Thesaurus Alternatives

by Intermittent Rain ~ July 23rd, 2021

There a group of sites that I frequently use as thesaurus alternatives. They’re all created by the same person and use the same broad structure.

They all take a word or a group of words and search databases for the best matches. Think about how this differs from an online thesaurus. A thesaurus has predetermined links between words that have a strong, medium, or weak similarity to it. People have determined these links and their rankings.

Instead, these sites use algorithms to pull their results from actual usage.

The results are sometimes standard thesaurus answers and sometimes they are wrong and sometimes they are opposites rather than synonyms, but sometimes the wrong results are just weird enough to make you think about what you’re really trying to say.

  • Related Words is like the standard thesaurus. Enter a word and it will find alternatives, or, it may find opposites since the antonym is related to the original.
  • Describing Words is one that is really useful. For Related Words the algorithm has to figure out whether the author meant two words to be connected. Finding describing words is simpler; it searches using the word that you enter and finds adjectives and describing words that authors have used in connection with the word you entered. Use it to help you describe a nose, or use it to build a side character that you haven’t fully defined yet. A “girl” could be “grubby teen-age” or “lovely blind” or “silent, unformed”.
  • Reverse Dictionary is useful when you have the definition of a word but can’t come up with the word itself. Google might help, but this site is designed to do this, plus, it will come up with some weird alternatives that might get your mind expanding on things too.
  • Urban Thesaurus is, I think, the most recent of these. If you’ve ever used the Urban Dictionary for definitions of terms that you heard on television or on the bus and wished there was a thesaurus for them, this site will help. Where else can you search “girl” and find “sista” or “priss”?

These don’t necessarily replace standard thesauruses  but it’s good to have them bookmarked and check out their results. You’ll find less clichés and more interesting results.

Ten Sentence Prompt

by Intermittent Rain ~ June 29th, 2021

This is one of my favorite structures for re-usable prompts. It’s not as easy as some prompts are to get started and can be thorny to work through but it generates material that has potential more often than any other reusable prompt or prompt structure I have tried.

 

(https://writeanything.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/vignette-a-writing-exercise/)

 

First, you need two estranged family members.

Then, write ten sentences:

  1. Describe the weather
  2. Describe a sound
  3. Describe an object
  4. Update the weather from 1)
  5. Describe a piece of clothing or an accessory
  6. Update the sound from 2)
  7. Using the object from 3), write about the mood
  8. Write about an action or movement using the clothing from 5)
  9. Write about a physical trait of one of the characters
  10. Write a single line of dialog.

By the time I get to line 10) I very often find that I have a situation that is fruiting with all kinds of potential. The tension, the prickliness of the air is alive.

As a bonus, this prompt often gives me characters types and topics that I have never worked with before. Now, at this moment I have only been using this off and on for about half a year so it is possible that I will be less surprised the more I use this. And, it’s not that these characters or topics are hugely original, it’s just that they are out of the range of my own writing to date.

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After experimenting with the above, I came up with expansions.

First,

  • the characters needn’t be family members, they need only some connection and/or some history, as well as some distance or tension between them.

Then,

  • weather can be substituted with setting or surroundings in general, and
  • sound can be replace with any sense:  smell, touch, taste

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One last thought: stories that germinated from prompts and grew into complete stories have required extensive reworking of the material.

For one thing, the forced structures are often not the best sequence for the reader. I break down the material and resequence for clarity.

And, often some of the opening (forced) writing is not necessary for the ultimate story. A prompt using specific words may not need those words once the story is going, or in the case of this prompt, not all the description is needed once I figure out what the story is about.

Prompts are there to help generate stories. Once started, the prompts themselves can be changed or even removed, unless the prompt is required for a competition.

Review: The Captives

by Intermittent Rain ~ February 1st, 2021

I had hopes for The Captives, by Debra Jo Immergut. Somewhere I read that it was quality prose in a thriller genre. Turns out the prose is okay, nothing spectacular (why use question marks in dialog for one character and not for the reply which is also a question?) and the story? Disappointing.

It opens with promise; setting us in the grown up view of a high school crush and after a bit of foreshadowing in first person, goes to the crush’s POV in third person. It continues to alternate each chapter, which isn’t a problem, but within those jumps back and forth we constantly flip into backstory from all manner of points in time and with a slew of characters, most of which appear in the current timeline. A barrage of short vignettes mixed with short snippets of the current timeline designed to give the reader needed backstory to understand the two characters’ history but so short and so frequent that, were I wanting to seem mean I might warn the reader of potential whiplash.

The jumping back and forth contribute to this reader’s inability to believe much of the backstory as consistent with the current versions of the characters. Rather than an exploration of the characters’ history these backstories feel like justifications that were concocted later, in the same manner that a crime writer might concoct character history to justify the monster that the perpetrator became. Or maybe it’s the vignettes’ brevity and frequency that makes them seem tacked on.

I suppose my credibility when it comes to criticizing the ending is limited since I only skimmed the last half of the book to see what happens but the ending didn’t make much psychological sense to me.