Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.
The Problem With Word Repetition
In writing, it is so easy to use the same word over and over again. We get comfortable with it. After all, if the word fits, we use it. By itself, there is nothing wrong with the words being used often. But think about it: Do you really want to read the same word over and over again on the pages? For example, there is nothing wrong with the word "smile," but seeing “smile” or “smiled” over and over again can turn a reader off. It gets too repetitive. So what do you do?
What Other Words Can You Use?
But what if you really want to show the character smiling? You want to use that word, but too much can be a turn off. All the characters smiling over and over can get a bit creepy. You can use other words to get the message across without sounding like a broken record or have the reader feel like they are in a horror story. You can still get the message across. Saying the same thing but using different words actually makes the story stronger and more alive.
He smiled at her.
You read this sentence, and you see the man smiling at someone. But what kind of smile? Just a smile? What is behind the smile? A different word saying the same thing can change this whole picture. The smile can be romantic, gentle, evil, or grandfatherly pleasant.
Right now you probably can’t think of any other words. You want to say he was smiling. But there are several words you can use instead of smile: beam, grin, simper, smirk, break into a smile, crack a smile.
He beamed at her.
His smile is now brighter and more joyful. It is not just a smile. He is radiant. He is shining for the world to see. This word is for the scene where there is more than just a little smile needed here. See how the scene can change with this one-word change? We see the character in a whole different light with just one word changed that means the same. His emotions are coming out in the smile.
He grinned at her.
This is still more than just ‘smile’. This smile now is maybe a little mischievous. Maybe he is keeping a secret. Something is up all because of one word.
He smirked at her.
A smile? Technically, yes. But . . . this smile has more to it. It has evil behind it. It has dark intentions. This one change in the word has created a dark and dangerous scene. The character is not acting with good intentions. Instead of saying he smiled at her with malicious intent, you say he smirked at her. The message behind the smile becomes obvious with fewer words.
See how I’ve basically said the same thing, yet the one word I changed using a thesaurus has created an entirely new scene? Even the reactions between the characters is different. The entire atmosphere of the scene changes from example to example. My story is now richer.
Using a Thesaurus for Writing
A thesaurus is a wonderful tool. Too many people aren't familiar with it and how it works. They see it like a dictionary, but it is so much more. A thesaurus is a handy way to find the right word when it just doesn't come to you. We want to use a different word than smile in this example. As we are writing or editing, we can't seem to think of many except maybe grin. That might not fit our scene. Our brain is not grasping at the word you know is right there out of reach. That is where the thesaurus comes into play.
By using a thesaurus, you see a whole list of words that are similar to smile. Keep in mind that these words are not always direct replacements for the word you are working with. Not all the words listed in a thesaurus will fit certain sentence structures or scenes. They might not convey exactly what you mean. Try the choices given to you and see which ones fits your needs. You might even have to look up different words and see where the trail leads you. If the list under smile doesn't appeal to you, see what choices you have for grin. Explore and see what new ways to express yourself you can find.