Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Seeing Green

With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, are you seeing Irish green? How about spring green, avocado or jade? Kelly, chartreuse or lime? Acid, celery or pond? How many substitutes for the word “green” can you make? I've got a list of 72!

Readers like to second-guess what’s coming next. The best writers throw surprises,don't they? It is the secret to what keeps us turning pages. It is our job to learn how they accomplish this feat. The best way I’ve found is to push past the first, second and third idea that comes to mind. Instead of using the word "green" for example, is there another word that fit the setting more precisely? One that will more completely capture the tone of your scene? Pond green might convey a stillness, or gloominess, to a "green" scene, whereas jade implies mystery. Lime adds zest!

If a description, action, characteristic, or mystery-solving plot point shows up high on your mental list, chances are good it will occur to your readers in a heartbeat, too. As a writer, we don't want to be predictable. Push to see what creative idea lurks brilliantly further down your list. While I agree with writing "How-to" books that discourage using adjectives and adverbs, writers can evoke memorable descriptions with an occasional powerful choice, as in "After raining all day, the summer-sweet lawn beckoned to the golfer who jumped from his armchair without further argument."

Beyond the Thesaurus

Scour bookstores for unique "wordy" reference books. Beyond the common thesaurus, there are many books crammed-full with words and ideas perfect for expanding our creative diction. A book of police terms sets the scene for crime writers, while a cookbook of old country recipes offers authentic language to write a story set in a one-room cabin.

While munching Irish soda bread or hot cross buns this weekend, challenge yourself to create banquet-worthy words for your next language feast!


  1. How about verdant? Sounds like a lush, green lawn that children would love to play on for a lovely afternoon.

    I love to read your blogs, Vivian. They alwys give me food for thought.

  2. I can't take credit for this post or most of the articles on the newsletter. We have some good contributors. Glad you like what we offer.

  3. Suzy, thank you for this post! 72 different words for green? Who knew? Thank you for inspiring us all to dig deeper as writers.

  4. What a fun post. And, informative. I would have never imagined 72 'green' variations.

    1. Thanks, Karen! I found the list of 72 words for "green" in one of my favorite reference books, called a "Flip Dictionary" by Barbara A. Kipfer. It's a thesaurus that really knows how to sing -- listing words by topic, it helps you find the word you're thinking of but can't remember! For example, the right type of hat for the character in a historical novel, or if you need a musical term that means "soft" or term of psychology. It's really amazing!

  5. Fun, inspiring and informative. I really enjoyed this post. My writing will be colored more brilliantly thanks to your ideas.