Friday, January 18th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Roget and His Thesaurus

Peter Mark RogetHappy Birthday, Peter Mark Roget!

Roget was born January 18, 1779.

He was a natural theologian and a physician, but he’s chiefly remembered for his literary contribution of creating the first thesaurus.

His apparent obsession with list-making started it all, and he worked on it for nearly 50 years in private before it was published in 1852, with the excessive title of:

Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.

I love my thesaurus!

I have a copy of Roget’s International Thesaurus , 6th edition (a fabulous gift from the The Husband of Awesome™ many years ago) and it sits on a small shelf below my desk. (It’s over 1,200 pages of joy!)

I can reach it with ease any time I need to refer to it.

A thesaurus is an awesome tool when you’re looking for just the right word. And like any good tool, you get what you pay for: I haven’t found a web version that does the job anywhere as good as my hard-bound book. If you’re serious about finding the right word, get a good thesaurus.

(The problem, of course, especially for young writers — or new writers — is to choose a 50-cent word over a nickle word. By this I mean, stumbling across the first 4-syllable synonym in the thesaurus and plugging that into their writing. Don’t fall into this trap! If your character is walking across the parking lot, make him walk. Having him perambulate across the parking lot is not going to make the story any better!)

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Choose a piece of writing from your drafts that seems lackluster, or one you’ve had no luck selling somewhere. Examine the words for places you could make changes. Use a thesaurus to find more specific words to use to make your point and re-write your work.
  • Do you tend to use the same words over and over in your writing?

    Instead of using this prompt to jump start something, use it to hone your skills. Pick five or more words you tend to overuse – particularly ones that you tend to use modifiers around to help them along, and look them up in a good thesaurus. Make lists of alternate words (and their specific meanings) and keep them handy while you write.

  • For those of you looking for a specific prompt to get your juices flowing today, try a new twist on an old stand-by for prompts. Open up a thesaurus to a random page, close your eyes, and drop your finger down on a particular word. If you’ve hit the index, turn to the specific location in the book. If you’ve tapped a particular word, you’re good.

    Now, choose five of the synonyms surrounding your word and write a poem or essay and use all of them (correctly!) in context in your writing.

    For those of you who are too lazy, here’s a random word and some of its synonyms:

    pirate: corsair, buccaneer, privateer, sea rover, picaroon, viking

Good Luck!