The Visual Thesaurus


As I continued my hunt for the perfect title, I paid a visit to my profile over at Red Room is a great place to connect with authors, and my blog appears on my profile page over there as well as here on my website. Several people on Red Room offered title ideas for “the book formerly known as After the Storm,” but what truly captivated me was one commenter’s suggestion that I check out

If you’ve done any writing, you may be familiar with word maps, in which you start with one word and branch out from there, brainstorming other words as you go. The virtual thesaurus operates on that principle, although it has other features as well. I spent the better part of the afternoon playing with it, and even though I still don’t have the title of my dreams, I’ve enjoyed exploring this new toy. (You can use it for free on a trial basis, but I immediately bought a subscription because I know it’s going to be one of my new best friends in the writing world.) 

I do have one concern, though. When I teach fiction workshops, I focus on helping writers use their subconscious  as they create their characters and stories. Everyone’s subconscious offer different and delicious experiences and ideas. So my only hesitation in using a tool like the virtual thesaurus is that it can suck that uniqueness out of a writer’s voice by taking away the thoughts and words and concepts that are uniquely yours. In one of my first word maps, which i created as I wrote my second novel, Lovers and Strangers, I started with a character’s name, Meg, in the center of the page. I simply wanted to get to know her character better. Then I set my mind free to surround her name with any other words than popped into my mind, uncensored. When you let ideas flow in this way, you’ll be surprised by what you come up with! Very quickly, the words branched out from her name until I discovered that she was afraid. . . hungry. . . desperate. . . sick. . . and finally diabetic! I’d had no idea. That word map gave me not only insight into her character, but an entire subplot as well. Without setting my subconscious free, I might have written a very different book.

All that is to say I don’t want to lose the brilliance of a “self-directed” word map by utilizing one generated by a computer, even if that computer-generated map has so far proven to be pretty phenomenal. I’m going to continue playing with the virtual thesaurus to see how it can enhance my usual word mapping process. In the meanwhile, I hope it comes up with a book title for me! 


  1. Julie on September 4, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Maybe a balance of both? Save the computer generated one for when you are truly stuck or simply brainstorming? (As in your title.) I’d think even the computer generated one probably guides your spontaneous, internal pictures more than you’d think. Just looking at the one you posted brought other words to my mind immediately that aren’t even on there.
    I think I’ve done this internally and didn’t even know it. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that in my manuscript, one of my characters is deaf, and I never set out with the intention of writing a deaf character. It’s more like he came to me that way and I couldn’t change it for anything, not even when I was stressing out about exactly how much I did NOT know about deafness. I was like a mom with a deaf child who had to learn everything from scratch. Anyway, it was kind of like you described–starting with a name, then branching out from there, which is pretty much what these word maps are.
    Cool! I’ll definitely be checking out the visual thesaurus site. There are a few search engines I found when I was getting my library science degree that even do that while you’re searching the internet. I’d forgotten about them. Just checked and one is still there. Check out
    You put a word in, then it creates that kind of visual map for searching further. Thanks for reminding me!

  2. Diane Chamberlain on September 4, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Oh my gosh, Julie, what a fabulous website! I’m going to play with it all evening, for sure.

  3. Julie on September 4, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    And now that I’m looking at visual thesaurus, I’m thinking it’s the coolest thing since sliced bread! Thank you so much for posting this! I love how it shows the parts of speech, too.

  4. brenda on September 4, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    My students might like this too. I am overwhelmed as usual-teaching high school and college. I did take only one college class-I travel about 30 miles…and two nights a week-too much…however, I may be teaching a college class at the high school too…oh well…
    The title-good luck, Diane…I’ll bet you have a really great one. I love going into stores and seeing the beautiful book, BEFORE THE STORM, on the shelves…

  5. Diane Chamberlain on September 4, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    Just testing! I have a new spam filter on the blog and want to be sure non-spam posts are getting through. Let me know if any of you have a problem, please!

  6. Gina on September 5, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    I’m going to test too Diane, since I was one of the ones who’s posts went missing. Testing, 1-2-3…LOL

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