Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

My "Go to" Reference Books

I'm in full edit mode now, hammering and chiseling away at the first draft of The Nullification Engine (The Alchemancer, Book Two). As part of my first pass edit, I'm rewriting or removing anything that doesn't fit with the final narrative, cleaning up anything that was left in a messy state (whether intentional or not), substituting "better" words or descriptions where appropriate, and, last, cleaning up any questionable grammar and incorrect spelling.

All the fun stuff.

While on this journey, I'm finding myself with four essential reference books by my side at all times. These books, as shown above, are: The Emotion Thesaurus, The Synonym Finder, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the Flip Dictionary (which, unfortunately, has gone out-of-print). I've written about The Synonym Finder before (in fact, it's one of my all-time Top 10 viewed posts), but wanted to take a quick look at each of these books right here in this post.

Hopefully you'll find one or more of them useful as well.

The Emotion Thesaurus

The Emotion Thesaurus breaks down the myriad ways for a writer to convey emotion.

An example:


Definition: to lack confidence in or consider unlikely

Physical Signals: brows drawing close, face tightening; looking down or away; running hands through hair; tapping fingers (more omitted)

Mental Responses: Searching for ideas on how to circumvent the situation (more omitted)

Cues of Acute or Long-Term Doubt: Avoiding speaking or agreeing openly (more omitted)

You get the idea. There are about fifty or so emotions given similar treatment. I've found it a quick guide to find other ways to highlight a character's response to something as I tend to use the same set of emotions too often. This allows me to better match the emotional response of a particular character with their actual make-up, making each character just a bit more unique.

It's an Amazon Top Seller too, so someone else other than me must find it useful.

The Synonym Finder

The Synonym Finder is, at its simplest, a thesaurus. In my previous review, I had this to say:

The Synonym Finder reads like a dictionary, except instead of word definitions it's chock full of synonyms. To find a synonym, you simply flip open the book, find your keyword alphabetically, and you're presented with a listing of synonyms. Straightforward and simple.

I think that pretty much says it all. This is a great reference book to have at-hand.

The Chicago Manual of Style

Among U.S. book publishers, The Chicago Manual of Style is the most widely used guide to style, editing, and design. My own editor asked at the start of our business relationship if I was alright with him using it as his de facto reference guide. I said 'yes', but then realized I probably should get a copy for myself to use as my own reference. It's not something I refer to very often while working on a first draft, but it is something I intend to keep close as I'm working on subsequent revisions.

Flip Dictionary

Unfortunately, the Flip Dictionary has gone out of print. Bummer. You can still find used copies on Amazon and elsewhere, though. I frequent Half-Priced Books every once in a while, so that might be another option if you have one in your area.

The Flip Dictionary is the reverse of a dictionary. You think of a meaning, such as "the study of glands", and the Flip Dictionary provides the word (in this case, endocrinology). It's another handy tool to have in the tool-belt.

Online References, Part 2: Thesauri

There are a lot of online reference resources out there. In this short series, I'm going to highlight just some of them. Here are the primary types I'll take a look at:

  1. Dictionaries
  2. Thesauri (this post)
  3. Quotations
  4. Style & Grammar
  5. Word of the Day
  6. Fun With Words

Big Huge Thesaurus
Hey, they can call it whatever they want.

The Cook's Thesaurus
Yeah, you're seeing that right. The Cook's Thesaurus is a cooking encyclopedia that covers thousands of ingredients and kitchen tools.

You have to click on the 'Thesaurus' tab. I don't care for the extra step.

The Synonym Finder
The Synonym Finder reads like a dictionary, except instead of word definitions it's chock full of synonyms.
The thesaurus for thesaurus enthusiasts. Quickly becoming my new standard 'go to' synonym and antonym resource.
A standard resource for many. Affiliated with

Urban Thesaurus
Because an Urban Dictionary just isn't enough.

Visual Thesaurus
Makes finding synonyms fun!

Your Dictionary Thesaurus
It's the Your Dictionary… Thesaurus. Think of it as Your Thesaurus and everything will be ok.

Recommended Reference - The Synonym Finder

The Synonym Finder

I'm starting a new blogging series to focus on reference sources I find useful on a day-to-day basis as I'm writing, editing, and proofing. Think of it as a recommended reading list, though it may encompass other blogs that focus on the craft of writing or even web sites. Really anything of value to the mechanics, style, or general process of writing.

This, then, is Part 1, to focus on my 'go to' thesaurus of choice, The Synonym Finder, edited by J.I. Rodale. I've got a copy of Roget's International Thesaurus (Fifth Edition), but it became a secondary reference source not too long after I bought The Synonym Finder.

This begs the question: How is The Synonym Finder different from any other thesaurus? I'll use Roget's (Fifth Edition) since that's the other thesaurus I own as comparison.

The Synonym Finder reads like a dictionary, except instead of word definitions it's chock full of synonyms. To find a synonym, you simply flip open the book, find your keyword alphabetically, and you're presented with a listing of synonyms. Straightforward and simple.

Roget's, on the other hand, has an index at the back of the book. You start by looking up your keyword, which in turn either has a page number next to it or, alternatively, a short listing of words or phrases which might be synonyms or might simply be words you might be looking for. Each of those words or phrases has a page number next to it. Once you've decided on a word, you go that page number where you are presented with a listing of synonyms. If you're unsatisfied with the results or simply chose the wrong 'similar' word or phrase, then it's back to the index where you need to repeat the process.

To explain better, let's run through an example. This will also serve to demonstrate which reference book provides better results. This may be a wash, but let's give it a try.

I'll randomly flip open to the index of Roget's and select a word. I've got "noodle". Roget's quirky index shows:

n member 2.7
head 198.6
brain 918.6
v think over 930.13

Let's say I'm really looking for synonyms of the second entry. I'll go to 198.6 as it suggests. It shows:

198.6 head, headpiece, pate, poll, crown, scone, noggin, brow, ridge

Not bad. But I don't like that I had to flip to an index, figure out what word I really want, then I have to flip again to find the synonyms.

Let's see what The Synonym Finder has to say. I flip to "noodle" (it's easy since everything is alphabetical) and immediately see a block of entries--easily more than what Roget's has listed. We have:

head, skull, cranium, cerphalon, brainpan, poll, pate, sconce, mazard, costard, think tank, thinker, upstairs, upper story, belfry, noggin, dome, bean, nut, nob, crumpet, gourd, conk

The Synonym Finder comes up with 23 possible synonyms for "noodle". Roget's? 9. Seems as if, in this case anyway, The Synonym Finder wins by offering me more than twice the number of possible synonyms.

Granted, this was only one word, but there's a reason I keep The Synonym Finder nearby whenever I'm writing or editing. Nothing beats its ease-of-use and it gives me results fast.

No wonder The Synonym Finder is the first book I look to when I need a synonym.