Category Archives: Writing Exercise

Calligram # 1: Ticino

For those of you unfamiliar with calligrams, they are images created out of spatially-arranged text, usually related to the image they create.

I began doing calligrams several years ago, and enjoy the “bite-sized” research involved in gathering facts, history and general information about a subject. The first one I made was probably a Viking ship or the wassail tree; the latter, I accidentally found being used as the back cover design of an art magazine online out of Romania; I asked them to attach my web address and credit the image to me, and they did so, but it taught me a valuable lesson: embed my name into the calligram!

Below is one that I did recently while on holiday in Lugano. You’ll hear more about that soon, but in the meantime, enjoy this calligram!  Just click on it to enlarge it. The image itself is based on a vintage postcard collage.

If anyone would like to use this in any way, please contact me through the comments below; whenever using any image, please give credit – whenever possible – where credit is due!

Ticino Brighter

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Filed under Articles, Calligram, History, History Undusted, Images, Publications, Research, Writing Exercise

Finding Time

Lately, I’ve been thinking about time; how much we have in a day, how fast it passes, and that days never seem to be long enough. In dwelling on time, is it a waste of time? Is productivity only what our hands produce, or does it include, in our perception, what our minds ruminate on? Obviously, the trail led me to idioms about time.

What idioms or phrases do you use to describe your day? I use one phrase about four times a week, as I write it in my journal to describe my day in a nutshell before I go into details: “Hit the Ground Running” (I just write HTGR). I’m grateful for the days I don’t use it… those days are like a secret stash of chocolate to be enjoyed (if you knew my husband, you’d know that’s a matter of self-preservation – but don’t tell him. Hoi, Schätzli). The phrase, etymologically speaking, came into use in the late 19th century, but really, well, hit the ground running during World War 2: It became a popular way of describing deployment from ships or parachuting into combat. Later it moved to a figurative sense; some days, I use it both literally and figuratively.

'Here's my plan,you hit the ground running.'

Here is a collection of idioms about using one’s time. Let me know if you use any of them regularly. If you know of any others, please share it in the comments below!

A day late and a dollar short

Against the clock

A good time

A hard time

A laugh a minute

A matter of time

A mile a minute

A month of Sundays

Around the clock

As honest as the day is long

A whale of a time

Beat the clock

Behind the times

Better late than never

Bide one’s time

By degrees

Call it a day/night

Call time (on something)

Carry the day

Catch someone at a bad time

Clock in, clock out

Crack of dawn

Crunch time

Day in the sun

Day to day

Dog Days

Donkey’s years

Don’t know whether to wind a watch or bark at the moon

Do time

Dwell on the past

Eleventh hour

Feast today, famine tomorrow

Five o’clock shadow

For the time being

From now on

From time to time

Have one’s moments

Have time on one’s side

Here today, gone tomorrow

High time

Hit the big time

One day, he hoped to hit the big time.

Hour of need

In an instant / In the blink of an eye

In the interim

In the long run

In the right (wrong) place at the right (wrong) time

In this day and age

Just in the nick

Kill time

Like clockwork

Like there’s no tomorrow

Long time no see

Make my day

Make time

Not in a million years

No time like the present

No time to lose

Now and then

Now or never

Once in a blue moon

Once upon a time

Only time will tell

Pressed for time

Serve time

Shelf life

Sooner or later

Stand the test of time

Stuck in a time warp

Take one day at a time

The moment of truth

The ship has sailed

The time is ripe

The time of one’s life

Time for a change

Time flies

Time heals all wounds

Time is money

Time is of the essence

Time off for good behaviour

Too much time on one’s hands

Turn back the hands of time

Until hell freezes over

Waste of time

Wasting time

When the moon turns to blood

Year in, year out

Time_Well_Wasted

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Filed under Articles, Cartoon, Etymology, Lists, Musings, Nuts & Bolts, Writing Exercise

The Long and Short of it

If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you know I’ve written a few novels; the recent sale was a great success!

I’ve been working on something that will not only help me market those novels to a wider audience, but it’s also giving me good experience in another genre: Short stories. Just like a novel, a short has a setting, a character, character arc, conflict and resolution – just in a much more compact and simpler landscape, so to speak. You can’t afford to flesh out an ensemble of characters or have a slow-burn leading up to the time-bomb or ticking clock of conflict. I’ve been trying my hand at various lengths, from flash fiction of 6 words, or exactly 53 words long, to short stories up to 7,500 words. They all have their own challenges.

Until recently, I’d been taking a distance-learning course on the topic of short fiction, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t worth the money – and was refunded; I’ve taken a course through the same institute before, so I’ll be glad to continue looking at their options since they were helpful in resolving the issue. While the premise of the course was a good one, I am a quick and independent learner, and I’d learned enough through online research to have all the principles – it’s just about putting them into practice.

I won’t be sharing any of the stories here, because I’ll be using them to enter writing competitions, and one of the frequent prerequisites is that a story has never been released online or elsewhere. But I’ll share a cartoon with you that kind of reflects the life of a writer: Writing, re-drafting, hoping others will appreciate it, and eventually releasing the story into the wider world…

Writer vs Reader

If you’re a writer, keep at it! Hopefully you live in an area where you can join a writers’ group, or at least find other writers that can encourage you and give you feedback; if, like me, you’re on your own and living in a country that speaks another language than the one you write in, then keep at it – find your encouragers online, or within your family or circle of local friends.

If you’re interested in finding out how to write short stories, here are a few recommendations:

James Scott Bell’s “How to Write Short Stories

How to Analyze Short Stories

Short Story Tips: 10 Ways to Improve Your Creative Writing

Keep writing!

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Filed under Articles, Links to External Articles, Publications, Research, Writing Exercise

Feeding the Right Wolf

Two Wolves

There’s an old Native American proverb about two wolves:  One is a black wolf, and the other, white.  The black wolf is everything that is bad, and the white one is everything that is good.  These wolves are constantly at battle inside each one of us:  Which wolf wins?  The one you feed.

This story has truth at its core, and we can apply this principle to any area of our lives:  Thoughts; diet; exercise; writing; speech; relationships; habits, and anything else you can think of.  Another adage comes to mind:  “Garbage in, garbage out” – what we feed ourselves (any part of our trinity, whether mind, body or spirit) is what will come out of us.  There are all kinds of sayings around this truth – roots and fruits, and all that.

Each one of us has a daily routine; it may vary greatly from person to person, but it’s there.  We all probably have habits we’d like to break; they could be things that are time- or energy-wasters, or habits like smoking or overeating.  I’d like to focus on the habits of writers.

Creativity, like caffeine, is a legal addictive substance; an addiction is formed from repeated applications (i.e. habit).  If we feed the right wolves, we will reach our goals, whatever they are, but if we feed the wrong wolves, we won’t – it’s that simple.  For some, it’s finishing the first chapter; for others, it’s publishing; for others, it might be collecting enough poems, artwork, or other creative forms until there’s enough for release (art show, cookbook, anthology, etc.).

Each creative expression has its own unique pair of wolves.  One common black wolf is what I would name “NEDs” – Negative Energy Drains.  It can be expressed through negative talk about yourself or your writing (whether its source is internal from a lack of self-confidence, or external from unsupportive environments or relationships), or a pressure placed on yourself (again, internal or external) to complete a goal based on unrealistic expectations.  Another common black wolf is “Ambiguity”:  As long as we don’t know what concrete steps to take to reach a goal, it’s difficult to move forward; as long as we allow ambiguity to feed, it will paralyze us.

In this scenario, the white wolves would be named PEFs (Positive Energy Feeds) and Preciseness.  Those might simply manifest themselves as speaking positively to yourself every time NED tries to speak or putting up positive post-its of where you’re going with your goals.  For the second wolf, define the steps needed – set yourself an appointment for the purpose of researching the steps, and finding concrete resources to help you reach your goals, then take one step at a time.  Keep that appointment.

Which wolf do you feed?

TwoWolves-black-white

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Filed under Articles, Musings, Writing Exercise

Similes Galore

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!

blind as a bat & drunk as a skunk - by jellogiant, Deviantart

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

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May 27, 2017 · 12:23 PM

Saturday Riddle #1: A Five-Letter Word

Just for fun, I thought I’d toss you a riddle; try to figure out the answer without using a search engine!

Take away my first letter, and I still sound the same. Take away my last letter, I still sound the same. Even take away my letter in the middle, I will still sound the same. I am a five-letter word. What am I?

Write your guesses in the comments below, and I’ll give the answer in the comments tomorrow!  Have fun!

Riddles

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Filed under Humor, Riddles, Writing Exercise, Writing Prompt

In Other Words – Make Every Word Count!

I’ve been out of WordPress-land for the past week or so; I’ve been focused on editing and didn’t want to blog until I had something worth writing about.  I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I’ve been working on & thinking about:

One golden rule in writing is to make every word count; along that yellow brick road are all kinds of signposts and potholes.  Signposts are things like “make verbs do the actions”, while potholes are “watch out for unnecessary words” – either for the sake of padding word count (e.g. for a short story or report that needs to reach a certain word count), or words that slip in needlessly.  Examples of unnecessary words are -ly adverbs (if we use the best verb, the adverb will be superfluous), strings of adjectives, really, very, and there is/are/were/was.  Recently I’ve been scanning my current manuscript for the kinds of words that slip in easily while writing in a flow; I have a list of things that I watch out for personally, and one item is “there”.  While I try to catch them as I write, sometimes I will intentionally use them as a “place-marker” – knowing that I’ll come searching for them later, find it, and re-write the sentence or scene with a fresher eye than I had at the time I originally wrote it.  That’s just me – I know myself, that I won’t leave things like that long.  If you’re not sure you’ll catch those sentences you want to improve on later, then mark them with a different coloured text, or an e-post-it, or something that will jump out at you.

Mark Twain - Very, Damn

Here are a few examples of sentences (from my current manuscript) with “there” before and after editing:

…there was a crisp off-shore wind… —> …a crisp off-shore wind blew…

…there was no recollection in his eyes… —> …no recollection flickered in his eyes…

…there was a twinkle of amusement in his eyes… —> …amusement twinkled in his eyes…

…there was no sign of the HMS Norwich… —> …the HMS Norwich was nowhere to be seen…

…there would be dire consequences… —> …dire consequences would follow…

…there was a smirk on the captain’s face… —> …a smirk spread across the captain’s face…

Tightening up the wording makes the sentence less clunky and more precise.  Making every word count is not about reducing word count, although that will be a natural consequence sometimes; at other times, by changing the sentence to mean more precisely what you want to convey, it may result in the word count actually increasing.  Just make sure that the words you use carry their weight.  Waffling, rambling & repetition will not win us any brownie points; I could easily go into detail about the ropes of a ship of sail, but it would probably bore most readers to death!  Sometimes “less is more”; it’s enough to say “ropes”.  If I describe a surgeon’s table and list the instruments he’s about to use, it may be TMI (“too much information”) if using the word “instruments” is enough; if I want something more specific, then I could name a tool at a particular moment in the scene.  Though I like the (audio) book “The Host”, by Stephenie Meyer, my one gripe with it is what I call the “roll call” scenes – where the characters present are listed, as if in a roll call.  It’s TMI – it would be enough to say something like, “those I counted as allies were with me”.

Other times, a list of words may become a linguistic collage, painting a picture in the reader’s mind of a character, or a place, or a mood.  A classic example of this is Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky; most of the words are nonsensical, non-existent words, but they nevertheless paint a clear image in the reader’s mind.

It’s why writing is never an exact science, and why, as a writer, I can always learn something, always hone my skills.  If I ever become satisfied with my own level of writing, to me that’s a warning sign that I’m missing a significant moment of improvement.  That should never stop someone from publishing – from letting their baby grow up and go out into the world to make other friends – but in the writing and editing process, be prepared to let go of pet scenes, or even some characters, in favour of an improved manuscript.  Making every word count requires that we learn to recognise what counts, and what doesn’t.  So keep writing, and keep honing your skills!

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Filed under Articles, Musings, Nuts & Bolts, Research, Writing Exercise

Interconnectivity

interconnectivity-internet

Interconnectivity

This weekend I led a singing workshop; at the time I was focused on the instrument as such, and the amazing, complex expressions the voice can produce.  I covered topics like anatomy, and the psychology of singing, as well as techniques and choices – the “paint palette” a singer can learn and use to produce a desired impact on the listener, painting an image before the mind’s eye through the choice of vocal colour and tone.  For me, the truest sense of interconnectivity in the context of vocals is that they are an expression not only of an individual’s anatomical uniqueness but also the personality, and even the spiritual condition.  I believe that we are created in the image of God – that is, a trinity:  We are body, soul, and spirit; and as such, when one area is facing challenges it will affect the other two areas, as well as the expression of the voice, tone, attitude and even the extent of the performer’s control over their vocals at any given moment.  [I also touch on this topic in my article about layering.]

Afterwards, the writer’s side of my brain kicked in and I began thinking of such things in terms of character development.  As I build a character’s profile, something must challenge that character or they’ll come across as flat and lifeless.  If a character had a traumatic experience with water as a child, they may have to face their fears through swimming across a lake, or getting into a rickety boat; if they’ve been abandoned by a parent, they may need to recognise a paralysing fear that keeps them from committing to relationships, and their arc may have primarily to do with overcoming that fear or not – it may be a side issue, but it will still add depth and humanity to the character.

Whatever weaknesses or challenges I decide on for a given character will guide the story to some extent; they will also influence their attitudes, responses and reactions in connecting with other characters.  These things will in turn influence the way they dress (rebellious, reserved, bold, fearful, quirky to keep people at a distance, etc.), the way they might walk or talk, or certain quirks like mannerisms or ways of speaking.  I might go through a list of a hundred related items (if they’re the main character, especially) to narrow down who the character is, even though most of it might not make it into the final cut.  The more I understand my character, the more consistent their responses, dialogues and actions will be throughout the story.

I just thought I’d share these thought processes with you, in the hopes that they can inspire you in your own characters’ developments.  Give them challenges, and find ways they can overcome (or be temporarily overwhelmed) in the midst of other more pressing issues, and (if you’ve chosen the path of hero-success over hero-failure) still find a way for them to triumph in the end.

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Filed under Articles, Musings, Nuts & Bolts, Plot Thots & Profiles, Writing Exercise

Buying Credit

No, the title is not referring to money or cash cards, but writing.  Stick with me.  If you’ve made yourself at home here and nosed through my cupboards, you’ll know that I do a LOT of research.  I love it.  It adds spice to my character’s meals, salty spray that blackens the redcoats of marines aboard a royal navy ship, tells me that heated arsenic smells like garlic, and makes the ship creak so loudly you’ll swear you’re going down to Davy Jones’ locker.  But there are times when, as an author, I’m required to blur the lines between fact and fiction.

There are certain things that people erroneously assume (such as Viking helmets) that I may need to adapt in order not to lose a reader’s trust (though trust me, I will never add horns!):  The sentence structures of bygone days were far more complex, with vestiges of Germanic linguistic influences – for my current manuscript (set in 18th century England and mostly aboard a Royal Navy ship of the line) I need to modernize the syntax without losing the High English flavour, and without compromising on the linguistic purity of my story’s time-setting; modern sensibilities (in social ladders, issues such as slavery, war, etc.); laxer standards (in, say, relationships or politics or social ranks), and so on.  A modern reader will most likely not appreciate the complex social mores of a time when men and women were never alone in a room – even when the man wanted to propose to the woman, and the parents wanted it to take place; and so, such things need to be adapted at times, to a certain extent, to reach a modern audience without alienating the audience that revels in bygone literature.

If I, as an author, want my reader (who is perhaps a stickler for all things historical) to give me the permission to bend a few social rules of the 18th century, I must first buy credit with them – prove to them that I’ve done my homework – so that they won’t get ripped out of the story in disbelief when I contrive to leave a man and a woman alone in the same room without a chaperone.  In my current manuscript, the husband and wife come from opposite ends of the social ladder, and the husband becomes a captain in the royal navy at the tender age of 20 or 21.  Both of these situations have many historical precedents; I know that from countless hours of research.  But most people who read historical novels might think, “But Viking helmets always have horns” – or something to that effect.  If written well, these disparities in understanding can be smoothed over, so that when I really DO break historical moulds, I am allowed to do so without offending the reader “in the know”.

1761-joshua-reynolds-lady-elizabeth-keppel

1761, Lady Elizabeth Keppel, by Sir Joshua Reynolds

This portrait illustrates an important point:  Many people, when thinking of the British rule of India, perceive it through postmodern lenses; we see it from the hindsight of Gandhi and the independence of the country from the imperialistic rule of British paramountcy.  But the other aspects were the children and wives of British soldiers, diplomats, and tradesmen, and the loneliness faced, the friendships struck with Indian men and women… these are important aspects to weave into a story, too, and thus require research.  Notice the pearls adorning the Indian woman below?  The researcher in me wants to know her story far more than the story of Lady Keppel (who died of a broken heart at the age of 29, just months after her husband had died of injuries from a riding accident).  Some readers may get jolted out of the world you create by the pearls, though it is historically accurate – so you’d still need to buy credit by setting up that aspect well.

These same credit-buying rules apply to any genre, even science fiction:  If you create a world set on another planet, that world will have laws – physics laws, indigenous social mores, etc. – and you as a writer must know what they are, and if or how they can be broken if need be.  You can’t claim that all liquid on the planet is frozen, and then have your character drinking from a fountain or stream, unless you explain how that’s possible.  If you do, you’ve taxed your believability credits and pulled the reader out of the world they’ve agreed to follow you into.  The manuscript that I’ll work on next (after the current one is published!) is science fiction; the air of the planet is toxic to humans, so I need to create a way for facial expressions, dialogue, etc. to come through even when the characters are outside in their suits.  I have done a lot of preliminary research into geology (that told me about heated arsenic, among other things); I also need to explain how a planet with multiple suns can have a stable enough orbit not to be drawn into one of the stars and burn up – i.e. I need to follow known physics laws, or explain how they are suspended for my planet.  I think you get the idea!

So if, as a writer, you want readers to believe what you write about a fictional character set in British India, you first need to buy credit with your readers by doing your historical homework and sculpting the landscape and characters in the rich tapestry they deserve.  If you are writing science fiction, establish your world and stick to your rules so that, if you need to bend them for a plot development, the readers will be willing to follow you on the adventure.  Whatever you do, keep writing!

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Filed under Articles, History, Military History, Nuts & Bolts, Plot Thots & Profiles, Research, Science & Technology, Writing Exercise