Cool words DB–Scrivener or another app for this task?

I have always been a business and copy writer but for a long time have known that I wanted to play with fiction and I recently purchased Scrivener, just joined this forum––and this is my first post!

I haven’t quite figured everything out yet––I used Scrivener for a work project the other day and I swear I entered text in somewhere but for the life of me I cannot find where it is in that project???

Anyway, that isn’t my question. Over the past year I’ve built an informal cool words database which consists of descriptive, strong action, evoke emotion words that don’t necessarily come to mind when I’m writing––and examples of how different writers have used those words. I also have a separate one that is slightly different; it consists of interesting verbiage or ways to describe things such as light, sunset, eyes, etc. I use both of these when I’ve hammered out the event but need a much more descriptive way to explain it. Note that I don’t use someone else’s text in my writing, but rather I use it for my own inspiration.

I’ve pasted examples of each of these at the bottom of this post.

I feel pretty good about my ability to come up with a storyline, but I do not feel strong at writing really descriptive or moving prose at this time, which is why I started compiling my database as something to refer to. I’ve come across some really interesting ways to describe things as simple as eyes, sunsets, rain, etc. that I would have never thought about. My little database serves merely as my springboard for creativity.

So far I’ve tried using it in a little app called NoteLook, which doesn’t give me a lot of options in terms of organization or searching. I’ve also put part of it in Pages, which is only a linear organization, but I can search pretty easily in it.

Does anybody else do anything like this, or was this purely my own invention?

For this aspect of my writing, I don’t know if it makes sense to use Scrivener or an actual database program. After reading many posts in the forums, I took a look at a couple of the of the Devon Technologies apps, but I don’t know if that’s my solution––it doesn’t seem like it.

Does anybody have any ideas, either in terms of whether I could do something like this in Scrivener, and if not, which other program might work better? Or any other suggestions?

Many thanks!

Here are examples of each:

Cool words: astride, atop, profligate, tenuous, rancor, specter, reverie, moue, fecund, ire, pithy, salient, complicity, languor, scarce (they scarce saw us), wrench, anatomize, implore, languid, quickened, press (in a press of concertgoers), stultify, etc., etc., etc.

For the verbiage part. My best example is all things eyes. That is, ways that eyes are visually described when someone else is looking into them (physical properties such as glistening, sparkling, deep, obsidian, etc.), things that can be conveyed by a look such as tacit agreement, anger, confusion, states of dreaminess, etc. And in these lists, I put examples of these things whenever I run across them in my reading. Again, I use this merely to jumpstart my description of something, not to plagiarize. This is all very new to me and fiction is very different from my “normal” genre of writing.

Here’s part of my data on eyes:
–Liquid eyes that gazed at me so serenely and so long that, surely, I must have been forgotten
–The eyes must be seeing something other than me as I lay there on the floor dreaming; something other than the clumsy universe surrounding me.
–I allowed myself to forget how totally I had fallen in love with his iridescent eyes
–There was the faintest glimmer of the fire in her eyes, red warming the blackness there to the richer brown
–He nodded. And said nothing. But his large, dark eyes seemed entranced with me, with the emotion, the shock I didn’t try to conceal
–He drew himself up, his eyes on me
–I tried to take a step towards him, to make my eyes hard and unreadable, to feel my power emanating from them like two beams of light
–Slowly Melissa looked up, her full yellow hair falling into her eyes. There was fear in them.
–His gray eyes seemed to regard the stranger with wonder, and his lips straggled to form a word.
–Eyes were filling with tears
–Eyes burned with undisclosed rage
–But then he looked at me, and the tears spilled down his face
–His eyes moved gently to engage mine. But he said nothing
–The rain descended in shimmering needles into my eyes, eyes that squinted to see the dark outline of the carriage flicker against the sky

Moderators, please feel free to move this post if there is a more appropriate thread elsewhere.

On the missing text in Scrivener: if you can remember a string, enter that in the search box.
Probably the item is inside a folder, not in the sub-items that can appear in a folder.

You could probably use DevonNote to store these words and expressions.
It’s inexpensive and a fast searcher, plus it has some AI that will be helpful.

But the Apple Dictionary/Thesaurus is also a great way to generate ideas/words.

Samuel Johnson once said that he would offer this advice to a writer:

‘Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.’

I would offer similar advice to you (though others might well disagree): delete all of your “cool words” and try to forget them! Write with your own words, not with other people’s. It’s not a question of plagiarism, it’s a question of using language that is natural to you. If you don’t, it will come across as stilted and artificial.

Just my view (from someone who once taught English literature at university for about ten years – though I’m not sure what that qualifies me for).

Best of luck with it,

Edit: incidentally, not all the best writers are highly descriptive – read Jane Austen – very little detail about appearance, but a lot of subtlety in catching how people express themselves in words and behave to each other. Very psychologically profound.

Thanks for your very honest post Martin. And I absolutely understand the point that you’re making.

Last year when I was studying to take the GRE, I made a concerted effort to learn new words every day and (as often as I could) played with little writing exercises where I made may different types of sentences with those words. My logic was, of course, to increase my vocabulary knowledge, but also to improve my functional use of those words. Both helped on the exam, but the act of using the words in sentences helped to commit them to memory and to recall them when I was writing at some other time.

That is the spirit in which I came up with my “cool words” database. I am a personal trainer so I liken it to the desire to strengthen muscles in order to improve my overall functional strength and power. I like to play with the words that catch my eye in my reading, and it’s almost like my radar is tuned to notice them, in print, in conversation, on TV, what have you. So when I play with them they become familiar to me and in turn, when I write, newer words come to mind far more readily than they did before.

I’m not really writing anything right now that others will see, except that I’m playing with some story ideas in terms of fleshing out the plot and narrative to see what I like with the idea that later I want to use it to actually craft a fuller document.

Again, I absolutely get the point that you’re making and I appreciate the frankness with which you offered it. And I don’t know if others so anything similar to me with my databases, but it’s just something that came to me naturally and it makes sense to me in terms of how I use it. Maybe I’m going about this all wrong, but I’m just sort of being led in this direction so at the moment I’m just going with it.

Incidentally, I think I’ve settled on DEVONthink Pro for this task. The Pro version allows me to have more than one database and for search purposes I wouldn’t want my words database mixed in with my receipts, owner’s manuals, to-do lists, etc. I haven’t yet figured out how to embed search links as it seems silly to think of tagging for this purpose. Right now I’m assuming that I’ll just put general search words within the actual text, i.e. I have a list of different ways to “say” things in dialog to convey different feelings. So I might type in “say” or “speak” as a sort of embedded link to take me to things like “Insert statement here…,” he grimaced, hesitated, winced, hissed, retorted, gestured, nodded, hesitated, etc.

Again, any thoughts or feedback is greatly appreciated. And thanks again for your thoughts.

I’ve no idea what a GRE is, but I hope it went well.

In my view, any attempt to improve one’s knowledge should be applauded – I think Nelson Mandela said something to the effect that education is the great engine of personal development. He could also have said that it is the great engine of social development: anyway, I would certainly not knock it. After all, I’ve spent a lot of my life either teaching or trying to pass on ideas, knowledge, and so forth. So more power to you. And DTP is a great tool, I use it for my research. Just make sure you speak with your own voice, would be my advice. Language is very subtle, so be careful you don’t reduce it to “paint by numbers”. And incidentally, it’s an obvious thing to say, but I assume you have a good dictionary and thesaurus. One of my most important possessions is the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, in two large volumes. A whole world of etymology. And there is nothing like reading the truly great writers, in my view – Shakespeare, Defoe, Fielding, Austen, Dickens, Eliot, the Brontës, and so forth. Even in translation, Tolstoy is amazing – I wish I knew Russian to be able to read the original. I’ll stop now, before I start foaming at the mouth.

Best of luck,

PS: I used to thoroughly bore my students by often talking about the use of rhythm in writing. It’s a much neglected facet of composition. It’s not just the words that count, it’s how you string them together, as well.

I really will stop now, or I’ll have a seizure. I’m sure you’ll do very well, you seem to have a positive approach.

Thanks Martin,

Yes, lifelong learning, I have enough credits for several more degrees over and above the ones on my wall–but I still love it. And this new endeavor is thoroughly challenging, new, yet somehow familiar all at the same time. Many years after the fact, I wish that I’d focused more on literature and writing than I did.

Every point you make is a good one. I should have explained what I was doing a little better in my original post. I definitely agree with you about the classic authors––and I agree about Tolstoy, especially when reading his works after a thorough re-read of the history of that era. I am luck to have a Russian client with which I engage in all facets of discussion about Russian history and literature––all while I’m beating him up every week in the gym. It’s great fun.

As for dictionary/thesaurus, I have mainly used my app (which includes thesaurus) and a very hardbound dictionary that I’ve carried around for some twenty years. But I’ve been thinking of investing in a new one and I will take your recommendation to heart.

I like your point about rhythm and I think I have intuitively felt that in reading great writers and aspired to create it myself without actually realizing what it was. I’m glad you pointed that out.

Thanks for your encouragement,


Not long ago I bought a book on the history of Western music, and I had a lot of trouble reading it. Then I realised the author was Welsh, so I tried reading it in a Welsh accent, which significantly changes the rhythm, and it was a lot easier. So you never know …

Cheers, Martin.

I can empathise strongly with Martin’s comments about using language that is natural to you (I have marked enough undergraduate papers to ram that message home to the point it elicits tears. And not of joy). However, I also like the approach you described of using new words and phrases in your won writing to develop your “writing muscles” (nice analogy). What a great idea!

Finally, I’ll back 100% Martin’s comments about rhythm. Underrated and much neglected, I think it makes good prose.

Thank you! I sometimes thought I was the only person in the world who noticed it and cared about it! I could never understand how people could write while listening to music – I need to hear the rhythm of the words as I write, and I can’t do it with music in the background, no matter how faint. But it takes all sorts. I score quite high on introversion scales, so I don’t need much stimulation to overload me!

Cheers, Martin.

I’m with you, Martin. Having spent a lot of the last 11 years editing translations of commentaries for videos or news items from Chinese to English, one of the most important things to me has become “readability” in the sense of the text being smooth and rhythmic for reading aloud. I tell my students that, no matter what language they are writing in, whether English or Chinese, they should “write with their ears”.

Whether I achieve what you would consider good, rhythmic English, I wouldn’t like to say, but in general the stuff I have edited gets the seal of approval from native English speakers here. Many Chinese colleagues and others involved with English also comment that my texts “sound right”, even when they’re reading them silently off the page.

I have to admit that I used always to work to music if I wasn’t in an environment with others working round me … I find I need some sort of sound or movement to drown out all the other thoughts going on in my head. I do it less now, but I do know that sitting alone in my silent flat is not conducive to concentration.


I’m grateful that an English teacher early in my school career alerted me to the rhythm of words and sentences in prose. I remember the example he used: “And every night they pitched their tents a day’s march nearer home” (Churchill I think). Not that I can necessarily practise what he preached, but it’s useful to know about it in order to try to understand what a writer is attempting or failing to do.

I believe, incidentally, that it’s also desirable to try to create a rhythm at paragraph and chapter level in terms of events or ideas in factual or non-factual writing. Or preserve it if, as sometimes happens, you find you’ve created it unconsciously. But not to make it too predictable.

You are probably more toward the extroverted end of the scale than I am. There is evidence to show that extroverts work better in an environment where there is some noise than in quiet environments. The metaphor I use is the one of “tick-over” in a car engine. Extroverts have a slower tick-over, and need more accelerator to get them moving. Introverts, by contrast, have an engine that is racing slightly, even at idle, and you only need to let in the clutch to pull away. The problem is that introverts “overheat” more quickly – too much accelerator and they use up all their fuel and then blow up. They then have to lie down in a dark room for a while. It seems that the cerebral cortex has different natural levels of “tick-over” in different individuals. A psychological test like a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator will show roughly where you fall on the continuum.

Hugh – the Churchill example is a nice one. My favourite example of the power of rhythm is the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice. It sounds like a very serious piece of writing until you get to the last few words, where she turns everything on its head. I don’t think anyone ever wrote anything serious with a rhythm that goes “tum-titty-tum-titty-tum”. (Cue deluge of counter-examples.)

Always a pleasure to hear your views (especially when they agree with mine :mrgreen: ).


Thanks for your comment nom. And Hugh, I like the Churchill quote. And Martin, now I’m going to have to find Pride and Prejudice . . . .

Speaking of MB Martin, we sound similar in some ways. I’m in the INFP camp if memory serves.

I thought somebody posted something about the Mac dictionary and thesaurus, but now that I’m looking for it, I can’t find it. Is this built into the OS? ––I’m new back to the Mac world and haven’t relearned everything that I have available to me.

Martin – thanks for that.

I thought it was just my own weird constitution… I’m an introvert. I know that if I become too enthusiastic and focus too hard, I pay for it within hours with a raging migraine. I’ve learned to gentle myself with a “relax, relax” mantra.

It’s nice to know that it’s just the way I’m made, not a defect, so to speak. :slight_smile:

GeekyGirl - The dictionary* is built-in to OS X. You can access it numerous ways:

  • Open the Dictionary application from the Application folder
  • Open the Dictionary application using Spotlight (search for “Dictionary”)
  • Selecting dictionary from the Edit menu
  • Right mouse click on the word you want to look-up, then choose Look up in dictionary (in Scrivener it is in under “writing tools” when you right-click)
  • Keyboard shortcut of Ctrl-Cmd-D in Mac native applications

With the keyboard shortcut (my preferred method), you can choose whether a pop-up panel appears or the entire Dictionary app opens, and also whether the Thesaurus** or Dictionary are active first. These can be selected in the preferences of the Dictionary app.

[size=85]*New Oxford American Dictionary 2nd edition © 2005
** Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus 2nd edition © 2008 [/size]

Hmm … I think most people would say I’m rather more of an introvert. I can put on a good speaking performance — I think of lecturing as a (minor) performance art, in which I apparently manage to step out of my normal self, though I’m really turned inwards on my thinking and what I want to say and lose the sense of the audience — but I really only interact with others when I’m with only one or two friends. I sometimes think I am like Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” — my favourite classic novel by far, by the way, only rivalled overall by LoTR! — “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation …” Strikes home, that.

As for me, I have often thought that in reality I should be classified as borderline Asperger’s, but that’s just my fancy, I guess. I have had to do a Myers-Briggs test in the past, while I was at Westminster, but can no longer remember the outcome, though I think I was quite surprised at the time.


Been thinking about rhythm again …

After my 3 hours of lecture this morning, in 100 degree heat with only fans and no air-conditioning, I found myself in the company of a Chinese colleague who is almost monomanic in terms of thrusting his writings on others, particularly his attempts at writing poetry in English, and talking about nothing else, for the whole of lunch and the journey back to the main campus.

He insisted on reading me some of his latest creations. The problem is that Chinese is very much a syllable-timed language — in a Chinese song, for instance, any syllable can be lengthened over any number of notes, no matter how significant or otherwise it is semantically or structurally, and Chinese poetry is intoned, chanted, with each syllable being given equal weight — whereas English is stress-timed. This means that Chinese speakers generally have a tin ear when it comes to the rhythm of English.

It made me think of what, to me, is the greatest example of rhythmic prose writing in English, “Meditation 17”, I think it is, by John Donne — the one where “No man is an island …” comes from. I’m sure the other meditations are as good; it’s just that that is the only one I have read in its entirety on a number of occasions. And I’m happy to stand corrected that there is even greater writing from that point of view, but I don’t know of any. I suggested he should read that and try to learn from it, though I fear that in reading it, he will do so in syllable timing and not benefit that much.

But I offer it to you as my top example of beautiful rhythmic writing.