Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Word clusters

I've been reading Les Edgerton's book Finding Your Voice: How to put Personality in your Writing. And I just couldn't resist sharing a little snippet from this great book.

Finding the right word - your first tool shouldn't be the thesaurus. To keep your voice authentic, you have to choose words that are organic to you and natural to the context in which they are used. You don't want a word that draws attention to itself. One way of finding the right word is clustering.

Write the word that needs replaced in the center of a blank sheet of paper. Draw a short, straight line out from the word, and quickly jot down the next word that pops into your mind. Do the same with that word. Do this for at least sever to eight words, then sit back and look at what you have. Oftentimes, the word you need emerges.
So I gave it a try with a heavily cliche'd sentence: 'She batted her eyelashes at him." The offensive word: batted.

Batted - fluttered - flitted - fanned - bowed - dipped - ducked - deepened - flared

Kind a fun seeing where each word would take me next. Obviously, not all of them would work. But it's a start.

I think I'd pick "She fanned her eyes lashes at him."

What word(s) would you add to this cluster?


  1. This is a really cool process, better than a thesaurus anyways because things should be organic. I think I'll keep this in mind next time I'm looking for a word.

  2. That's a brilliant tip. I do tend to reach for my thesaurus too often, but I'm going to try word clustering next time I'm stuck.

    Sorry I can't add to your word cluster right now as I have to go to work in half an hour, but I think 'fanned' is great!

  3. Totally agree that we shouldn't go right to the thesaurus.

    Just wanted to let you know that I gave you an award on my blog.

  4. What a great idea - thank you!

  5. I'm so guilty of the thesaurus thing (thesaurus.com is on my favorites bar)...shame on me :)

    Next time I need a word, I'll definitely try this!

  6. That IS a great tip. I do the thesaurus thing, but usually it's because I can't remember the word I want. It's like I can feel the word, but it just won't come. Isn't that horrible? I'm losing my mind! Maybe this exercise would help extract it. :)

  7. I remember doing clustering in school. It works really well! Thanks for sharing. :)

  8. Don't know where my synonyms come from from when I'm writing, but this is a good point to consider, especially when revising. You know, the flat, generic verbs and cliches thing. While I have a thesaurus close by, I don't seem to use it much.

  9. Great post, my friend MARGO! haha.

    What about simply: "She fanned her lashes at him."

    I love the visual. And I love the cluster concept. Thanks!

  10. Great idea! I'm going to try this.

  11. Excellent tip. I pictured "fanned her eyelashes" as huge, heavy false lashes :)

  12. Nice idea, though honestly I still use the thesaurus quite often. I just have a tendency to write that same word, but if I force myself to stop and go to the thesaurus it will jog my memory. Because I always have that "tip of tongue" thing going on. I just need that push and then it jostles my brain enough to work.

  13. WONDERFUL! This is just the sort of advice I needed right now with my rewrites. Thanks, Margo!

    In other news, you have won Starcrossed! Congrats. :o) Please send me your snail mail address and I'll get the book out to you. Yay!

  14. Kathy, "flashed" is a great addition. And Lisa, by all means I think the thesaurus is a useful tool. Wonderful for jogging the memory, and discovering new words. I'm always excited to discover new tools like this one to add to my arsenal.

    Thank you everyone for your comments (and Jackee, for the good news!)

  15. Great idea. My favorite Thesaurus is the Roget's International Thesarus. It's nothing like your typical one. :D

  16. Les is an amazingly generous writer and author, and hard-working, as well. His blog is a great one to add to your reader.




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