Early Sunday morning, while working through edits to The Confessions of Adam, I came across a passage where one of the central characters uses the word ‘sewage.’

I stopped reading. The right word for the situation. The wrong word for the story. Too modern.

So began the search.

I didn’t want a reader pulled from the dream by the wrong word. 

With a dictionary in one hand and a thesaurus in the other, I went to work. I spent an hour reading and looking at synonyms, their definitions, their origins. Hundreds of words all revolving around refuse, waste, discharge, and other distasteful aspects of human leavings. 

It turns out that the word ‘sewage’ carries a lot of weight.

After finding my morning mood and stomach soured, I consulted a writerly friend. I texted him the challenge. Per his suggestion I went with the word ‘stagnant.’

And this is how it works. The word you’re looking for may not be an equivalent. It may be a change, a tweak, a subtle shift in tone, color, or perspective.

And this is the pursuit of story.