Using Word Storms to Plan Your Novel

If you are a writer, you love words. I know that I do. Word Storms are a writer’s way to play. They stir up creativity. They help you work through problems. They help you write your story.

Discovering Words

There are many places to search out words to play with. Here are some wordy places that every author needs to have at their fingertips.

  • Returns definitions from a wide range of dictionaries from different time periods.
    • Moby Thesaurus. An extensive and thought-provoking listing of synonyms.
    • Reverse Dictionary. Describe the meaning you are looking for, and it will suggest possible words.
    • Wiktionary. Detailed definitions, usage, pronunciation, etymology, and more.
    • Word Hippo. Returns synonyms and antonyms broken down by nuanced meaning and part of speech with example sentences, rhyming words, pronunciation, and the ability to translate the word into over one hundred languages.

Choosing Words

Having a rich vocabulary is one thing. But knowing how and when to use a certain word takes practice. Sometimes the simplest word works better for communicating an idea than one that few people know. Compare:  “She mixed the dye.” with “She lixiviated the dye.” Which is easier to understand?

Other times, an overused mundane word can be replaced with one that creates a much deeper meaning. Compare: “He stepped” with “He strode.” Strode tells us not only that the person took a step, but how. It also gives us more sense of the character. What type of person strides?

Combining Words

Words don’t exist by themselves. They work best when they are used in combination. Playing around with new combinations of words can add power to your thoughts.

Rhetorical devices have developed over time as ways to make combinations of words more powerful. Here is a brief list of ones to have fun playing with.

Onomatopoeia: Words that Are Sounds

English is full of words that sound like the real thing, e.g., animal noises such as oink, moo, and cluck; people noises such as grunt, shh, and ow; and noise sounds such as splash and crash.

Double-duty verbs incorporate the sound as well as the action, such as gushed, splashed, bubbled, pounded, banged, crunched, and drummed.

Simile and Metaphor: Making Comparisons

Similes and metaphors are used to add detail to a noun or action.

A simile compares two things using either the word like or as. For example, the sentence: “The boy ran faster than a scared rabbit.” tells how fast the boy ran.

A metaphor is a comparison of two things but without the like or as. Like similes, many metaphors are overused and cliché, but when creatively changed or closely aligned with the character or story theme, they can add amazing richness.

  • Flaming rage consumed her.
  • That guy is a snake.

Invented Word Combinations: Personification

If you cannot come up with a specific noun, invent something better. Attach a surprising adjective related to a human emotion to the ordinary noun or give human characteristics to an object.

  • Tired house
  • Sad road
  • Fury-filled clouds
  • Sunbeams pranced along the windowsill.

Titles, Epithets, and Meronomy

Giving characters an alternative title or epithet cannot only vary your prose, but also reveal more about a character. A humorous epithet lightens your prose. A threatening epithet adds darkness. Capitalize them to show they are being used as substitutes for a proper noun. Repeat them throughout the work.

These clever descriptors, shortened forms, and nicknames that reference persons, places, and things in your writing add freshness to your authorial voice.


  • Use the person’s title. Mister. Officer. Driver. Murder Suspect Unknown.
  • Call something by one of its attributes (Metonymy). Miss Red Coat. Wall Street Banker. Lady Pointy Toes.
  • Create a unique string of descriptors (Epithets). Torn-Leather-Jacket-Man. Top-of-the-Hill-Dweller.

How to Use Playing with Words to Help Plan Your Story

Gaining vocabulary and playing with the sound of words are great ways to help you think about the story you want to tell. Use them to:

Map Out Action

Start with a simple verb that encompasses the story plot, such as chase for a story about a man escaping from a murderer. Then brainstorm and research all the alternate words that mean chase. Put these in order from simplest to most powerful or in a way that reflects the story you are imagining to create an emotional action arc for your story.

  • Frighten
  • Follow
  • Track
  • Hunt
  • Stalk
  • Trail
  • Pursue
  • Chase
  • Hound
  • Hawk
  • Spur
  • Surround
  • Trap
  • Escape

More on using verbs for characterization.


Create the Setting and Mood

Collect sound words and brainstorm where and when those sounds might be heard in your story. Use personification, onomatopoeia, similes and metaphors to describe the setting. For example, a swamp might be a:

  • Pit of despair
  • Unhappy suck of mud
  • Like a half-digested meal left on your doorstep
  • A gushy mess of mud
  • A place of eeks and grrs

Invent Characters

Instead of thinking about your characters as John, Dick, and Sadie. Use:

  • Titles: Identify your characters by tall the different titles others would call them: the apartment superintendent, a one-time ER nurse, now a low-paid bank teller. Give the places in your story names that resonate with mood: Sunshine Resort, Crankforth Castle, Mishmasha Swamp
  • Metonymy: Miss Whirling Devil, Uncle Never There, Mrs. Muffin Eater, Flyfishing Maniac
  • Epithets: Brainstorm descriptive phrases to describe each character. Top-Hat, Worn-Shoes, Heart-on-Her-Bankbook

Create a list of these for every character in your story.

Write a Logline

The most important way playing with words helps the story writer is in coming up with that all important log line. Every story starts from a log line, and many experts recommend writing yours before writing a single word of your story.

A good log line provides a description of the protagonist and their goal, the setting where the story takes place, who the antagonist is, and the conflict between them.

Example: In a forgotten swamp, a man tries to escape the woman who has sworn to murder him.

Pretty dull right? But what if we use some of that word play.

Entangled in the gushy mud of Mishmasha Swamp, a fly-fishing maniac is stalked by murder-in-her-eyes, Miss Devilish, who believes he has betrayed her and her country.

Love the difference? Give word play a try.

Love the difference? Give Word Play a try and let me know what you discover!

Want to learn more about playing with words? Check out my alter-ego’s

Power Charge Your Language and Make Your Writing Sing

The only book about prose with a how-to-fix-your prose click on index.

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Or if you prefer sign up for a month-long, one-on-one Prose workshop with me.

7 thoughts on “Using Word Storms to Plan Your Novel

  1. Zara, really enjoyed your very informative blog. I found all of the information helpful and thought provoking. I use Word Hippo the most, but will check out the other sites you’ve mentioned. Thanks so much. Judy


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