Stick around for any period of time, and you’ll learn that I’m a visual person. I buy books based on their cover. I buy cereal based on the box design (this sometimes leads to disgusting forays into cardboard-like spheres floating in my milk.) I forgo the use of a Favorites folder in Internet Explorer or Firefox because I’m so in love with the slick design and visual kaleidoscope of Pinterest.
As much as I have my left-brained tendencies (anal about work organization, a perfectionist when it comes to household projects), my juices really get going when the right brain kicks into gear. If I’m stuck on a problem, there is nothing better than a blank sheet of paper and 20 minutes of free flow writing or mind mapping. Imagine how delighted I was when I stumbled upon a thesaurus that gives me a visual representation of my synonyms and antonyms.
I give you the Visual Thesaurus:
This program is a word playground. You can see above, I typed in “bold” and it returned a full map of words. The colored dots at the end of a branch indicate whether the word is a noun, adjective, verb or adverb. To the right you can see definitions for the word. Click on the megaphone symbol and you can hear the word pronounced. Visual Thesaurus will even define and provide adjectives for proper nouns.
On the left, the program provides a word history so that while you are playing with the word “sausage blimp” you can always go back to your search for “reverberance.” You can even create favorite word lists and name them. See a word that looks interesting on the map? Just drag and drop it to your word list so that you don’t forget it.
Visual Thesaurus has myriad uses in a writer’s life. The obvious? Find just the right word for the sentence. Warning: don’t use this to overcomplicate things! You’ve decided that your character is “bold.” Bold doesn’t feel right because she’s not “fearless and daring.” But don’t look at the list and throw in “temerarious” just because it sounds cool. Maybe “bold” doesn’t have quite the right shade to fully describe your character. Maybe it’s her careless unconcern that makes her “reckless” not “bold.” Or maybe she’s not “bold,” but “emboldened” because she recently became “fearless” but hasn’t always been that way. Writing is all about the subtle shades of language and words. The Visual Thesaurus can help you pinpoint those shades.
The more “temerarious” use? (Did you see how I did that there?) Use the Visual Thesaurus to build layers in your scene. After you’ve written a scene, pinpoint the key emotion swirling around the action.
Donald Maass says in Writing 21st Century Fiction:
“To deliver a strong effect to your readers, you’ve first got to give yourself permission to go big. Big feelings aren’t bad; they’re just big. We all have them. They’re dramatic. They connect. The only time they don’t is when they’re false: rote, hackneyed, pasted on or unearned. Think of them as primary emotions that take on unique hues in the heart of your main character. Love? Sure, but different this time. Rage? Never before like this one. Sorrow? Yes, but now utterly specific.”
Make a list of other words that can add subtle layers to increase the tension in the scene. Here’s an example. Maybe your character is “angry.” Let’s type in “angry” and make a list:
- Sore – “Causing misery or pain; hurting; an open skin infection”
- Tempestuous (i.e., tempest) – “A violent commotion or disturbance”
- Smoldering – “Showing scarcely suppressed anger”
- Indignant – “Angered at something unjust or wrong”
- Wrathful – “Condemnatory”
You can see from the list above that “angry” has many hues. What type of anger is your character experiencing? If you find just the right word to define the type of anger, you can build the scene around those hues and make your character’s anger uniquely her own.
Pretty amazing that you can do all this with a simple online program that costs $19.95/year. Or $2.95/month. Sure, you could open up your 15 lb. Roget’s Thesaurus, but for me seeing the visual connections between words and the ease with which I can click on a new word and follow it down a separate rabbit hole is priceless.
You can check out the details of Visual Thesaurus here:
Online – http://www.visualthesaurus.com/
Twitter – @VisualThesaurus
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/visualthesaurus
Nope. I wasn’t paid or perked for this write-up. I plunked down my own $19.95 to gain access to Visual Thesaurus. When I love a program, I simply want to share the love with others.