My Word Processor’s Thesaurus Is My Writing Friend, Ally, Pal …

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Zoe has developed a guiding resource for beginning writers. Her method is designed for brainstorming, shaping, and revising an early draft of a manuscript. General and specific tips are offered for applying rules of writing to enhance one’s story for a workable second draft. By exploring the plot line of Love Comes Softly writers may examine their own work for stronger plot and characterization. Valuable tools are offered that enable the writer to develop a workable draft in 30 days! —Yvonne Lehman, award-winning, best-selling author of 48 novels

Learn more at the end of the post.


When I’m writing a novel or nonfiction, I click on words and press my shortcut keys to pop up the dictionary/thesaurus for that word. I perform this action several times in an hour and peruse all possible options, because only one or two substitutes for my word will work best.

If you haven’t already, I suggest you find the magic, multi-finger shortcut that summons your word processor’s dictionary/thesaurus quickly. If it’s easy to get to, you’re more likely to use the resource.

Reasons Why My Thesaurus Is My Friend

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  • In a paragraph, I don’t want to use the same word twice if possible. To the reader, this feels repetitive and colorless.
  • I want to choose the word that’s most correct for what I’m trying to convey.
  • I want to create vivid pictures in my reader’s imagination.


How I Use My Thesaurus to Discover the Best Word 

Let’s look at friend for an example. Here are some of the words listed in my thesaurus for friend. Test if they give you a better image than friend.


  • Companion Use for a secondary character who accompanies the protagonist often at events or on trips or use for a character’s spouse.

Example: Grady is a wealthy executive. 

“Chase, my friend, would you call my wife and tell her we needed to extend our trip?” Grady turned to the bellhop and slipped him a couple of bills. “That’s for my companion’s luggage as well. He’s in room forty-two.”

  • Confidant Try this word for characters so close they divulge their deepest secrets to each other.

Example: Kelly is a fifty-year-old divorcé. 

Kelly dabbed tears as she speed-dialed Linda. Linda answered on the second ring. “Oh, Linda, I need my confidant. Chet called off our date.”

  • Soul mate Employ this moniker for a man or a woman who is suited for the other.


image by jhonatan_Perez

Example: Riley is a soldier overseas who faithfully writes Julie. 

Julie held Riley’s letter to her bosom and performed a pirouette. With over three-hundred shared letters they’d become soul mates. 

  • Playmate Use this word when writing about children who play together on the school playground or at each other’s homes.

Example: Jill and Missy are in the same first grade class.

“Mrs. Crump, here’s my list of rules for Jill while I’m gone. She may have Missy come over for a playdate on Tuesday. She’s Jill’s playmate from school.”

  • Ally Good word for characters taking sides.

Example: At work, Amanda disagrees with her boss’s idea. 

Reed joined the discussion. “I think Amanda makes a valid point.” 

Amanda’s shoulders relaxed. Finally, she had an ally.

  • Pal This is a good word for hinting at the opposite of friend. 

Example: Male characters disagree. 

“You need glasses, pal. My serve was in.” 

  • Buddy If two are good friends, characters would use this more casual reference.

Example: Allie has fallen in love with Kyle, but he’s clueless. 

Allie returned Kyles’s wave. Would she ever be more than his fist-bumping buddy?

  • Sidekick Use for friends who aren’t equals, i.e. one is more of a supporter.

Example: Kara is director Gena’s assistant for a citywide event. 

“Kara is my sidekick. She’s as loyal to me as Sancho Panza was to Don Quixote.

What techniques do you rely on to add vivid words to your writing?

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I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author of the “Myrtle Clover Mysteries,” the “Southern Quilting Mysteries,” and the “Memphis Barbeque Mysteries,”  

Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor,

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. 

— Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Zoe’s writing blog has always intrigued me. As a high school English teacher, I can attest that her tips on good grammar and her hints for excellent sentence and paragraph structure are spot on. But as an author, I also appreciate her ever-present advice that excellent skills are not enough: you must tell a good story, too. This book clearly shows how to do it all.

—Tanya Hanson, “Writing the Trails to Tenderness,” author of Christmas Lights, Outlaw Heart, Hearts Crossing Ranch anthology, and coming in 2019, Tainted Lady, Heart of Hope, and Angel Heart.

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools.

–Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

10 Essentials I’d Pack for a Three-Week Writing Retreat

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Suppose you were offered a three-week stay at a comfortable hideaway to write a book. What ten things would you take? Here’s my list of essentials and why I’d need them.

1. Rules of engagement.

I’ll post these rules in a visible spot:

  1. Nix thoughts about problems or upcoming events. Bring a taser to punish infringements.
  2. Lock my cell in my car or rental. Use for emergencies only. Running out of underwear is not an emergency.
  3. Eat out only once a week. Fast food only.
  4. Forget social media exists. Check emails only twice a day.

2. My two laptops, portable printer, chargers, and a ream of paper.

  • Free-Photos

    If one laptop gets overheated, I can open my manuscript on the other from Dropbox.
  • I can look at research on one laptop while I type on the other.
  • Sometimes I need to have a printed version to highlight items or put check marks on. It’s a feel-good thing.

3. Hero’s Journey Outline and Description.

I use this tool to roughly plot my entire story quickly. I’ll write the story by the seat of my pants from the this outline.

4. Printed blank calendar.

  • I’ll print the month sheets for the time period covered in my novel.
  • Using my Hero’s Journey outline, I’ll jot story events in the calendar boxes in pencil. The calendar helps me avoid contradictory, awkward, or impossible timing of events.
  • I’ll tack the sheets to the wall to easily see the layout of events as I progress my story.

5. Scrivener.

  • Scrivener is my writing software. I use a fraction of its functions, but I like the ease of creating a manuscript.
  • The sidebar shows me all my named scenes so I can quickly find the scene I want to check or edit.
  • Getting word count for manuscript, chapters, or scenes is a snap. So is moving scenes from one chapter to another.
  • I can copy research into named folders under the research folder.

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6. Dictionary and Thesaurus.

  • I use my Mac dashboard, Microsoft Word, and Scrivener dictionaries and thesauruses. It seems like I check every other word’s definition and hunt constantly for synonyms.
  • I want my hard copies of The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (my editor uses this one) and some specialized dictionaries.


7. My writing grammar books and manuals.

I can never remember some grammar rules and style preferences, and new grammar questions arise.

8. Google and Research Notes.

I do look-ups on google for how, when, where, who, why, and what of things from pigs to names of tie knots.

9. My “Love” Playlist.

I need silence when I write. But I write romances, so sometimes I like to listen to my favorite love songs while I write those romantic scenes.

10. My editing checklist. 

I have a comprehensive checklist, which will be published in my upcoming book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. It’s designed so writers can customize the checklist to their problem areas and where they need reminders.

Bonus: A local pizza delivery telephone number.

I’m sure I’ll get tired of soups and snacks.

Ten essentials I’d take on a three-week writers retreat.  Click to tweet.

What would you take on your three-week writing retreat?

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Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond, Virginia. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, star football player and prom king Trigg Alderman, is in Twisty Creek visiting his grandmother who lives next door to Candace’s family home. He doesn’t recognize her at first and remembers little about her. He’s not alone. Candace’s rekindled attraction to Trigg adds unexpected complications to finding her passions. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!

How to Find the Amazing Word for That Thingy, Modifier, or Action

Flip Dictionary takes you from a “meaning” you are aware of to the “word” you need.” —Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.


image by ClkeFreeVectorImages
image by ClkerFreeVectorImages

In a scene, my character senses a reverent atmosphere, but I didn’t want to use atmosphere. I couldn’t summon the word I wanted. Microsoft Word’s thesaurus offered ambiance, feeling, mood, and others. I knew a better word was available but my brain couldn’t capture it.

I looked up atmosphere in Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at
Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at

Aura. That was it!

Under the word atmosphere, Kipfer listed 16 words for different kinds of atmosphere. For example: “atmosphere of special power or mystery: mystique.”

So, today I want to plug Flip Dictionary. Let’s look at some other examples. 

Example 1

How about courage. The thesaurus supplied: bravery, nerve, pluck, valor, daring, audacity, mettle, resolution, and guts.

As Flip Dictionary does, it named all of the above from a thesaurus and then added: backbone, boldness, braveness, chin up, élan, fearlessness, firmness, fortitude, gallantry, gameness, grit, gumption, hardihood, heart, the heart of a lion, heroism, prowess, soul, spine, spunk, and tenacity.

Wow. What a wealth of words to choose from. Some have a different meaning from, but are in the scope of, courage.

image by ClkerFreeVectorImages
image by ClkerFreeVectorImages

Suppose my character is a boy who grabs a runaway dog’s leash and persists in pulling the resistant canine away from a busy street. I might use a form of:        

  • Grit – “courage and resolve; strength of character”
  • Gumption – “shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness”
  • Heroism – “great bravery”
  • Spunk – “courage and determination”
  • Tenacity – “the quality or fact of being determined; determination”

(definitions from New Oxford American Dictionary)

I like spunk. I don’t think I’d use it for a man. Maybe for a grandmother or a young woman. If my story is folksy, I might employ gumption.

The point is Flip Dictionary gives me words that go beyond synonyms. I like that.

Example 2

What’s the bar thingy that holds flags so they hang across a porch?

I looked up flag, and beneath it I found:

image by jill111
image by jill111

Flag hung on crosspiece, not pole: gonfalon”

gonfalon: “a banner or pennant, especially one with streamers, hung from a crossbar” (New Oxford American Dictionary)

Gonfalon was also listed under banner in Flip Dictionary.

If you can look up a clue to the thingy escaping you, often you’ll find it in Flip Dictionary.

An amazing resource that gives me words that go beyond synonyms. Click to tweet.

If you use another resource or Flip Dictionary, would you tell us about how you use it?