstances in the first draft. 

Where to find it:

You can also find this in the Writers Helping Writers bookstore. Like the Traits Thesaurus duo, electronic copies are running $5.99 and the hard copy somewhere around $15.


4. The Freebies

While I constantly use the resources listed above when I am working at home, taking them with me when I spend a day away from the 'office' is not always practical. Here's a short list of the freebie resources I use on those days (because I'm kind of cheap in that way, and I know some of you are looking for these kinds of resources as well).
  • Thesaurus.com  - the url is easy to remember, the site is easy to navigate (even it's mobile form), and it does the same thing as my decades old hard copy
  • Character Traits Thesaurus (Sample Entries)  - compiled by half of the team that works on the Descriptive Thesaurus Collection, this covers some of the more common traits we writers love to give our characters. It's not as comprehensive as the books, but it covers the bases.
  • Emotion Thesaurus (Samples) - a compilation of some of the more common emotions delved into by writers. Again, not as comprehensive as the book, but gets the job done.

Wrapping It Up

After writing the body of this post, I went on the hunt for a quote about thesauruses that would nicely introduce the topic. I found two very divided camps when it comes to using them as a writing resource, and this one quote that sums up how I feel that works better as a conclusion than an opener.

"A writer who has never explored words, who has never searched, seeded, sieved, sifted through his knowledge and memory... dictionaries, thesaurus, poems, favorite paragraphs, to find the right word, is like someone owning a gold mine who has never mined it." 
- Rumer Godden 
Writers in the group - what resources do you use when you're having trouble coming up with the right word? Thesauruses? Slang dictionaries? Google Translate? Let me know in the comments!

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