Wordless Wednesday no. 4

 

 

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Say It Well

Let’s face it:  When writing dialogues between characters, repetition can tend to sneak up on us:  He said, she said, he whispered, she whispered, and so on.  There are a few tricks I’d like to share with you that I’ve learned along the way; one is regarding grammar, and the other is my own twist on dealing with the issue.

Regarding grammar, action verbs can often take the place of the more passive verbs (such as said):  “He said, ‘I’d like that.’” can be spiced up by giving him an action to do (“He picked up the travel brochure and flipped through it:  ‘I’d like that.’”)  The second sentence gives more context, and is more visually engaging for the reader.  Keep in mind that every word should count; don’t pad out the sentence just for word count, or make each exchange in the conversation a prop advertisement; but punctuating a dialogue with such moments can bring it to life.

My own twist is a literal one – a CD:  I took an old one, covered both sides with blank CD labels, and wrote all of the synonyms (listed below) for say and said in a spiral, starting in the centre, changing colours for each new letter of the alphabet.  To use it, I just put it on my finger and spin it around as I read through the spiral until I find the word that best fits my sentence.  I have several such CDs within reach of my computer (another CD, for instance, is for walk synonyms, and another for lie/lay); if you make enough of them, you could keep them in a CD pouch.  Here’s my list of the words around Say (click on the image to enlarge):

say-list

A word of advice to those of you for whom English is not mother-tongue:  Depending on the word, the sentence structure may need to be adapted.  If you’re unsure how to use a word, I would recommend looking it up on Wordnik, and reading the examples on the right-hand side of the page; then choose the sentence structure, prepositions, etc. that are more frequent than not.

I hope that this list helps you say what you want with the variety and precision you’re aiming for!  Feel free to reblog!  Feel free to print this list out and use it; if you pass it on online please put a hyperlink back to this blog, or recommend my blog if you pass it on by word of mouth… thank you!

If you can think of any words or phrases to replace say or said that I missed in the list above, please put them in the comments below!  Keep writing!

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Wordless Wednesday no.3

pun11

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September 21, 2016 · 12:14 AM

Odd Jobs #12: Rodeo Clowns to Soil Conservationists

Hi everyone!  I’m back with this week’s lineup of weird and wonderful jobs.  While each of these jobs is here for its own reasons, seamstress may seem like the least odd job – at least it’s one that we all know (if we are in the habit of wearing clothes) must exist out there in the world somewhere.  The last job on this list, soil conservationist, is actually quite important here in Switzerland; there are many villages in the Alps that owe their continued existence to being able to use the steep alpine pastures wisely.  Planting trees is integral to avoiding soil erosion, which helps prevent landslides, mudslides, and avalanches; another key component is placing barriers such as snow guards to help keep the soil, snow and debris where it should be.

Once again, I have personal experience with one of the jobs:  Silk tree designer.  If I had to find another job, that would be one I’d love to do again.  Enjoy perusing the list!

odd-job-silk-tree-designer

  • Rodeo Clown
  • Rubbish Detective
  • Safe Cracker: When combinations are lost or forgotten, safe crackers use their ears and fingers to open the safe.
  • Seamstress
  • Sewer Inspector
  • Silk Tree Designer: This is one I can give you the low-down on personally:  I was a tree designer back in the 80’s, making everything from bonsai trees for private homes to 30-foot trees for shopping malls.  Our storage warehouse had a few permanent silk trees, as birds had built nests in them, coming and going as if they owned the place… they’d found a sweet gig, with a weather-proof forest.  Tools of my trade were drill guns, glue guns, moss, paint, unformed branches of plastic-coated wire and silk leaves (which I had to shape into realistic branches), and the base:  A thick branch of a tree which had been treated and planted into a plaster-filled base pot.  I found out the hard way that Manzanita leaves can give off a narcotic-like aroma when heated, as with the friction caused by stripping off the leaves from a branch:  I was straddled atop a ladder working on stripping the leaves from a tall branch-base, when I got so dizzy that I had to grab hold of the ceiling’s piping and call for help.  My mother looked it up in her medical journals, and the result was that the leaves were in future removed by the plastering department.  It was one of my all-time favourite creative jobs, next to being a Pizza Hut lab assistant.
  • Snake Milkers: Extract venom from some of the world’s most dangerous snakes, like rattlesnakes and cobras. The extracted venom is often used to create anti-venom for hospital or laboratory use, and can be sold for up to $1,000 per gram.
  • Snowmaker
  • Snowmobile Guide
  • Soil Conservationist: Their main job is to come up with plans to prevent erosion and develop practices for sustainable land use, mostly by performing land-use surveys.

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Wordless Wednesday no.2

batshit

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Odd Jobs #11: Ethical Hackers to Candy Pullers

odd-job-raven-master-tower-of-london-spitalfieldslife-com

One of London’s Raven Masters.  Image Credit: Spitalfieldslife.com

This weekend’s lineup of weird jobs starts off with a bit of an oxymoron; how is hacking ethical?  Wearing a white hat only means they’re getting paid by someone to learn how to beat the system… I’m sure there’s more to it, but it’s a fine “ethical” line, isn’t it? The second job, hitchhiking, reminds me of James Corden’s car karaoke videos, though I doubt the Indonesian drivers are singing along with their passengers.

The job that captures my attention most in this list is that of the Raven Master; think about it:  Someone gets paid to pamper wild ravens to convince them to stay in the Tower of London because of a legend.  They’re not taking any chances with the future of England, are they?  That train of thought opens up all kinds of possibilities for a vivid imagination and science fiction, doesn’t it?

  • Professional Ethical Hacker
  • Professional Hitchhiker (Indonesia): The government has restricted some lanes of traffic to only cars with 3 or more people due to overcrowding. Poor people from the city outskirts take advantage of this by offering drivers to ride with them in the “fast lanes”.
  • Professional Line-Standers: Do one thing most of us have no patience for: waiting in line. These professionals are especially busy during big sales (think Black Friday) and product launches (new iPhone releases, for example). Rates vary, but one professional line-stander told Business Insider he earns up to $1,000 a week.
  • Professional Mourners (usually Asia and Africa):  Attend funerals and grieve for the deceased. A company in England called Rent A Mourner specializes in the industry, offering mourners for two hours for roughly $70.
  • Professional Sleeper
  • Professional Wingwalker: Those crazy people who walk on airplane wings for stunt shows.
  • Queen’s Piper
  • Raven Master (UK): Charged with caring for the ravens in the Tower of London; legend has it that if ravens abandon the site, the White Tower will crumble, and England will fall.
  • Ribbon Candy Puller

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Wordless Wednesday no.1

crocodilescrocodile-croc

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The Thorny Issue of Horns

As an author and writer, I do a LOT of research.  I love history particularly, but then I could say the same thing about the topics of geology, astronomy, archaeology, science and technology, crafting, drawing, botany, and a dozen others.  As I apply my studies to my work, I am sometimes faced with the issue of horns – Viking helmet horns.

Real Viking Helmet

 

Accurate Viking helmet, reproduction.  Photo credit, Pinterest, unknown

 

While everyone seems to accept as a historically proven fact that Viking helmets had horns, the actual fact of the matter is that they didn’t.  While there were many horned helmets dating to before the rise of the Norse powers of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, most, if not all, were for religious or ceremonial purposes.  However, if I write a description of a Norse helmet and leave off the horns, someone will inevitably point it out.

Recently I spent a couple hours on Skype with one of my Beta readers for my current project, the third book in the Northing Trilogy (set in 18th century England).  Several of her comments were based on her knowledge of the 19th century as portrayed by Georgette Heyer, while others were based on her lack of historical knowledge that I, as the author, have amassed over time.  While some of that knowledge needs to seep into my writing to help the reader along, I have to continually remind myself (especially with this particular book in the trilogy, as it is centred around the Royal Navy) that I am not writing a history book but a novel, and anything I include needs to support the plot – the plot should never be forced to support a history lesson.  So it is that questions arose as to the behaviour and manners of the children of the time.

In any time period up until the mid-20th century, children in western societies matured far sooner than their modern counterparts, both out of necessity and out of cultural understanding of their roles in society.  Many families were dependent on the contribution made by the children in their household, whether it was housework, factory work, or working on the streets as beggars, shoe shiners, chimney sweeps, street sweepers, selling newspapers, or any other job they could earn money with (this is still true in many poorer countries of the world today).

If they came from a wealthy family, children were educated, but as to what extent and to which form it took very much depended on their particular circumstances:  They were educated either at home by tutors, or sent away to a boarding school.  Leaving school might be anywhere between ten and twenty; Jane Austen finished her formal education at the age of 10 or 11, whereas Charlotte Brontë’s character Jane Eyre left school at 18.  Boys who were second sons were often educated (after their basic education in either a college or at home) toward the military or toward a life as a minister (if their families held a high status in society, they might be trained toward politics; first-born sons, heirs, were rarely sent to the military due to the inherent dangers).

Midshipman Henry William Baynton, aged 13 -1780 - Wikipedia.jpg

Henry William Baynton, aged 13 years, 6 months, midshipman on the Cleopatra.  Photo Credit, Wikipedia.

If their fathers could afford to do so, these younger sons were often bought commissions in the military so that they would start off their career with some smidgen of position, such as a midshipman in the Royal Navy; the younger they entered, the sooner they could rise through the ranks, and thus it was not uncommon for lads of 7 or 8 to enter the navy.  Aboard ship they were trained in various skills, which included not only practical skills to do with the day-to-day running of the ship, but how to read navigational charts and how to use instruments such as sextants. How fast or slow they rose to higher ranks thereafter depended on their skills, intelligence, connections, and luck.

If poor children were either abandoned or given to workhouse orphanages because their families could not afford to keep them alive, they were also trained:  The girls were trained toward becoming servants (paying back society for the privilege of being alive), and the boys were trained for a life in the military (ditto).  They were taught to read using the Bible, and were expected to live by its principles.  Unfortunately, religion was often used as a guise for abuse and heavy-handed tyranny, but as the characters in Jane Eyre portrayed, some were true Christians in their behaviour toward her, such as her friend Helen, or the kind apothecary.  If the girls were going to become governesses, they would also be trained in more refined accomplishments such as French, drawing, needlework, history, etc.

All of this is to say that, were I to include all of this kind of information in a novel (and believe me, there’s a lot more where that came from!), it would get boring rather quickly.  And so I need to pick and choose what is used in the organic flow of the plot and character development that both serves those elements and also helps inform the reader; sometimes it’s a tricky balance.  So when the 11-year-old boy acts far more mature than a modern boy, unless the reader is aware of the historical context, I will inevitably get feedback to that effect.  Sometimes I can help their understanding by including e.g. the subjects he might be learning with his tutor, such as French, sciences, or elocution, but more than that might drag the story into the realm of a history lesson.

There are many modern myths, like the Viking horns, that people have accepted as historically accurate, when in fact they’re not.  One of my pet peeves is Christmas films that inevitably portray three kings showing up at the manger along with the shepherds in Bethlehem.  I won’t go into that here – if you’re interested in the historical details, read my article on History Undusted, here.  Other urban legends include:  We only use 10% of our brains; the full moon affects our behaviour; lightning never strikes the same place twice; cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis, and antibiotics kill viruses.  If I rankled any feathers there, or you said to yourself, “But that one is actually true,” then I would suggest you do your own research on the issue… I’ve got my plate full at the moment with the 18th century.

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Odd Jobs #10: Paint Drying Watchers to Professional Cuddlers

Betcha ya never thought ya’d see that kind of title one day…

watching paint dry

From beginning to end, this week’s line-up of weird jobs is filled with doozies; some of them are just downright bizarre, like watching paint dry.  Of all the odd job line-ups I’ve done so far however, this list is by far the most indicting against our modern culture:  The personal touch, the strong family ties and networks of close friends have, for many people, crumbled away, leaving a vacuum to be filled by others who:  Do the shopping for items as simple as groceries or as intimate as clothing or gifts for significant others; teach one how to communicate with others (granted, the pick-up artist – a narcissist at the core – obviously has ulterior motives); to apologize for others (rather than learning how to do so oneself; this is more common in Asian cultues, where saving face is essential, particularly in business sectors); to pose as a close friend (as bridesmaid); even to give someone the personal, physical touch they’re otherwise missing in their lives.  I wonder if our ancestors might just shake their heads in confusion, or roll in their graves…

  • Paint Drying Watcher (wherever paint is drying): Companies actually hire people to carefully observe the changing colors and particles of paint as it dries – both on walls as well as under a microscope. It ensures that the paints are durable and do not fall off at the slightest touch.
  • Paper Towel Sniffer
  • Personal Shopper
  • Pet Psychologist
  • Pick-up Artist Instructor: Single ladies, beware!
  • Porta-Potty Servicer: Like regular restrooms, portable toilets need maintenance, too. Once a week, service workers clean these single-stall facilities to achieve certain standards of sanitation.
  • Potato Chip Inspector: Search for over-cooked or clumped chips to discard as they come down the assembly line.
  • Professional Apologizer
  • Professional Bridesmaids: Hired to assist brides on their big day. Jen Glantz, the cofounder of Bridesmaid for Hire, a company that offers ‘undercover bridesmaid’ and personal assistant-type services to brides and their wedding parties, charges anywhere from $300 to $2,000 per wedding.
  • Professional Cuddlers: Charge up to $80 an hour to snuggle with strangers. The downside: This work comes with its share of emotional burdens, says Portland-based cuddler Samantha Hess.

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Odd Jobs #9: Lego Model-Maker to Oshiya (passenger shovers)

Once again, this odd job lineup has some gems!  Would you rather be paid to stand perfectly still for hours on end, or literally shove other people around all day, every day?  Some of these might not be so bad, such as a master distiller, or someone paid to come up with catchy nail polish names, while other jobs might have a certain prejudice or stigma attached to them – after all, how many of us haven’t had luggage damaged in transit at airports, and chosen a few special words, at least in our minds, for the people paid good money to do so?  I was once treated like a piece of luggage, and I wouldn’t wish it on my favourite enemy; however, it did give me a personal taste of just how luggage frequently comes out missing wheels, handles, or zippers.

 

Odd Job - Oshiya - Train Passenger Stuffers

Credit:  YouTube

 

  • Lego Model-Maker
  • Live Mannequin / Human Statue
  • London Dungeon Actor
  • Luggage Handler
  • Mascot
  • Master Distiller (This link also includes the job descriptions of several other jobs involved in the distilling process.)
  • Nail Polish Namer: Sometimes it’s a person, such as Essie Weingarten, and other times it’s a marketing department, or a freelance writer.
  • Nude Model
  • Ocularist: In short, they paint artificial eyes. It sounds easier than it is, since as with real eyes, no two are exactly the same.
  • Oil & Gas Diver
  • Online Book Seller
  • Online Reviewer: Often hired by a company to review a product; but, I then wonder how they could be unbiased in that review.  Such services are also offered for sale on sites such as Fiver.com.  Finding an actual, legitimate, detailed job description for this one is nigh on impossible, as most jobs are offered online now, and the term “review” can be used by anyone with an opinion…
  • Orchestra Manager: While this link is for an orchestra managing director’s job description, an even more specialized niche within the “genre” is that of the orchestra event manager:  They are responsible for booking airline tickets, arranging luggage transport for all shapes and sizes of instruments, booking hotel rooms, organizing and the overseeing of the setting up of venues, and making certain that the even runs smoothly from venue to venue.  That may also include hiring the local sound, light, and stage hands, though these tasks may be handed on to someone else in the managing office.  A friend recently flew in the seat next to such a manager, and passed on the details to me for this odd list… it just proves that you never know where you’ll meet interesting people!
  • Oshiya (Japan): Paid to push people onto trains.

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