I have found a few resources and techniques that might be able to help.
The first is a color thesauruses by Ingrid Sundberg. She has done an amazing job of creating a colorful index of word choices to help describe colors. Here is just a brief example:
Never again will you describe the curtains as yellow when they may be more butter-like.
K.M. Weiland offers five ways to find the right word without using a thesauruses. Here is just one suggestion:
For simplicity, focus on marking words that you use too often, that weigh down your sentence, or that just feel awkward.
How can you identify these phrases?
Read your draft out loud. This helps you hear the inconsistencies rather than just seeing them.
Look specifically for weak phrases you suspect you’re using, such as stuff, things, got, suddenly, it, etc.
Use CTRL+F in your document to see how often you use specific words, and consider highlighting a few for modification.
It was through this process that I discovered I have a tendency to start sentences with the word “so.” The other word I’m guilty of using at the beginning of a sentence is “with.” Often times it isn’t find the right word to use, but rather discovering the wrong word to stop using.
You can try the Joey Tribbiani method of using the Word Thesaurus tool.
I don’t recommend using this tool for every word, but you can highlight a single word and then click on Review and then Thesaurus to see what other word choices might be available.
However my favorite Thesaurus is the book entitled the Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale. It is a great tool designed for writers that provides interesting and unusual word choices.
Don’t take my word for it. Here is one reader’s review, in part that will help you see the value of this resource:
“The Synonym Finder” is a thesaurus in dictionary form. There are no word definitions or pronunciation guides. Words are listed alphabetically, as they would be in a dictionary, and an exhaustive list of synonyms is given for each definition of every word. Clarifications such as “informal”, “slang”, “archaic”, etc. are provided where appropriate. There are 1.5 million words in “The Synonym Finder”, including variations on the same root word.
That’s more than 4 times the number of words in “Roget’s International Thesaurus”. If you simply want to find synonyms, this is the book for you. It isn’t as versatile as a thesaurus that is organized by subject, but it’s more to the point and easier to use if you are simply looking for word alternatives.”
Finally, a great way to examine your writing for word choices is to read your work out loud. It is often through this exercise that we find places that require additional work:
- Word choice
- Further explanation
- Clumsy passages
- Over use of certain phrases
- Tangents that don’t add to the story
I am reminded of a requirement my math teacher had for our homework: “Always label your work.” By that she meant that I needed to fully describe what the numbers represented. The same is true in our writing.
As you read your work aloud you may encounter sentences like this:
“She picked it up and examined it thoroughly before throwing it across the room.”
The reader may be able to understand what “it” is from context clues, but why make the reader work when you can help paint a picture with your words.
“She picked up the blood-soaked hammer and examined it thoroughly before throwing it across the room.”
Bottom Line: Finding the right words are what help take your reader out of their existence and put them into your story; they’ll hang on every nuance, cling to each scene, and struggle to put down the book until the very last syllable has been absorbed.