This morning a college friend posted on Facebook that he had never seen The Princess Bride. Inconceivable, yes? It’s the only movie I’ve ever seen in a movie theater more than once, and the second time I went by myself. So I started streaming it on Netflix as I stared at this blank blog page, trying to figure out what to write today. I got to this exchange between Vizzini and Inigo, as the Man in Black is climbing the Cliffs of Insanity:

V: “He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!”
I: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

You can see the whole clip here, just because it’s awesome.

Anyway, it got me thinking. As writers, words are everything to us. Large and small, we agonize over every one we write. As an author of historical fiction, I not only have to agonize over every word and what it means, I need to think about whether the word actually existed in the time period of the book.  I keep a bunch of reference books on my desk and on my Kindle which help me find just the right word, and I have the OED, available online through my public library, bookmarked.


If there’s even the slightest question a word might not mean what I think it means, I look it up. If there’s the slightest question a word didn’t exist in the 19th century, I look it up. And if I have used ‘smile’ 100 times (yes, it’s possible), I look for other words to replace them. And my editor takes out 90% of my ‘thats.’

So, what about you? What are your go-to sources for finding just the right word? And how many times have you seen The Princess Bride? 🙂


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About Marin McGinnis

A lawyer in real life, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing Victorian era romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same great guy for over 20 years, and has one teen-aged son. They all live together in a drafty old house with their two standard poodles, Larry and Sneaky Pete. While her very first book will languish under the bed, the next book, Stirring Up the Viscount, won two contests in 2013 and was published by The Wild Rose Press in January 2015. Her next two books, Secret Promise and Tempting Mr. Jordan, are also available from Wild Rose Press. Marin currently serves as President of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Romance Writers of America and is hard at work on the next book. You can find her here, at, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

16 Responses to Inconceivable!

  1. Becky Lower says:

    I’m a long-time Princess Bride fan, and have lost track of the number of times I’ve watched it. Some of the dialogue is simply priceless! My name is Inigo Montoya. Love that line. And, like you, I obsess over whether the word was used in the time period. I just got caught on it a couple times in my most recent work. It’s a good thing editors don’t leave reviews!

    • It’s a very good thing indeed editors don’t leave reviews! A book is most definitely not perfect when it first gets into their hands. 😉 And I am delighted to know you are a TPB fan. It really is one of my favorite movies.

  2. Tena says:

    I”m afraid I’m one of those who has never seen the Prince Bride. I am going to check it out this weekend. Searching form the right word is The phrase Finder and Rogets 32 Century Thesaurus.

    • Oh, Tena, you must watch it! It’s wonderful. Phrase Finder is a great online resource–my only problem with it is usually doesn’t list the date of origin, but I always check it, just in case!

  3. Anni Fife says:

    Based on your passion for TPB, I feel like I should be in mourning—I’ve only seen it once!
    I am still a devoted Thesaurus user, digital version now. I spend more time editing out words, than looking for new ones. ‘Less is more’, is a mantra I whisper to myself a hundred times a day. And yes, right up to my final edit, I am still deleting ‘that’ and ‘had’!!

  4. Sandra Dailey says:

    The Princess Bride stays permanently on my Netflix list. I don’t have a clue how many times I’ve watched it.
    Thank goodness I write contemporaries. I can use the synonym feature on my Word program…and use it often.

  5. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched TPB, and I introduced my kids to it early, too. We love to quote it around the house.

    I recently printed out resources with different words for “look” and “walk.” Seems my characters do a lot of that.
    Lori Sizemore recently posted…Rules I Live By: The Third Child Has It BestMy Profile

  6. I adore The Princess Bride!! My brother is the one that introduced me to the movie and I spent 30 seconds rolling my eyes before falling madly in love with the story.

    I love my synonym finder. Best. Book. Ever. Outside of that, I hit up whichever online dictionary I think of first.

  7. Ilona Fridl says:

    I haven’t counted the number of times I saw Princess Bride. I loved that movie. What I do on language, is to read books that were written in the era of my novel. That’s pretty easy, because I write late 19th early 20th century. Great post!

  8. DeeDee Lane says:

    I am a one time only viewer of TPB but I definitely enjoyed it. I enjoyed seeing Stephen King’s writing book on your shelf because it is also a favorite of mine! Happy Writing Marin!

  9. Best movie of all time. I agree.

    I agonize over words all the time. I overuse some, and wrongly-use others. I’m fond of and, but also have hard copies. And I, too, have a link to the OED. 🙂 I have two other books I use too, one I can’t remember the title of (isn’t that awful, I look at it all the time!) but the second is the Grand Pajundrum. I always find great words in there.

  10. Amanda Uhl says:

    I love that movie! I’ve seen it many times over the years and its been fun to introduce my kids to it. I’m not much for looking up words — terrible to admit as a writer. I tend to reserve my research for the plot. I do have a list of words that I try to eliminate from my writing when I’m going through the editing process. I hate that part of it but it must be done.

  11. Joyce says:

    TPB is one of my top 10. My hubby and I still use “as you wish” we when want to be sugary without everyone knowing. And the name Dread Pirate Robert has become synonymous (got that in there) for a leader who is not the same person behind the scene. I just heard it on a TV show recently.

    But the thing about it that is so marvelous is that the language has risen above being a humble movie and into the lexicon of pop culture. Amazing considering that there are no “new” words, just the same words used differently. And isn’t that the goal of all romance writers? To take the same basic struggles and form them into something that seems new, memorable, and yes, inconceivable…

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