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Storyteller's Thesaurus $24.99 $20.00
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/09/2014 23:19:16

This book is not exactly a "thesaurus," although it resembles one since it presents lists of related words. In a typical thesaurus, you look up a word and get a list of its synonyms. For example, if I look up "musical" in the thesaurus installed on my computer, I get "tuneful, melodic, melodious, harmonious," and other things like that. Not so for the Storyteller's Thesaurus, which instead offers lists of words that belong together in a meaningful category. Look up "Musical" in the Storyteller's Thesaurus, and you'll find it under "Occupations" in the "Character Building" chapter. The list includes "bassist," "cellist," "flutist," "organist," and so forth, which obviously are not synonyms but are all examples of specific musical occupations.

Understanding the difference between the Storyteller's Thesaurus and an ordinary thesaurus is critical for using the book responsibly. The authors explain in the introduction that the book is intended to help writers avoid clichés, overcome writer's block, and defeat other such impediments to writing. The Storyteller's Thesaurus helps to spark your imagination when you're coming up empty. Reading the introductory chapter and taking its advice—especially its advice on research—is absolutely crucial, lest you end up thinking that a hippocampus is the same thing as a hypothalamus. Make sure you have, at the very least, a good dictionary handy as a companion volume.

The book is huge. It has 141 pages of content plus a alphabetical index that runs for 401 pages. No, really—the index is 401 pages long. But it’s an amazingly useful resource for those times when you can't remember whether "Cape Cod" is an architectural style or a component of Aquaman's uniform.

Production values could have stood greater attention. The occasional formatting inconsistencies usually don't affect the book's usefulness, but they can be a little confusing. For example, in the list of phobias, the first six phobia names are set in a serif tytpeface, and the rest in a sans serif face. Also, that two-column list spans three pages—with the first column running all the way down to the third page, then wrapping back to the first page to start the second column, which is a bizarre way to format columnar text over multiple pages.

The PDF is thoroughly and helpfully bookmarked, but the capitalization is inconsistent in the bookmarks, which is both ugly to the eye and confusing as one tries to sort out whether that's just a mistake or whether there's semantic value to the (lack of) capitalization. Some of the bookmarks point to the header text, while other bookmarks are duplicated various places in the outline—that is, the same text but leading to different pages. The bookmarks almost seem to have been auto-generated by software rather than by a human being.

There are some errors or oddities in the book, too. For example, the city of Ur is listed under "Sites Lost or Unproven to Exist," which would surprise Sir Leonard Woolley, who famously excavated the city. In the same list, "Ghenna" appears to be a misspelling for "Gehenna" (which is also a known place, the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, although it has been mythicized in popular imagination). The "Books of the Bible" list fails to distinguish between Jewish Bibles and Christian Bibles, and between Protestant Bibles and Roman Catholic Bibles. All of this underscores the importance of following the introduction's advice about research.

Appendix A's list of commonly confused words is well-intentioned and very welcome, but too short, and its selectivity might leave one scratching one's head. For example, the list includes "your/you're," "their/there/they're," and "to/too/two," but not "its/it's." Appendix B's list of proverbs is fun to browse, but again is formatted in two parallel columns that don’t wrap until the fifth page.

I recommend taking a good look at the "full preview" before buying this volume. That will help you make a good decision about whether the book is for you. If you follow the advice in the introduction about how to use the book, you should find that the Storyteller's Thesaurus sparks many useful ideas. If you ignore that advice and use the book ham-fistedly, you'll end up embarrassing yourself.



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