Category Archives: ROCK your Writing

A Writer’s Taxonomy

Blooms taxonomyAny teacher knows Bloom’s Taxonomy.  For those not in the teacher loop it’s how educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom classified the levels of thinking. Teachers use the classifications to foster and inspire students’ higher-level thinking skills.

Writers can use the same taxonomy to help improve their writing skills.

Knowledge, at the base, is the most fundamental. ( Imagine trying to solve a calculus problem without knowing how to add, subtract, divide, or multiply.)
Knowledge is knowing the writing basics.  Recalling:
  • grammar
  • story structure
  • punctuation
  • authorial techniques like metaphor, symbol, allusion, characterization, structure, imagery, form, motif, dialog, point of view, theme, and tone
Understanding: More than just recall is required. Comprehending the nuances and effects of the basics guides the writer to creating a better, tighter manuscript.
Writers need to understand how:
  • syntax manipulates a reader.
  • syntax impacts the author’s tone and mood.
  • syntax speeds up, slows down, and emphasizes.
  • story structure is more than just exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
  • punctuation impacts mood and slows down, speeds, up, and emphasizes.
  • authorial techniques and literary devices add depth, flavor, and nuance.
  • the hero’s/protagonist’s weakness; his desire; antagonist’s/enemy’s desire; the quest/plan; battle/crisis; self-revelation; and resolution/new normal are used for maximum impact.

Application: Utilizing what you understand to weave, manipulate, and design plot and characters. This is where each writer’s process is different. It doesn’t matter if you don’t write chapter 2 until chapter 1 is perfect or if you rewrite a hundred times. It’s implementing what you know that is important.

Analysis: Read and study trends and genres in the industry. What do agents/publishers want and expect of your genre? What do readers of your genre crave? Scrutinize industry standards to determine if your novel meets the mark.

Synthesis: Craft your manuscript so it meets those standards. Modify with revisions. Imagine new combinations. Predict the problems an agent/editor/reader might find. Deduce why novel X made it big.

Evaluation: The toughest level by far and the one some writers are ill-equipped for because their knowledge and understanding base is lacking. This is where pride and ego keep the aspiring writer down. This is where a thorough assessing and judging of craft and the publishing world determine your expectations, aspirations, fears, and insecurities. Writers should:

  • judge their manuscript against the current biggies.
  • evaluate how, where, and why the manuscript might need work.
  • solve manuscript weaknesses. Do you need a content editor? Do you need a grammar punctuation editor? Do you know how to assess whether the folks claiming to have those skills actually have credibility?
  • evaluate well-meaning fellow writers’ comments when they claim your writing is amazing. Would you take from-scratch baking advice from someone who only makes cakes from a box?

Where do YOU fall on the Writer’s Taxonomy?

Writers Taxonomy

Related Links: Readin’ & Writin’, Symbols & more Symbols, Rock Your Writing

 

Rx for Writing Blocks

writers blockWriter’s BLOCK.  It’s a phrase striking angst and fear into the hearts of writers. The inability to write—anything. The writer stymied, unable to move the plot along.

BAH! Don’t allow that evil phrase to coil around your soul like a serpent.

Call it a writing pause if you must—pause is such a pleasant-sounding and friendly word—but DO NOT give in! Do not cease writing. There are PLENTY of tasks to be done.

Friends often ask if I experience writer’s block. My response? I don’t have the luxury. My hours after the day job and during the weekends are precious. Staring at a computer screen with a blinking cursor and nothing to write? No thank you.

Here’s a few ideas should you come to a place where you are pausing to consider the plethora of plot and character options.

1. Revise and edit earlier chapters. Be vigilant. Often new ideas will come.

2. Write a blog or 2 or 3.  I post a new blog every Monday. Should I find my work week having drained me of all creativity I write the next few weeks’ blogs.

3. Write tweets for future use. Then when you ARE back in the writing saddle those tweets are ready to go.

4. Find and read information about a topic in your story. The internet has information about everything. There must be some subject or object or place or history or event in your story you can learn more about. Research inspires ideas. It really really does. This, more than anything else, generates tons of ideas.

5. Revisit your original research notes for inspiration, plot twists, detail, etc.

6. Google photos of something you’ve written about. Is there a detail that might advance the plot, add detail, and/or be be used symbolically?

7. Create a pinterest board for your work-in-progress. Pictures are worth a 1000 words, right? Here’s mine: Pinterest-30px  It has boards for all my novels plus my WIP.

8. Write engaging captions under the pinterest pins.

9. Revisit your outline. Add to it. Flesh it out. What? You don’t have one? Might that be the source of your writing pause? Knowing where your novel is going helps alleviate the “what next” conundrum.

10. Do NOT commiserate with others experiencing the same thing. Misery loves company—not helpful. Talk to a writer who is on fire! Read their blogs! Let their sparks ignite your own.

11. Take a walk. Walk the dog. Clean the fridge. Perform a mindless task but think about the plot, characters, next chapter, climax, and ending while you’re doing it. Something is sure to emerge. ( I imagine an entire chapter in my head before writing it.)

12. Write a synopsis for the novel.

13. Craft a query.

14. Write a one-line pitch.

15. Write a riveting back cover hook.

16. Re-write the bio on your Amazon author page or website.

17. Re-write one of your first blogs. Add to it—give it new zing! Notice how much better you write now? Give yourself a pat on the back.

18. Re-tag your blog posts. Use better key words.

19. Re-write your twitter bio. You only have so many spaces, make them count.

20. Write a poem or journal entry in the voice of one of your characters.

21. Read one of Shakespeare’s plays. The Bard was brilliant, his characters legendary, his understanding of humans’ proclivities profound. Ideas are sure to follow.

22. Take a drive. The Driving Muse loves to visit then!

23. Identify the reason for the temporary pause. Are you tired, angry, frustrated, grieving? An emotion that overwhelms your creativity isn’t a “block.” Use the emotion to writerly advantage. Note how your body feels during times of intense emotion. Embrace it! You will need to call upon that emotion when you write about a character experiencing the same one. Is the plot line frustrating? Identify why. Is it a plot flaw or a matter of getting from scene A to scene C with a connecting scene B that makes sense?  That’s not a block that’s intelligent plotting.

Did you notice that most of these solutions require writing and/or reading? You don’t have writers block if you are writing. And reading, my friends, is research, an important part of the writing life.

May the Muse be ever with you.

Related posts: Readin’ & Writin’

Manuscript Cleanup

editWriters are creative. Plots and characters appear, evolve, and invade our minds, haunting us until we unleash them on paper or computer screen. That’s fun!

But there’s another aspect of writing that isn’t quite as fun. The grammar-punctuation part. It’s a chef’s version of cleaning the kitchen after making a 5-course gourmet meal. Or cleaning the house after hosting a New Year’s bash.

And yet the writing cleanup must be done!

Cleaning, like editing, becomes easier—more efficient—over time and with increased experience. And one day, tidying your manuscript may become a task you enjoy.  Instead of regarding editing as drudgery, imagine you are polishing your manuscript until it is free of the germs, particles, grime, and residue of initial drafts.

A down and dirty method for cleaning your manuscript.

Wipe out those indiscriminate, willy-nilly, neither-rhyme-nor-reason changes in tense. Remember to hose down those ( usually unnecessary ) perfect tenses.

Rinse away overused words: just, very, literally, really, maybe, quite, amazing, things, stuff, it, then. Replace with a better word.

Brush up on your grammar. Recognizing the simple from the compound complex sentence or the independent from the dependent clause helps a writer manipulate and master sentence construction and variety. Know the grammar rules before breaking them. (And yes, as a literature major I had to diagram many sentences.)

Vacuum loose punctuation: Manuscripts speckled with semicolons  and em dashes as though they were  sprinkles on a cupcake need to be reassessed. My fave punctuation book is Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Funny and educational.

Wash those vague words down the banal drain. Select the perfect word. It makes all the difference. Unless, of course, your intention is to be vague.

Polish your word choice. A word’s connotation ( the feeling the word invokes ) is more important than its denotation ( the dictionary definition).

Sweep for the correct prepositions. Choose the one that does the job. Here’s a Preposition List.

Scour for commas-gone-wild usage. ( It’s my personal editing demon.) Check out Purdue Online Writing Lab for answers to all your comma questions.

Swab the manuscript deck for misplaced modifiers. Oddly worded sentences result in unintended—and funny—meanings. Ex: I saw a painting walking down the hall. Daily Writing tips offers some nice examples and explanations.

Shine your syntax until it gleams. Syntax is powerful. It can: emphasize, shift mood, focus, imply relationships/connections, create more or less abstraction, reveal character, establish flow/rhythm, break flow/rhythm, foster suspense, establish tone, and add variety.Here’s syntax cheat cheat.

Have fun polishing your manuscript.

Note: I really, really, really hope I don’t have any typos in this post. Please, let me know if I do!

Related Posts: Readin’ & Writin’

 

 

Hot and Cold

hot coldTemperature symbolism is hot-hot-hot. Turn it up for burning anger or passion that sizzles. Turn it down to reveal character and mood. But be careful, the heated adjectives can be ambiguous in the cold reality of writing.

Temperature can:
  • reveal a novel’s overall mood
  • be a plot device
  • reveal a character’s personality
  • reveal a character’s mood
  • be thematic
  • The Great Gatsby is loaded with heat! Tom is a hot-head. Gatsby is hot for Daisy. Tom is hot ( lusting ) for Myrtle and hot ( with anger) when he discovers Daisy’s infidelity. Myrtle is hot to be wealthy. Gatsby made all his money on hot goods. Myrtle’s husband is hot to murder his wife’s killer. The rising temperature mirrors the rising anger/lust of the characters.
Hot—and all it’s scorching synonyms—can refer to:
  • lust: He got hot just lookin’ at her.
  • personality: He’s a hot head. ( aka rage-aholic)
  • anger: Tom grew hot when he learned Daisy cheated on him with Gatsby.
  • popularity: Every author dreams of being the next hot new author.
  • enthusiasm: He was hot for the next new novel by his favorite author.
  • physical appearance: Damn, his chiseled body is hot.
  • actual temperature: There are many descriptive words for hot, be sure to choose the one that reveals just how hot.
  • Heated words can refer to: lust, love, anger, embarrassment, guilt, shame

A few synonyms for hot! Warm, summery, tropical, broiling, boiling,searing, blistering, sweltering, torrid, sultry, humid, muggy, roasting, baking, scorching, scalding, searing, heated, red-hot, steamy

Cold:
  • personality: The boss in The Devil Wears Prada was cold-hearted.
  • lack of emotion: His response to my question was cold.
  • remoteness: The detectives knew their leads were cold but they looked for clues anyway.
  • probability: It will be a cold day in hell when I forgive you.
  • austerity: Some folks think that modern furniture is cold-looking.
  • actual temperature
  • Chilly words can refer to anger, indifference, death, reality, conviction, cruelty

A few synonyms for cold! chilly, chill, cool, freezing, icy, nippy, wintry, frosty, frigid, bitter, biting raw, bone-chilling, arctic, frozen ,numb, shivery

So whether you’re writing His arctic glare sent chills down my spine or Her smoldering gaze lit my desires on fire

have fun lowering or raising the temperature in your novel.

 Related Posts: Symbols & More Symbols; Rock Your Writing

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Characterization

CharacterizationCharacterization 101: Writers have quite an arsenal of ways for conveying a character’s personality. Whether overt or subtle, the savvy reader knows that characters are brought to life only if the writer has effectively done their job.

So how does a writer portray personality?

Fictional names act subliminally on readers. Is the name:
  • symbolic?
  • metaphoric?
  • ironic?
  • androgynous? Why does an author assign a name like Lee, Pat, Kelly, or Chris ?
  • cliché or stereotype?
  • See character names for examples and an in-depth explanation.
Physical descriptions may convey personality as well.
  • Exposition style biographical summaries—aka “telling”— are found in older fiction.
  • Body type, hair, and eye color can be conveyed gradually by “telling” or with action and/or dialog. “I’m not fooled by her baby blues.”
  • Modern authors use synecdoche— one part standing in for the whole. For example nails that are chewed may indicate a nervous personality
  • Clothes are often indicators of character, class, & lifestyle. Your character’s driving a dented, rusty economy car while dressed in knock-off Christian Louboutins and holding a fake Louis Vuitton handbag may indicate a female with high aspirations and/or a  concern with appearances. Flashy jewels and clothes usually indicate an attention-seeking personality.
  • See character descriptions for more.
A character’s dialog conveys personality. It often reveals:
  • level of education
  • ethnicity
  • geographic location
  • predominant attitudes
  • maturity level
  • biases and/pr prejudices
  • relationship status
  • respect or disrespect for other characters
  • their need for understanding. For example, are they overly wordy or pithy?
  • cognitive level. Do they ask a lot of open-ended questions?
  • What, why, and how the other character’s respond ( or not) is also relevant.
  • Let’s not forget internal dialog–-those thoughts not spoken but which are frequent in a 1st person or limited 3rd person point of view
Actions often speak louder than words. The saying “it’s not what you say but what you do” is just as important in literature. Actions reveal:
  • feelings
  • intentions
  • gut reactions
  • or they may also disguise feelings and intentions

Writers may enlist all these character builders or employ only one or two. For example, Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird never speaks and his physical description is given at the end of the novel, and yet Boo is made real from other’s dialog and his heroic actions.

Have fun creating your characters!

Related links: Readin’ & Writin‘, Rock Your Writing

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Biblical Allusions

biblical allusionjpgIn the western world, Christianity and the Bible are engrafted in our collective conscience. Most people—even non believers—know a bible story or two, which is why writers add depth and complexity with its timeless themes, stories, and iconic names.

The above photo is from the movie 300. At the end—warning: plot spoiler, King Leonidas dies and final scene shows his body position at his time of death, which really resembles that of a crucifixion. Was the screenwriter saying that Leonidas was Jesus? My guess is NO, but the position of his body does suggest that Leonidas sacrificed himself for his people. A second example is from Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. The old man carries his boat over his shoulder ( like a cross) uphill ( Calvary) at the end of the novel. There are a thousands  and thousands of examples of biblical allusions from literature and film. The more you know your Bible the easier they will be to find.

What: The Bible’s timeless portrayals of betrayal, sin, falls from grace, loss of innocence, and redemption are brought to life within its pages.

Why:  Writers allude to the Bible for many reasons. It may be to:
1. explain a theme, problem,  experience, or event
2. reinforce a theme, problem, or experience, or event
3. add irony
4. satirize
5. condemn
6. foreshadow
7. characterize a person or place

 

How: Here’s just a tiny sampling of symbolic or metaphoric examples of common biblical allusions.
  • names of either places and/or people
  • garden ( Paradise )
  • 7 days
  • one brother killing another
  • tree of life/ tree of knowledge of good and evil
  • serpents
  • plagues
  • flood
  • parting of waters
  • loaves of bread
  • no room at the inn
  • crucifixion
  • 40 days
  • escape from slavery
  • wandering in a desert
  • milk and honey
  • being tempted by Satan
  • carpenter occupation
  • 12 friends
  • a cock crowing 3 times
  • flaming bushes
  • last suppers

Christianity doesn’t have an exclusive on religious allusion! Read novels and poems from other countries/cultures and expect allusions to Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, etc and their corresponding holy scriptures. Of course, if the reader is unfamiliar with the religion they won’t be able to identify the religious allusion.

So before dismissing a character’s name or circumstance as coincidental, ask yourself why the author may have alluded to the Bible ( or other religious text). For example:
  • a character named Eve ( or a variant of ) may tempt a man and get kicked out of a metaphoric paradise
  • a man with 12 friends may be betrayed by one of them

What biblical allusion have you used, read, and/or seen?

Related links: Rock Your Writing, Symbols & More Symbols

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Idea Vault

idea vaultWriters have a plethora of ideas. Idea Bombs usually come at odd times–when driving, during a conversation, at work, or while drifting off to sleep.

It never fails, one minute you’re engrossed in some task, the next--kapow!— an explosion of ideas blows up your mind! I have some of the best ideas while cooking ( shhshsh….don’t tell the hubby).

The not-so-great thing about an Idea Bomb is they are quick to dissipate into the ether, often before one can do anything about them.

Here’s a few suggestions for storing those ideas before it’s too late. Use Idea Vaults. Warning: This is for the techno-proficient. Sorry Luddites, you’re just have to carry pen and paper wherever you go.

  •  Use Pintrest’s secret board for top secret photo ideas for the next novel.
  •  Create a separate board for each work in progress.
  • No time to type? Take a photo and pin it to one of your boards. (This is one of my teacher tricks. If class is over and students are still mid-task, I have them take a photo.)
  • Take screen captures of information before it disappears on the fast-moving Twitter or Facebook feed
  •  Use the Notes section on your phone or ipad. Create separate notes for:
1. blog topic ideas
2. character and place names
3. each novel/work in progress
4. future plots/novels
5. 1-sentence pitches
6. catchy words/phrases for future promos

 

  • Keep unused witty 140-character tweets in drafts. Having a brain dead day? Scroll through your tweet drafts and voila!
  • Set up devices so they sync—if you’re not sure how to do this just ask any three year old. LOL
  • Set up a Cloud account. My son the computer engineer says, “If a document isn’t in 3 places, it doesn’t exist.”
  • Create folders for any giant chunk of words you cut from an MS but suspect might one day come in handy

The downside of using technology?  Computers, phones, and iPad can be lost, stolen, or go under water. However, I’ve lost more scraps of paper with brilliant ideas ( cough cough) than I’ve lost with technology.

Do YOU use Idea Vaults?

Related Links: Readin’ & Writin’

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Writing Shoes

writing like shoesReady to begin writing the first draft of your novel? Better put on your writing shoes for completing that 1st Draft Mile.

Writing a novel is like walking: Having a destination, avoiding obstacles, enjoying the scenery, and hitting your stride makes the journey more interesting. Now, which footwear will you wear?

flip flops: For the minimalist whose plots, sub plots, action, character development, & dialog are lean and mean. They add detail, mood, and style in subsequent drafts, unpacking a 55,000-word 1st draft into a 89,000-word  final.

high heels: Concerned with first draft appearances, these writers balance character development, sentence crafting, nuances, and careful plotting until satisfied–even if it’s a bit wobbly. They prefer the arched support of a developed novel. Fancy embellishments and subtractions are done after strutting their stuff.

loafer: Write a bit, complain a little, brew coffee, take a break, enjoy social media, write a bit more. Maybe skip to the end—yeah, the end, or the love scene—they really want to write that steamy love scene. These writers enjoy dawdling before writing a difficult scene. They don’t fret too much though because they are confident it will get done eventually.

lug-soled boots: This writer doesn’t wait for inspiration—they lasso it with their Rope of Determination ( like Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth but for writers ) and trudge through the first draft with unwavering determination. They don’t shy away from fording a quagmire of plot problems and character issues because their boots were made for walkin.’  (can you hear Nancy Sinatra singing, “These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do?”)

running shoes:  Sprinting to the end—their fingers flying over the keyboard, these writers value the speed with which the words explode from their brain. The faster the better. Complete sentences? Mispelled words? Forget about ’em, this first-drafter runs past them—time for fixes later.

What pair of writing shoes do you put on?

Related Posts: Rock Your Writing

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The 4 Cardinal Virtues

4 cardinal virtuesAnd how an author uses them for evil!
( A Sarcastic Glimpse Into A Writer’s World)

Virtues are good, right? Not when they’re done this way!

Note: I went for satire but wasn’t able to pull off the snark and shaming intent.

Justice: Play fair! If another writer RTs spam on twitter, so should you! If someone makes a caustic remark, fling one back yourself. Justice is sooo cathartic. Did a troll leave a bad review? Respond with venom.

Prudence: Wisdom is important. Make sure to tell everyone on social media how smart you are. Tell them a few times, in case it didn’t penetrate their thick skull. Correct folks whenever you can. Make quick judgment calls and never apologize for being wrong—because you never are. Argue with a friend who points out a plot flaw. They’re just jealous of your brilliance.

Temperance: Self-control and moderation is critical when researching for your novel. Facts? Forget ‘em—it’s called fiction for a reason. Restrain from editing your novel masterpiece. It’s brilliant! Why remove a single adverb, adjective, or repetitive phrase? It’s your style!

Fortitude: Courage is required when accosting an agent in the bathroom at the writer’s conference, and it takes endurance to stalk them all weekend. Confront your fear and send out that first draft query. Do not be intimidated by a this-is-not-what-we’re-looking-for rejection letter by bad-mouthing them on twitter.

Now that you know how to live a virtuous writing life, be sure to name drop Plato, Aristotle, Saint Ambrose, and Saint Augustine. Righteous intellectuals! Just like you!

See you in writer heaven!

Related Links:  Rock Your  WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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Orwell’s Rules

“Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by any conscious action do anything about it.”

orwellblogSome things never change. That statement is the opening line of George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” written in 1946.  It’s a 10-page single-spaced censure of poor political and academic  writing.

And because his polemic is an old one—it wouldn’t be surprising if they find hieroglyphics with a similar rebuke—I decided to blog about my few favorite lines and share his enduring writing tips.

“Our civilization is decadent and our language—so the argument runs—must inevitably share in the general collapse.”
  • OMG and LOL! How might Orwell react if he were to travel in in the Tardis with Dr. Who to witness today’s language transgressions.
“[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”
  • Mind you, this was before we had 500 channels to choose from and yet “reality” TV is all the rage.
“The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.”
  • Ah, there’s the rub! And the cry of every  teacher of language and literature heard around the world. The writer’s challenge: Using mere words to convey a specific emotion, setting, idea, subject, object, belief, personality etc that is understandable to the reader. It takes a lot of “necessary trouble.” Writers, editors, and teachers call is rewriting and editing.
But there’s a solution to tragic writing!
Orwell lists the common and correctable problems:

Dying metaphors: “A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image.”  Most writers no longer understand the hackneyed metaphors they are using. Orwell’s examples of metaphors that have “been twisted out of their original meanings” include, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder, Achilles’ heel, swan song, and toe the line” which he states is “sometimes written as tow the line.”

Operators of verbal false limbs: (Love this metaphor!) “These save the trouble of picking out  appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry.” Using a phrase when a simple verb will do. Examples include ” render inoperative, be subjected to, give rise to, have the effect of, exhibit a tendency to..”
  • Flames shoot from my eyes when I read these ‘false limbs’ in student papers.

Pretentious diction: “…used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments.”  Where would politicians be without all that pretentious politically-correct rhetoric?

Meaningless words: “In certain kinds of writing, particularly…literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.”  This refers to jargon, vague, or ‘in’ words that are used in a consciously dishonest way.
  • We have grown so familiar and possibly anesthetized by meaningless words that we accept them, assuming they mean what we want them to mean.
  • A favorite personal example is when a student writes, “We, as humans…” As opposed to what, I ask. There’s no aliens in class from other worlds—that I know of.

Orwell provides an example of a well-written passage ( taken from Ecclesiastes in the Holy Bible)

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill: but time and chance happen to them all.

His bombastic re-wording.

“Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”

Huh?

Another example: In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that  instead of I think. 

Orwell suggests that a “scrupulous” writer will ask himself the following questions for every sentence he writes.

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
  5. Could I put it more shortly?
  6. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Orwell also offers the following rules for writers.

1.Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or a jargon word if you think of an everyday English equivalent.
5.Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Some writing tips are timeless.

Related Links:  Rock Your  WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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Writing & Chocolate Chip Cookies

cookiesWriting is a lot like making chocolate chip cookies. OK, I’ll admit this blog comes after fighting off a craving—and losing—to the allure of the confection, but the similarities are sweet!

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour is like the plot of a novel, the basic element in any delicious tale.
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda is a leavening agent of skill and craft waiting to expand your draft batter when it’s time to turn on the revision heat.
  • 1 teaspoon salt is akin to the salt of your brow as you labor over your creation.
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened. Like real butter, well-chosen words make a better novel and discriminating readers will taste the difference when substitutes are used.
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar. Without sweet conflict a writer has no story. And like the iconic chocolate chip cookies several kinds add depth and complexity to its sweetness, be it the…
  • 3/4 cup packed white refined sugar of man vs man or the psychologically tormented  man vs self.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Great novels have an extra uumph to them—infused with the undetectable something special. Imitation zing doesn’t work—dig deep for the real thing.
  • 2 large eggs. Walkin’ on thematic eggshells does a writer no good. They must crack their creativity wide open to scramble a reader’s prosaic ideals while incorporating them into the story.
  • 2 cups chocolate chips. With just the right amount of narrative hooks, the story will melt in a reader’s mouth, leaving them eager for another bite and turn another page.
  • 1 cup chopped nuts and other optional mix-ins are odd characters that add flavor and zing your novel.

PREHEAT oven to 375° F. Revisions are in your future—don’t become attached to any single sentence.

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Writer’s Baking Instructions:

COMBINE plot, craft, and sweat over computer keyboard. Beat words, conflict,  more conflict, and that something special in your brain until ideas are combined. Add themes, one at a time, rewriting & fine tuning well after each addition. Gradually beat in plot mixture. Stir in narrative hooks and optional symbols, motifs, allusions. Drop by rounded sentences and paragraphs onto pages and chapters.

Write & rewrite & edit until story is done—whether you like it moist and chewy, burnt, hard, or slightly raw. In writing time this can take anywhere from 2 months to 10 years. Cool completed novel for several weeks before moving manuscript to the query-agent racks.

Have fun cookin’ up your novel!

Related Links:  Rock Your  WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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Writing & Ethnic food


novel foodAs Hubby and I were deciding
which local restaurant to visit, I remarked that novels and ethnic food have much in common.

Warning: To all those who will tell me that healthy versions or alternatives of these foods can be made in my kitchen—you missed the point.

Italian: A carb and cheese-laden indulgence, this comfort food is like a favorite dog-eared novel in our library. Its familiar themes and characters our treasured friends—good for devouring during rainy days or when we need to relive our delight of the initial reading.

Greek: Flavorful food that harkens back to simpler days when stoic philosophers nibbled upon olives and charmed us with tales of Homeric heroes. Within the pages of these novels lay a honeyed treat of lusty gods and duex ex machina endings where themes of honor and destiny are ripe for the chewing.

Latin: A little hot, a whole lot of exotic flavors, this food brings out the magical realism found in many novels. Spicy sexual conquests, sour inequities, and sweet victories provide a decadent mouthful of themes, symbols, and metaphors from our favorite—and often—Latino authors.

Indian: A spicy hot mixture of tales that are often filled with gender and class discrimination, the novels curry favor by  providing readers a taste of the exotic and the forbidden in our lives.

Japanese: Like the trendy cool Sushi bars offering everything from humble udon soup to the showy Fuji Volcano to the sushi-for-beginner’s California Roll these stories offer a blend of culturally nuanced symbols and metaphors for readers to explore and discover. Be it the raw themes of the human condition or ‘tempuring’ root concepts with an appetizing coating, these  novels can be enjoyed by novice and expert literati alike.

Chinese: Delectable, savory, and less-filling books to be shared with friends. Whether  sweet or sour these tales pack a kung pow punch with a deceptively vague but fortunate message at the end.

Middle Eastern: If they can make a delicious salad from parsley–considered a garnish to prosaic eaters–imagine the wonders found in novels where a humble symbol is elevated to reveal a universal truth, where kebabs of meaty plots are skewered with ancient dogmas to sear flavorful wisdom into your soul.

American fast food: Salty goodness between two buns—um…you know you shouldn’t read it—it’s bad for you—won’t stretch your mind and will only stretch your thighs—and yet once in awhile we must indulge in a novel with little literary merit. Oh! And as you lick salt from your fingers you say ‘That novel  was delicious!’

Hungry yet?

Related Links:  Rock Your  WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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Windows & doors & stairs, oh my!

home

Every man’s home is his castle! It’s also full of symbolism.

The roof over your head, the window you gaze through, the threshold you walk across— all these structural features can be used symbolically in literature.

windows:
  • let in the light of knowledge/understanding
  • allow the character to view the outside world–which may or may not be a good thing. In The House on Mango Street, poor immigrant wives sit by the window staring out into a world they are never able to participate in.
  • with dirty glass might indicate the observer’s foul view of the world.
  • with always-closed drapes might reveal a characters’ closed-mindedness or fear of the outside world.
  • are the eyes of the soul—traditionally speaking.
  • of stained glass—especially those with religious  iconography—shout RELIGION. The observer sees the world through the dogma of their religion.
doors: A symbolic powerhouse!
  • represent the divide between good and evil.
  • transition from one stage in life to another.
  • a divide between one world and another.
  • with a religious symbol or object portray reveal the occupant’s beliefs. For example a mezuzah—a scroll with Hebrew words to remind one of God’s presence and commandments–is specifically placed on the doorpost of Jewish homes.
  • with locks suggest secrets and forbidden places/worlds/experiences.
  • Note: to hear the knocking—especially if comes from a door knocker—is a sign that fate is headed one’s way. Should you hear, “…some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. “’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—Only this and nothing more.”–you know something ‘Poe-etically–‘ creepy is about to happen. In Macbeth, the drunken porter—making the first knock-knock jokes—signals the fateful demise of the overly ambitious Macbeths. “Knock, Knock! Never at quiet. What are you? But this place is too cold for hell. I’ll devil-porter it no further.”
archways:
  • a divine or religious entrance into another state of being
  • rebirth
  • a metaphysical time-space threshold
walls:
  • strength
  • division or barrier
  • privacy
floors:
  • the earthy realm
  • being grounded in reality
  • the material of the floor may also be symbolic. Is its marble ( wealth ) or rustic wood ( humility ), or linoleum ( low income ). Does the floor’s pattern reveal something about the culture or social class of the characters?
roofs:
  • sheltering
  • keeps evil out
  • the shape of the roof is suggestive, as well. Domed roofs are emblematic of heaven, low roofs suggest restriction or being hemmed in by dogmas, vaulting roofs might be metaphor for high-mindedness or lofty ideals.
halls:
  • a transitional location
  • the place of choice before deciding which symbolic door you will enter
stairs: I know, I know, you’re breaking out in Led Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven song
  • which one ascend lead to heaven or enlightenment
  • which one descends end in depravity, wickedness, evil or  madness
  • that are winding indicates mystery–one can’t see straight ahead
  • In Effi Briest the stairs in the young wife’s home are described as “crooked, rickety, and dark” which aptly describes her feelings, the house’s history, and her marriage.
kitchens:
  • the domain ( traditionally ) of women
  • maternal care taking, be it with food, spiritual, or motherly nourishment
  • most obvious place to use a knife—ahem
living room/drawing rooms:
  • place where proper social behavior was expected
  • location of one’s public persona
  • outward appearances
bedrooms:
  • love
  • lust
  • one’s true self might be revealed here
libraries:
  • the location synonymous with learning, knowledge, and education
  • a place where ancient wisdom or secrets are revealed
attics:
  • where memories remain tucked away
  • a place of half-remembered or forgotten truths
  • where relics of the family’s or ancestor’s past are hidden
basements:
  • your deepest darkest secrets
  • the underworld or lower realms
  • creepy or base desires

Have fun deciding which rooms to use in your novel!

Related Links:  Rock Your  WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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Blood Writes

bloodBlood is a powerful and often confusing symbol. From the Divine to the violent, our fascination with blood infuses our collective consciousness. An entire book could be devoted to the symbolism of Blood— and perhaps already has.

The reason behind the power of blood is obvious.  Blood is LIFE— a physical indicator of our existence. And yet, behind this crimson liquid life force, man has imbued blood with great spiritual, divine, and emotional dominion.

Here’s a very small sampling of words that reveal our fascination with blood.
  • Bloodline: A line or sequence of ancestors. In some primitive Amazonian tribes, Shaman are forbidden to taint their bloodline, for to do so destroys and corrupts their mystical powers. Bloodlines produced royal dynasties, perpetuated genetic anomalies and disorders, or got your kinsmen slaughtered.
  • Bloodlust: Intense desire to see people killed.
  • Bloodbath: a fight that ends with death and dismemberment OR a struggle that ends with a group’s total destruction.
  • Blueblood: A member–usually by bloodline– who comes from old historic aristocracy.
  • Oxblood: A really weird name for a color, don’t you agree?
  • Cold-blooded: Adjective to describe actions done without emotion or concern for others’ emotions or consequences.
  • Hot-blooded: Adjective describing one whose actions are determined by intense emotions, be it good or bad.
  • And there’s blood feud, blood sport, blood and guts, bloodcurdling, blooded, bloodguilt, bloodred, bloodstain, bloodstone, bloodsucker, bloody shirt, bloody-minded, lifeblood, and Bloody Mary.

Blood is symbolic of both LIFE and DEATH.

Blood:
  • determines destiny
  • atones for sins—the goblet from which apostles drank held the symbolic blood of Christ
  • appeases  gods/placates angry gods—human or animal was offered as a sacrifice or gift
  • saves—the Israelites marked their doors with blood from  a slaughtered lamb so that the Spirit of the Lord knew to pass over their homes while on the way to killing everyone with a first born
  • destroys
  • heals
  • is lustful passion
  • is rage
  • is violence
  • is an ingredient in witch brews
  • is Divine—Christ’s blood
  • marks one’s entry into adulthood—blood brother rites and/or a woman’s first menses
  • contaminates—some  early cultures believed women’s monthly blood made them unclean
  • drinking was one way to absorb the power of your enemies
  • letting—in all it’s ancient and modern forms—releases emotional trauma or pain
  • brings emotional trauma or pain
  • a favorite of Vampires everywhere
  • purifies and corrupts
  • saves and curses
  • doesn’t wash off—see Lady Macbeth for details
  • incriminates and exhonerates
 Embrace the powerful symbolism connected with blood.
Have a bloody good time writing your novel!

 

Related Links:  Rock Your  WritingSymbolism & more symbols;

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Symbolic Geometry

shapes1Circles and squares and triangles and stars, oh my! No, this is not a post about your sugariffic breakfast cereal but about the symbolic—often esoteric—power of shapes. Before man carved pictographs and told the Gods’ tales in cuneiform, the meanings of shapes denoted meanings and were imbued with mystical power.

The following is a blog-quick look at a few common shapes.

Circle/sphere: 
  • universal symbol of completeness and perfection
  • God
  • the sphere of Heaven
  • circle of life
  • movements of the stars and heavens
  • Hindus and Buddhists associate it with birth, death, and rebirth
  • Wheel of law in Buddhism
  • A round table ( early management style first practiced by the legendary King Arthur ) denotes equality—all stakeholders having an equal share in solving a problem
  • Dante saw Hell as a series of concentric circles
  • A ring denotes a pledge or promise
  • a sphere represents the spiritual aspect of Heaven/Universe, which is why domes top many religious buildings
  • spirals are symbolic of energy
  • spirals drawn in a woman’s womb indicate fertility
  • the helix is also a fertility symbol and the double helix has become the visual representation of DNA—guess those ancients were on to something
Triangles—associated with the number 3
  • beginning, middle, and end
  • trinities of gods
  • body, soul, and spirit
  • man, woman, and child
  • an upward-pointing equilateral triage represents the male organ
  • fire
  • a down-ward pointing triangle is the symbol for a woman or her womanly parts
  • water
  • the base of a pyramid represents the earth; the apex, heaven
Square/cube
  • a pausing or suspension—not necessarily associated with negative aspects
  • stability
  • lasting perfection
  • the four directions
  • In Islam it represents the heart’s susceptibility to the divine, angelic, human, and diabolic forces
  • square halos in Christian art indicates the person was alive when painted
  • a cube is symbolic of the material universe
  • wisdom, veracity, and moral fortitude
  • the cloistered courtyard of religious structures indicate endurance and security
Stars
  • wisdom
  • spiritual counsel or advice
  • light of wisdom shining in the dark ( sinful ) world
  • mythological figures or deities
  • the dead
  • the Star of Bethlehem symbolizes Christ’s birth
  • the 5-pointed pentagram  pointed upward represents a human ( the top point is the head, 2 arms on the side points, 2 legs of the downward facing point )
  • flip the pentagram around and it’s the sign of the Devil—the two upward pointing points becoming the  Devil’s horns
  • the 6-pointed hexagram—2 interlocking triangles— is symbolic of: 1) the conjoining of male and female; 2) the four elements; 3) Star of David; and 4) Judaism
  • the merkabah is an ancient geometry dating back 3 thousand years. Some believe the shape has Egyptian origins. The symbol is shrouded in mystery and attributed with supernatural ( even divine ) power that allows one to enter enlightenment, zen, achieve spiritual and/or physical ascension, or even experience cosmic transport!
  • the 7-pointed heptagram is: 1) a magic symbol for pagans; 2) symbolic of the 7 days of creation; and 3) the 7 steps of enlightenment for Buddhists
Crosses—I could do another blog about the many different types of crosses—and probably will
  • Christianity
  • the shape predates Christianity
  • sacred shape to Ancient Egyptians  and Aztecs
  • more to come on crosses
Mandala—not a shape per se but a pattern
  • search for inner peace or spiritual enlightenment
  • pathway to the Divine or God
  • a symbolic trap for malevolent spirits
  • used as a tool or focal point in meditation
  • universe

mandala1A giant thank you to Sue O’Kieffe for allowing me to post her mandalas. For more of her gorgeous Sacred Circles click HERE.

mandala2

Have fun shaping up that novel!

 

Related Links:  Rock Your  WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
Click  Amazon link for novels.

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