Recently I came across Pixar’s rule #19, quoted in James Scott Bell’s book, “How to Write Short Stories (and use them to further your writing career)”. It’s an excellent book, and one of a few of his I’ve got in my Kindle collection. But this rule reminded me of the whole list, full of good advice for storytellers whether their format is film or novel (from flash fiction to tome). Most writing advice boils down to things like focus, self-discipline, detail work, and honing one’s craft to the best it can be – and that is an on-going process, a habit, an addiction. It needs to be a passion. Honing our craft means covering all the bases – grammar, syntax, plot, character, vocabulary, pacing, theme-building, and so, so, much more! If you’ve got a weakness in your writing skills, the good news is that you can always improve it! Make it a strength! So be inspired, and keep writing!
Category Archives: Lists
Have you ever wanted to compare two people, places or things in a pithy way, but couldn’t remember a particular saying, or think of a way to put it? For starters, what you’re looking for is called a “simile”, and they abound in English! A simile is a figure of speech used to compare one thing to another, usually using “like” or “as”. Some are obvious, some are quirky, and some must have a fascinating history. Here is a small selection using “as…as”; if you know of any others, please add them in the comments below! Have a great weekend, and keep writing!
As likely as not
As long as your arm
As loud as thunder
As mad as a hatter / a March hare
As mad as a wet hen / a hornet
As mean as a snake
As meek as a lamb
As merry as a cricket
As mild as a dove / a lamb / milk / May
As much use as a handbrake on a canoe
As mute as a fish / an oyster / a statue / a stone
As naked as a jaybird / the day they were born
As nervous as a cat (in a room full of rocking chairs) / pig in a packing plant
As nutty as a fruitcake
As obstinate as a mule
As often as not
As old as the hills / Adam / Methuselah
As pale as a ghost / death / ashes
As patient as Job / an ox
As plain as a pikestaff / day / the sun / the nose on your face
As playful as a kitten
As pleased as punch / a dog with two tails
As plump as a partridge
As poor as a church mouse / a rat / Job / Lazarus / dirt
As pretty as a picture
As proud as Lucifer
As proud / pleased as punch
As proud / vain as a peacock
As pure as a lily / (the driven) snow
As quick as a dog can lick a dish / a wink / lightning / a flash
As quiet / still as a mouse / whisper
As red as a rose / a cherry / beetroot / a lobster / a turkey-cock / blood / fire
As regular as clockwork
As rich as Crassus / a Jew
As right as rain / nails / a trivet
As round as a barrel / a ball / an apple / a globe
As safe as houses / the Bank of England
As scarce as hen’s teeth / ice water in hell
As scared as a rabbit
As sharp as a tack / a needle / a razor
As sick as a dog / a parrot
As silent as the dead / the grave / the stars
As silly as a goose / a sheep
As slim as a willow
As slippery as an eel / ice
As slow as a snail / a wet week / molasses in winter / molasses in January
As sly as a fox
As smooth as butter / oil / silk / glass
As snug as a bug in a rug
As sober as a judge
As soft as butter / down / silk / velvet / clay / wax
As sound as a bell
As sour as vinegar
As straight as an arrow / a ramrod
As steady as a rock / the Rock of Gibraltar
As sticky as jam
As stiff as a poker / a ramrod / a board / pikestaff
As still as a mouse / death / the grave
As straight as a die / an arrow / a poker / a ramrod
As strong as an ox / a horse / a bull
As stubborn as a mule / a goat
As sure as death and taxes / death / taxes / a gun / eggs are eggs
As sweet as honey / sugar
As tall as a steeple / maypole / a skyscraper
As thick as thieves / blackberries / pea soup
As thick as two (short) planks
As thin as a rail / paper / thread / a stick
As timid as a deer / hare / rabbit / mouse
As tired as a dog
As tough as old boots / nails / leather
As tricky as a monkey
As true as steel / flint
As ugly as sin / a scarecrow / a toad
As useful as a chocolate teapot
As vain / proud as a peacock
As warm as toast
As watchful as a hawk
As weak as a kitten / a baby / water
As wet as a drowned rat
As white as a ghost / a sheet
As white as snow / chalk / milk
As wide as the poles are apart
As wise as Solomon / an owl
As yielding as wax
The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy was written in 1747 by Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) and played a dominant role in shaping the practices of domestic cooks in England and the American colonies for over one hundred years. It is an excellent reference for historical writers, reenactors, and living museums. Hannah wrote mostly for the “lower sort” as she called them, domestic servants who might not have had much exposure to various cooking techniques or ingredients before entering the service of a larger household. She wrote it in a simple language, and can come across at times quite condescending; her writing style, spelling variations (including capitalisation which was much like German, with all nouns capitalised), and punctuation are in themselves a fascinating look at the standard of printing and editing, and what was most likely “acceptable English” of the times (I dread to think what future generations might assume is the “standard” of our own times, based on the slipshod average of what is unleashed online…!). I’ve tried to leave Hannah’s work as-is, though sometimes the auto-correct sneaks by even the most diligent.
In my current manuscript, the third book in The Northing Trilogy, Asunder, my heroine goes from being of the upper class to marrying a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, disobliging her family and being cut off by the father. Her mother sends her Hannah Glasse’s book, and she writes a journal entry regarding her use of it and trying to decipher just what is meant by instructions that, even with the attempt at instructing servants new to the kitchen, assumes a great deal of pre-knowledge (e.g. “first skin the meat and take off all the fat” or “chicken, which must be very nicely picked and clean“).
She had a very clear opinion as to what was right and wrong, how a thing was to be prepared and “there is no other way to do it right.” Many of the “receipts” (recipes) are still known, such as Hasty Pudding or Yorkshire pudding, while others would be unthinkable – whole Woodcocks, Ortolans and snipes (with nothing removed), or how to prepare meat when it’s begun to stink. They served every part of the animal, from entrails neatly presented to split skulls (with specific directions for how to lay the tongue most becomingly…). There were a surprising variety of spices, herbs and ingredients used, and which she assumed every household would have on hand, such as China root, balsam of Tolu, and liquorice; she even included a few Indian curry recipes, reflecting the East Indian connections. She minced no words on what she thought of extravagant (read wasteful) French cooking habits, and her disdain was evident in numerous passages. Her recipes were by no means all original; many were common sense, but many were also shamelessly plagiarised from other published works (perhaps we should be grateful for that now, as otherwise they might have been lost to the mists of time!). There are recipes of how to certainly avoid the plague, how a ship’s captain could have food prepared for long voyages, and recipes for medicinal purposes.
Not all homes had ovens, and in one recipe it is worded “send it to the oven… when it comes home” – this would imply that it was sent to the village bakery, and brought home to finish off once it had been sent away to be baked. Because of that limitation, many recipes are for boiling; they seemed to boil the living daylights out of meat, vegetables, or anything else that they could put in a pot.
It is a fascinating historical document, reference work and recipe source (many, purely for the pleasure of grossing out your kids or guests) for those interested; but for those not interested, it would be a torture for me to post hideously long blogs on the topic. The book can be found nowadays on Amazon in paperback, or online in PDF format. Below, I’ll share the original “pre-index” image, and her own personal note “To The Reader”, which in and of itself is entertaining, informative and historical. She minces no words on her disdain for the French, so to my French readers, I ask that they please take it on the chin with a pinch of salt and a wink!
Hannah Glasse’s “To the Reader.”
“I Believe I have attempted a branch of Cookery, which nobody has yet thought worth their while to write upon: but as I have both seen, and found, by experienced, that the generality of servants are greatly wanting in that point, therefore I have taken upon me to instruct them in the best manner I am capable; and, I dare say, that every servant who can but read will be capable of making a tolerable good cook, and those who have the least notion of Cookery cannot miss of being very good ones.
“If I have not wrote in the high polite style, I hope I shall be forgiven; for my intention is to instruct the lower sort, and therefore must treat them in their own way. For example: when I bid them lard a fowl, if I should bid them lard with large lardoons, they would not know what I meant; but when I say they must lard with little pieces of bacon, they know what I mean. So, in many other things in Cookery, the great cooks have such a high way of expressing themselves, that the poor girls are at a loss to know what they mean: and in all Receipt Books yet printed, there are such an odd jumble of things as would quite spoil a good dish; and indeed some things so extravagant, that it would be almost a shame to make use of them, when a dish can be made full as good, or better, without them. For example: when you entertain ten or twelve people, you shall use for a cullis, a leg of veal and a ham, which, with the other ingredients, makes it very expensive, and all this only to mix with other sauce. And again, the essence of ham for sauce to on dish; when I will prove it, for about three shillings I will make as rich and high a sauce as all that will be, when done. For example:
“Take a large deep stew-pan, half a pound of bacon, fat and lean together, cut the fat and lay it over the bottom of the pan; then take a pound of veal, cut it into thin slices, beat it well with the back of a knife, lay it all over the bacon; then have six-penny worth of the coarse lean part of the beef cut thin and well beat, lay a layer of it all over, with some carrot, then the lean of the bacon cut thin and laid over that: then cut two onions and strew over, a bundle of sweet-herbs, four or five blades of mace, six or seven cloves, a spoonful of whole pepper, black and white together, half a nutmeg beat, a pigeon beat all to pieces, lay that all over, half an ounce of truffles and morels, then the rest of your beef, a good crust of bread toasted very brown and dry on both sides: you may add an old cock beat to pieces; cover it close, and let it stand over a slow fire two or three minutes, then pour on boiling water enough to fill the pan, cover it close, and let it stew till it is as rich as you would have it, and then strain off all that sauce. Put all your ingredients together again, fill the pan with boiling water, put in a fresh onions, a blade of mace, and a piece of carrot; cover it close, and let it stew till it is as strong as you want it. This will be full as good as the essence of ham for all sorts of fowls, or indeed most made-dishes, mixed with a glass of wine, and two or three spoonfuls of catchup. When your first gravy is cool, skim off all the fat, and keep it for use. – This falls far short of the expense of a leg of veal and ham, and answers every purpose you want.
“If you go to market, the ingredients will not come to above half a crown, or for about eighteen-pence you may make as much good gravy as will serve twenty people.
“Take twelve-penny worth of coarse lean beef, which will be six or seven pounds, cut it all to pieces, flour it well, take a quarter of a pound of good butter, put it into a little pot or large deep stew-pan, and put in your beef: keep stirring it, and when it begins to look a little brown, pour in a pint of boiling water; stir it all together, put in a large onion, a bundle of sweet herbs, two or three blades of made, five or six cloves, a spoonful of whole pepper, a crust of bread toasted, and a piece of carrot; then pour in four or five quarts of water, stir all together, cover close, and let it stew till it is as rich as you would have it; when enough, strain it off, mix it with two or three spoonfuls of catchup, and half a pint of white wine; then put all the ingredients together again, and put in two quarts of boiling water, cover it close, and let it boil till there is about a pint; strain it off well, add it to the first, and give it a boil together. This will make a great deal of rich good gravy.
“You may leave out the wine, according to what use you want it for; so that really one might have a genteel entertainment, for the price the sauce of one dish comes to: but if gentlemen will have French cooks, they must pay for French tricks.
“A Frenchman in his own country will dress a fine dinner of twenty dishes, and all genteel and pretty, for the expense he will put an English lord to for dressing one dish. But then there is the little petty profit. I have heard of a cook that used six pounds of butter to fry twelve eggs; when everybody knows (that understands cooking) that half a pound is full enough, or more than need be used; but then it would not be French. So much is the blind folly of this age, that they would rather be imposed on by a French booby, than give encouragement to a good English cook!
“I doubt I shall not gain the esteem of those gentlemen; however, let that be as it will, it little concerns me; but should I be so happy as to gain the good opinion of my own sex, I desire no more; that will be a full recompence for all my trouble; and I only beg the favour of every lade to read my Book throughout before they censure me, and then I flatter myself I shall have their approbation.
“I shall not take upon me to meddle in the physical way farther than two receipts, which will be of use to the public in general: one is for the bit of a mad dog: and the other, if a man would be near where the plague is, he shall be in no danger; which, if made use of, would be found of very great service to those who go abroad.
“Nor shall I take upon me to direct a lady in the economy of her family, for every mistress does, or at least ought to know, what is most proper to be done there; therefore I shall not fill my Book with a deal of nonsense of that kind, which I am very well assured none will have regard to.
“I have indeed given some of my dishes French names to distinguish them, because they are known by those names: and where there is a great variety of dishes and a large table to cover, so there must be a variety of names for them; and it matters not whether they be called by a French, Dutch or English name, so they are good, and done with as little expence as the dish will allow of.
“I shall say no more, only hope my Book will answer the ends I intend it for; which is to improve the servants, and save the ladies a great deal of trouble.”
Originally posted on History Undusted, 28 May 2013
Back when insults had class, words could be sharper than a two-edged sword; in fact, idioms that use the imagery of swords vs. words have been around for thousands of years. I wonder if our modern society, with its political correctness and instant comments, has somewhat lost the art of refined speech and reflective commentary; perhaps we can rescue witty repartee from extinction by writing, thinking, and speaking with more thought and thoughtfulness. In the meantime, for all you logophiles out there, here are a few witty comebacks from days gone by:
After 11 months with an exchange student here with us, our life is now beginning to revert to its previous “business as usual” state. That means that I can schedule my time, my days, and even weeks, and actually see those goals come within reach and grasp them. It means that I can sit down at my computer, and write 10 hours straight if I’m on a roll! It’s suspiciously quiet here now, but that does not mean something’s afoot this time… unless the cats are up to something. With all of her exams through the school year, I was reminded of a list I’d seen years ago; when I shared a similar list in my previous post, I decided to track this one down and share it with you.
This ought to keep you entertained and out of trouble, while I dive into my fifth novel’s manuscript with a fresh eye (since I haven’t really seen hide or hair of it since April…!). Enjoy, and have a great week!
Warning: I take no responsibility for snorted drinks or explosions of anything out of your north or south ends.
The Ultimate Final Exam
Read each question carefully. Answer all questions. Time Limit: Four hours.
Describe the history of the papacy from its origins to the present day, concentrating especially but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America and Africa. Be brief, concise and specific.
Predict the position of the tectonic plates as they will appear two billion years from now. Be prepared to prove your results.
You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have fifteen minutes.
Create life. Estimate the differences in subsequent human culture if this form of life had developed 500 million years earlier with special attention to its probable effect on the English parliamentary system. Prove your thesis.
2500 riot-crazed aborigines are storming the classroom. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.
Give an objective analysis of the relative significance and quality of the works of the major artists of the past three millennia. Be specific, and prove your analysis with detailed examples.
Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum. You will find a piano under your seat.
Based on your knowledge of their works, evaluate the emotional stability, degree of adjustment and repressed frustrations of each of the following:
- Alexander of Aphrodisias
- Ramses II
- Gregory of Nicea
Support your evaluation with quotations from each man’s work, making appropriate references. It is not necessary to translate.
Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world. Construct an experiment to test your theory.
Write a program that will end world hunger and homelessness. You may use the computer console next to you, however use of a modem or any other communications device is prohibited, as is the use of electricity.
The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.
Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics on science.
Create a miniature stellar fusion reaction, and describe in detail the effects of close-range stellar radiation on human flesh.
There is a red telephone on the desk beside you. Start World War III; report at length on its socio-political effects, if any.
Take a position for or against truth. Prove the validity of your position.
Prove or disprove the existence of God, without the use of religious texts over a century old. Be specific, and include a discussion on the possible true meanings and uses for the Tetragrammaton. Also be prepared show how your proof relates to the national debt and the Watergate scandal.
Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt. Trace the possible effects of your plan in the following areas:
- The Donatist controversy
- The wave theory of light
Outline a method for preventing these effects. Criticize this method from all possible points of view. Point out the deficiencies in your point of view, as demonstrated in your answer to the last question.
Sketch the development of human thought; estimate its significance. Compare with the development of any other kind of thought.
Describe in detail. Be objective and specific.
Define the Universe; give three examples.
Elmore Leonard, best known for countless novels and their film adaptations, such as Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight, was known for this gritty writing style and strong dialogues.
Here are a few of his gems of advice for writers (with my comments in parentheses):
- “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
- “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” (Think: thick paragraphs of prose; boring lists; role calls that seem to be there more to remind the writer who’s in the scene than to entertain the reader.)
- “If proper (grammar) usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” (This advice should follow the adage, however: First learn the rules; then you’ll know how and when you can break them.)
- “Never open a book with weather. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe snow and ice than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.”
- “I never see my bad guys as simply bad. They want pretty much what you and I want: They want to be happy.”
- “At the time I begin writing a novel, the last thing I want to do is follow a plot outline. To know too much at the start takes the pleasure out of discovering what the book is about.”
- “It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to sound like it does.”
Julius Henry Marx (1890-1977) is best known as Groucho Marx, a member of the Marx Brothers comedy group (along with three of his brothers, Harpo,and Chico and Zeppo). He was known for his rapid-fire wit and snappy comebacks.
He also once said, “I get credit all the time for things I never said.” A case in point is a quote that is famously attributed to him, though he denied ever having said: When Marx was hosting a television show called You Bet Your Life, he asked a contestant why she had chosen to raise such a large family (19 children), to which she is said to have replied, “I love my husband”. Marx supposedly retorted, “I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in awhile.” Though the show was pre-recorded for editing purposes (he was known for innuendo-laced remarks), there was never any footage that contained such a remark.
Groucho’s career spanned seven decades, and his famous grease-paint eyebrows and moustache are still recognizable today, imitated and homaged in the arts in various expressions (just google “groucho marx caricature”!). So without further ado, here are five of my favourite quotes:
I love quotes; good ones take an entire concept and condense it down to one or two lines. Some are pithy, some profound, some obscure and some obvious, but most always, they make you stop and think. They often relate universal conditions of the human existence, whether that quote comes from a present-day person or one that lived hundreds of years ago.
I often use quotes in my articles here, but I’ve never really had titled posts dedicated to them; I like to use alliterations, but “quote” doesn’t rhyme with anything practical in English – so (naturally) I went with Latin. [For the few Latin aficionados out there, please let me know if I’ve used the wrong form… there aren’t exactly Latin dictionaries floating around.]
I’d like to kick off with one of the wittiest writers I know of, Mark Twain. Here are five zingers (and I apologize in advance for the grammatical errors – I didn’t make the jpegs!); enjoy!