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Monday, January 26, 2015

Week 4 Collect Good Words

Collect Good Words
by Tamara

Can I say how happy I am to get to post about Week 4? 
Or should I say giddy? 
What about honored or privileged? What if instead of grateful, I said I felt gratified?

See what a difference a word makes? 

Some women collect shoes, purses, lipsticks. Me? I have words stashed in all sorts of places. If I glance directly to my left there are fifteen sticky note cards on my wall with--you guessed it--words and their definitions.
Like the word polemic: a noun meaning 'passionate argument, strongly worded, often controversial against someone or something.' Think about it, have you ever been swayed by a passionate argument that was weakly worded?
Under my desk (for the moment) is a binder with more words and their definitions. Yes, I've heard of dictionaries and I own a few, but this binder is where I put words I find in the books I read. If I come across a word I haven't seen before I look it up, print it out and voila--it goes in the binder. 
Latest entry: caterwaul. A verb meaning to utter long wailing cries, as cats in rutting time. From the book "Handling the Truth" by Beth Kephart. Found in the sentence,"If you want to write memoir, you need to set caterwauling narcissism to the side." (See, I knew I had some narcissism, but now I know what to call the sound it makes when it's trying to get all the attention.)
We need good words, strong words, words that convey our meaning efficiently, precisely. 

And how will we acquire these words?

Mr. Wilbers gives six ideas on how to do this. I'll mention two.

As described in the aforementioned example, reading is a great way to find new and useful words. Of course, if you come across a word you don't know, you will need to look it up and devise a way to remember it. Mr. Wilbers says there are '500,000 words available to us in the English language' and the average vocabulary of the non-reader is about '10,000 to 20,000' while the vocabulary of the reader can boast '20,000 to 40,000.' 1

Other good instructions he gives on this is how to move words from your comprehensive vocabulary to your expressive vocabulary. "...[Y]ou need to know three things about [the word]: how to define, pronounce, and spell it." 2

So say the new word out loud, listen to it being said, write it down with the definition in a book, on a card, anywhere. 

One of the exercises for the week includes a progressive vocabulary self-test to determine if you have a limited or expansive vocabulary. Well, having prided myself all these years on being a word collector, I had a little too much, shall we say, aplomb. As I worked my way through the sentences, I discovered words I'd seen before, but couldn't easily recall to use in the exercise. 
Time to step up my word collecting and usage. 
Perhaps by not being so complacent.

1. Mastering the Craft of Writing, page 20
2. Mastering the Craft of Writing, page 21

Leave a comment with a new word you found this week from your reading or elsewhere.

Or share a word collecting system that has worked for you.

PEGGY: I love words too. I have a 3x5 spiral bound notebook where I keep words I hear or read that I don't know. I find that if I can find ways to use the words, it helps me remember them. Some of my words: expurgate (to amend by removing words that are deemed objectionable); specious (superficially plausible but actually wrong); obliquity (intellectual deviousness, immorality; degree of incline; deliberate evasiveness in speech or writing; obscure statement).

Monday, January 19, 2015

Week 3 Appeal to the Senses

It's in the details!
by Valerie

As I write this post, sunlight is peeking through the blinds, the scent of morning rain is in the air, the backyard rooster is crowing way past sunrise, the rich creaminess of hot chocolate warms me to the core, and our cat Ollie, in all his winter-coat furriness, is rubbing up against my feet. You guessed it. The lesson this week is about adding sensory details to our writing.

I don't need a sixth sense to tell me (and neither do you) that my sensory examples are not great ones, but they do illustrate the five basic senses we should be appealing to in our writing. If my main character is going to drink a hot chocolate, for example--and why wouldn't she, hot chocolate is delicious--then I want my reader to drink along with her.  

The purpose is to, as the lesson states, "evoke an active response" in the reader. This makes for more memorable writing. This also makes for very satisfied readers, and not just from the yummy hot chocolate that, really, exists only in the pages of my story.

My experience: Sensory details generally don't just roll off the pen or out our fingers when placed on the keyboard. They are most likely something we add in long after a first draft is written, often not until we get to the serious polishing stage of our manuscript.

What are your most enduring memories of childhood? This is the perfect sort of question to get a writer thinking about sensory details because it's almost a sure bet that our most vivid memories are based in one of the fives senses: the summer smell of fresh-cut grass, the neon lights of a weekend carnival, Grandma's pucker-sweet lemon squares, squishy, wet sand between toes, and mother singing hymns in her calming alto while I lay my head in her lap at church. 

These are a few of my favorites. What are yours?

TAMARA: You've distracted me with 'rich creaminess.' All I want now is my own cup of cocoa. Which I will probably need as I watch footage of the blizzard of 2015. This will date me, but here goes: I was six years old for the blizzard of 1978. My brothers had to clear a path from our front porch to the sidewalk just so my mother could ride the neighbor's snowmobile to the grocery store. When I peered outside into the blinding, white cold, I remember looking up to see the top of the snow. Four-feet high was over my head. Not to mention the snow drifts by the fence that looked like the whipped meringue on my mother's lemon pie. With school cancelled, we bundled into our snow-suits and waddled out to the backyard (where the brothers had cleared more paths) and built our very own igloo with snow-blocks, created rather ingeniously by one brother. (He used a wide shovel to cut blocks and stacked them by the side of the path.) I can still hear the crunch of the snow under my pint sized boots and see the deceptively warm sunlight reflecting off the snow blanket. 

PEGGY: One of my favorite childhood memories? 

I started young as an epicurean. Steaming carrots gleaming with melted butter may not seem luxurious to you, but wander with me to a time when I was young. 

My great-grandpa had a wonderful garden. He was lean and hardworking. Great-Grandma was warm and round with white curls all over her head. I loved visiting their tiny house. 

A trumpet vine, probably as old as they were, tossed out orange flowers like confetti in the back yard. For someone small, it seemed like Jack's Beanstalk: enormous and a challenge to climb. Just beyond that, Great-Grandpa had myriad rows of lush leaves, full of promise and perfectly aligned in the rich soil.  I don't think it gets much better than pulling a carrot straight from the garden. We would shake the dirt from them and take them to Great-Grandma. Those divine carrots may have actually come from Heaven. The savory sweetness delighted the tastebuds and cultivated a love of all things yummy.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Week 2 Write with Detail

Write With Detail
by Peggy

As writers, we hear all the time, "Show, don't tell." For a lot of us, we have a difficult time grasping what that really means. (Or maybe it was just me that had this problem.)

Mr. Wilbers gives great examples of this. "Next time you write, ...'My boss really liked my report,' don't stop there." Go on to give details: "[I]n last Tuesday's staff meeting George held up [my] report on quality control, taped each of its five pages to the whiteboard, uncapped a yellow felt-tipped marker, and drew a big star on each page."1

You don't even have to state that your boss liked your report. You just showed it. When we revise, we can look for opportunities to add detail, to give our stories dimension and bring our readers in.

Writing with detail isn't just about adding information. Think about Week One and the importance of words and using the right words for the right effect. Use strong verbs when adding detail.

Consider: "News of our bosses departure affected all of us."

Before scrolling down, think how you can improve that sentence.

Here's mine: Whispers flew from desk to desk. 'Did you hear?' 'What will we do?' Delores, the beehived-receptionist with special shoes, sniffled into her box of Kleenex. The ever-cheerful guy in maintenance patted her on the back as he sneaked a tissue.

Here's one from the book: "When our boss announced he was leaving, we stomped our feet, pounded the table with our fists, and raised our voices in a chorus of unbridled joy and celebration."2

1. Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 10.

2. Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 12.

TAMARA: Details, details. Maybe the devil is in them because he knows that’s where all the important (juicy) tidbits are…

I’ll give it a go:
“He listened to me, but I didn’t feel heard.”
How about this?
“He listened to me while he checked his phone for messages. He even reclined a bit further in his chair like he was settling in for a nap. No eye contact, not even a nod of his head. No wonder he doesn’t remember what I say.”
“She picked up her backpack and left. My life went with her.”
“She picked up her Jan Sport, the one we shared through 11th grade; the one we used to write one-word messages to each other on the inside, with a purple sharpie marker. My life went with her.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Week 1 Listen to Your Language

Use Your Ears Before You Write
by Tamara

The premise for this exercise is that listening makes us better writers. Paying attention to individual words and how we say them, knowing the verbal power of a word and using it accordingly, can have an impact, for better or worse, on the reader.

Exercise: Playing around with titles. Changing words to hear the effect on sound and meaning.

Jane Austen’s Persuasion as How Do You Like Me Now?
Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe as Wilfred*
*This is actually the first name of the book’s heroic lead “Wilfred of Ivanhoe.” Something about the three syllables makes it so much more interesting, would you agree?
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter as The Crimson Letter
Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire as Catching Heat

I do wonder when it comes to well-known titles if changing them up ‘sounds’ dissonant because of how accustomed we are to hearing them. But clearly, the right word in the right place can make all the difference. Just ask Ivanhoe.

Nice sounding words (to me)

auspicious  adj. 1. attended by favorable circumstances 2. marked by success
rhymes with delicious, what’s not to like?

myopia noun 1. nearsightedness, lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight.
Basically, I’m afraid of this—lacking imagination and foresight—but I still love the sound of this word. If it didn’t have such a negative definition, I might have chosen it as a name for a child. Then I would have had to homeschool.

euphonious adj 1. (of sound, especially speech) pleasing to the ear

I don’t actually like the sound of this word, I just thought it was apropos for the exercise ;)


What is one of your favorite sounding words? 
Play with a title and see how it changes the meaning and emotion, share your example.

VALERIE: I love the word epiphany. That could totally have been one of your children's names. :)

PEGGY: One of my favorites is laborious. I just think it's fun to say and no one expects it. 

VALERIE: Not to belabor the point, but note to Tamara: Don't name your child Laborious, even if it was an especially difficult labor.

PEGGY: Child named Epiphany = laborious explanations
how about: LaBeau Ruiz or E. Piffany as pen names...