Yes, I just said that.
(Please don't leave.)
The question I've got today is this - when do you decide to dig into the literary china cabinet and break out "the good words?"
I've heard two sides to this story. There's one argument that says that using one precise word for what you mean can be so much more effective than three words that bring about almost the same idea.
1. Edward walked with slow, even steps toward Bella. She waited at the bar, sharpened stake in hand. He'd come home smelling like wolf for the last time.
2. Edward ambled toward Bella. She lingered at the bar, fondling a sharpened stake. He'd come home smelling like wolf for the last time.
Not necessarily the perfect example - but I think the word "ambled" in the second scenario adds a little something. There are associations with the word "ambled" that "walking with slow steps" doesn't really touch.
Now - the other side of the story is - pretentious. This is the thinking that if you don't "own" the word, don't use it. (And for heaven's sake don't just go through randomly swapping 50 cent words for the 3 dollar variety. You'll come off sounding faker than a ... yeah.
1. The killer drew near. His blade caught the moonlight, and in the yellow-white glare, Sarah saw madness.
2. The homicidal psychopath impended. His bodkin shimmered in the moonlight, and in the saffron luminescence, Sarah beheld dementia.
I'm being deliberately overwrought here, but you can see how easy it is to get carried away.
So - what I've come to is this - the thesaurus is definitely a tool for the editing room, and can certainly help tighten up some of those unwieldy sentences - and give you "ambled" or "sauntered" where you had a very matter-of-fact action.
I think you do need to somewhat "own" the words you use. The thesaurus should remind you of words you've already read before. You need to be able to look at that chunk of synonyms and know which one you mean by what you've written.
A little while ago, I mentioned that I'm working on editing a story where the ending took off on me, and I'm just about done the second write. The process is incredibly slow this time around, but part of that is that I find myself being so much more careful this time around. I really am trying to grow my craft with everything I write, and what I'm finding is that I've been writing on a sort of plateau, and to get to the next level, I've got to work a little harder than I'm used to. Growing pains, I guess. But I'm trying, which may also explain some of my navel gazing of late.
As always, you should let your story and characters be your guide. But it never hurts to pick up and play with some of the tools in your kit from time to time.
Back to the editing room* I go.
*By the way - if anyone's in the mood, and has the time to offer a word of advice on this beast, I'd be more than happy to share.