Just how BIG is a big word?

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After a recent discussion on the use or non-use of BIG words in writing, I had to stop and think…what exactly do we mean when we say BIG WORDS? And to what extent is it okay to use these so-called BIG words in our writing?

If one Googles “SAT Vocabulary,” you will get a list of words a student should have mastered by his senior year in high school. Are they big words? For example, is discern a big word? It may not be so big to us bloggers who have been around the vocab track for some years now, but yes, it may be big to a sixteen-year old who reads maybe one book a year, and he’s forced to do that. And yet, discern may not be so big to another sixteen-year old who reads over fifteen books a year or more! But it’s quite possible neither one uses the word in casual conversation, a fact which brings me to an important point.

We all possess different vocabularies for different situations. We have a speaking or working vocabulary. And we have a reading vocabulary, which is usually the larger of the two. Now, I would hazard a guess that most readers out there – such as the young girl who reads novels on her e-reader—does not consult a dictionary, e-wise or paper, whenever she comes across a word she doesn’t know. If she can’t get the meaning via its context, then she just keeps on reading and that’s that. So, where does that leave us: the writers?

I think it means that we can use words with which our readers may not be familiar, but give strong contextual clues to help them out. For instance, my fourteen to eighteen-year old readers may not know the meaning of discern, but I choose to use it in my YA novel, then why not thus:

Without his glasses, Gerald could not recognize the young girl coming through the woods. He tried to visualize her as best he could but it was useless. He could see the shape of her head, the cut of her hair, which was short like his sister’s, and he noted she was thin, but he could not, hard as he tried, discern the features of her face, especially the tell-tale scar.

I think in this example, I give enough contextual clues that a young reader can easily understand the meaning of discern without having to look it up, and in the ideal world, my reader will learn a new word in the process.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

To be or to really be?

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Buzzard drying his wings here in Alabama.

It’s been over a month since the election. And during this time I have questioned myself on more than one occasion: What is my responsibility as a writer?

The only answer that makes any sense to me is simply: to write as much as I can. That is all any of us can do—and should do. W.H. Auden was right to say, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” What we write in the late hours of darkness and cloudy days will lie about on lifeless sheets of paper or in flickering electronic digits. It does nothing. But with time and patience and enduring hope, our words will make it past our desks and into the hands of another human.

And who knows? It may be your romance novel that stirs the heart of a young woman to get a job and help her single mom with the bills. It may be your fantasy novel that arrests the young man’s attention just long enough for him to think about the poor family down the street. It may be, dear writer, that what you write may give another person pause to consider the miraculous beauty just beyond the back door of his home—the vast heavens or the single yellow pansy growing at the bottom of the frosted steps.

And thus, out of nothing comes something.

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Is there hope? What are your thoughts?

 

The blog that inspired this comment of mine is Ruminationville: a gated community for the overthinker. If you get a chance, drop by and check out Leslie’s informative and insightful blog at Ruminationville: a gated community for the overthinker

 

 

Let’s Get Meta: a look at analogies and why we use them — M. Miles

As I read a novel, I like to collect some of its most evocative phrases and store them in my journal. Leafing through that journal, I’ve noticed that analogies (metaphors, similes, and the like) far outweigh all other types of phrases, which has led me to ponder the allure of the gems that make up […]

via Let’s Get Meta: a look at analogies and why we use them — M. Miles

View from Japan (2)

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It’s been a challenging two weeks of walking in Japan so here I am soaking my feet in a public foot bath. They are wonderful!

The trip has been absolutely wonderful. My last post on Japan focused on the places we visited so this time I thought I’d put more pics of folks! First of all one of the things you learn when visiting Japan is that in the busy train stations one lines up on the right of the escalator. This allows anyone who is in a hurry to catch a train to run up on the free side. It’s a good system.

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Folks are often in a hurry not because they are late, but because they have little time between trains. Businessmen, a.k.a. salarymen, have to purchase a ticket then run for the train.

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If you do find yourself with some free time you can perhaps read. I noticed that many Japanese men and women do just that while waiting and riding the trains and busses.

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Speaking of books we visited several bookstores in Tokyo. I was as happy as a puppy in a dog biscuit factory!

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If reading leads you to meditate upon the insanity of the world then you can visit as we did the Bonsai Village in Saitama.

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The greatest part though of coming to Japan is being with family. Sadako’s family are a remarkable bunch. We never fail to have a great time talking, laughing, enjoying each others’ company. Here’s sister-in-law and our two nieces working together to prepare our meal for the evening.

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Here is Masako’s kitchen. It’s a remodel and very nice. The cabinets have self-locking doors in case of an earthquake which in fact DID happen. We had a 7.4 mag earthquake two days ago. We were in Ogane, a small town in Tochigi Prefecture. It was my first earthquake and I still don’t know how to describe the sensation.

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Here I am with Sadako’s mother, Masako-san, who happens to be 82 years old. We’re heading out for our morning walk.

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And here I am with my dear, sweet wife, Sadako.  She doesn’t like her pictures, but this one she agreed to let me use. We’re in Osaka. Sadako does all the planning and scheduling. I’m constantly amazed at how well she puts these trips together.

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We did eat well as well. I’ve gotten to where I can eat and enjoy traditional Japanese dishes. The three things I can’t eat are raw squid (two rubbery), tofu, (zero taste), and natto, (just plain nasty). But I do like sushi!

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The above meal was great. I also love Okonomiyaki. see below!

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We had the above at Masako-san’s house. It’s delicious. And of course I LOVE noodles, soba and ramen. Below is ramen with a side dish of fried rice.

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I hope you enjoyed these pictures. We have had a terrific time and tomorrow we catch the ride home! So here’s a final pic. I don’t know who this woman is but she is a perfect example of the fact that you’re never too old to have fun!

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Views from Japan!

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Looking out a window of the Adachi Museum at the Adachi Garden. The idea being that art need not be contained in a frame and displayed on a wall.

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Matsue castle. Not a large castle as castles go, but very impressive architecture all the same.

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Shikansen, aka bullet train. They are definitely fast and extremely comfortable.

dsc_9654Local train, not as fast as Shikansen, but a lot of fun.

dsc_9759Temple garden in Kyoto.

dsc_9828Japanese maple

dsc_9714Ginko.

dsc_9816A temple view from a tatami room.

dsc_9601Koi in a temple pond.

img_4554Ugly me!

dsc_0286-2A kite, much bigger than our red-tail hawk. Very impressive bird. Their favorite prey is fish. This fellow is soaring over the Sea of Japan.

img_4223Moon rise over the Sea of Japan. This moon was a particularly large moon due to the closeness of earth to our dear orbiting partner.

dsc_0250Elementary school children posing for a picture before they take off for a field trip. I’m standing to the side, hence a few of them are smiling my way. I love it!

dsc_0311Mt. Fuji. It is as beautiful as it looks!

dsc_0315One more time. Notice the reddish tint. It actually goes a bit red with the sunset. I nearly stopped breathing. Hokusai, a great nineteenth century Japanese artist, is famous for painting a red Fuji in a series of paintings: One hundred views of Mt. Fuji.

 

Well that’s all for the moment. We’ve been here for a week and we’ll be here for another week…having fun with family and friends. We’re in Fuji, Japan now and the two pics above were taken from our room’s balcony. It’s around 10:30 p.m. and in the past hour or so, Fuji-san has come into view from the rising moon. Sadako and I have our wine ready for a great moon viewing with Mt. Fuji.

Sayonara!

 

 

Strands

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One particularly bothersome aspect of novel writing is what I call a “strand.” A strand is a gadfly. A mosquito that refuses to go away. A bee that occasionally buzzes too close OR it could be that wondrous ray of sun light that illuminates everything then suddenly disappears.

 You are moving along. You have your plot outlined. You have copious notes in another file—very handy. Your characters are well defined. They have names. You have pictures of them. (Something I’ve never done, but I love the idea.) You have a meaningful sub plot. You’ve done the research. You’re writing five hundred words a day. But then, the strands make themselves known to you—often in strange places.

One night you wake up or just before you take that second sip of coffee the next morning or when you’re walking down the pet food aisle at Kroger wondering what snack you wanted to purchase for puppy—the scene comes to mind.

Your protagonist, Suzie, has driven to her ex-husband’s house. His name is Joe. They’ve been divorced for five years, now they’re good friends. Suzie is returning a book. Joe’s dog, Spot, gallops out to meet her. He wags his tail and barks once or twice. A startled redbird flies up into the cedar trees. Suzie goes to the door and knocks. Joe doesn’t come to the door—a young lady does. She is wearing Joe’s pajamas. Pajamas that Suzie recognizes—because she bought them years ago. The girl is slim, pretty. She laughs and flounces away to get “Joey.” Her youthful derriere jiggles as she walks.

This scene in your novel should not include the girlfriend. Or should it? The girlfriend is a strand. She could be there. She keeps cropping up, as it were. Who is she? She keeps getting in the way. Why is that? And later, there’s another strand…the neighbor who…what is it he does? He grins and waves. He has a tattoo on his neck, a lizard or a snake, something. He’s sitting in his car staring at Suzie. What’s that about?

Where are you going with that strand? Should you delete it? It’s not in your plot outline. Neither is the girlfriend. They’re not in the outline—the one you worked on for hours, days, weeks. But the tattooed neighbor shows up again in the novel. What page was that? That damned magazine article said if you have a PLOT OUTLINE this shit wouldn’t happen! So, so, so.

New re-writes don’t always help. They create more strands. Different strands. Like a fishing line that’s hopelessly tangled. You pull and pull and pull but the loopy strands just keep coming, keep getting stuck, creating more strands. It’s all confused. But, they could be important. It could be that ONE strand, if you pull it enough—slowly, cautiously, tease it out, then suddenly, the knot unravels, and everything makes sense.

Outside the window of my study, I see yellow leaves on the sweet gum tree. The sky is blue. Cody, lying by my chair, is asleep on the floor, snoring. The clock on book case is ticking, ticking, ticking. These things are disconnected, and yet, they all make sense. They all belong.

Any and all comments are welcome!

 

Who’s Telling the Story? A Case for Multiple POV

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I had just completed Chapter Five in my “still in progress” novel. My protagonist is a single female, late twenties, public school biology teacher. Chapter Five ends with her accepting an invitation to serve as the “Green Counselor” at a month long summer camp for girls. Chapter Six begins with her turning into the driveway of her best friend’s house. She will leave her dog with this friend. Chapter Seven has her arriving at the camp.

Now, thus far I’ve written this narrative in Third Person Omniscient. We see the world through my protagonist’s eyes and her eyes only.

BUT, by the time I had gotten to the end of Chapter Six I had an uneasy feeling. I let it go and finished Chapter Seven. But upon a quick read, the unease set in again. Chapter Five was just wrong. But why?

My epiphany was that Chapter Five would be vastly better if I used a different POV for my protagonist’s arrival at her best friend’s house. I changed the POV from my protagonist to her best friend, and sure enough the narrative took on a new life, seen from another person’s eyes, as it were. The improvement, if I may call it that, was a source of amazement.

Of course, I also realized I would have to go back to my outline and figure out POVs for each chapter. But even with the added work, I’m now convinced the multiple POV will work best for this novel.

What are some pros for multiple POV?

  • Greater mobility. For instance, with Chapter Six, I can avoid the cumbersome “arrival scene” and start with the person in the house! It works so much better.
  • Greater depth. I can reveal the attitude of “reliable” others towards my hero. An effective way to reveal your protagonist’s flaws.
  • Increased tension. I can, through various conflicting views, raise the bar, as it were regarding my characters’ actions.

What are some cons?

  • Derail plot movement. I spend too much time with a secondary character, and the narrative bogs down travelling in the wrong direction.
  • Character deflation. I spend too much energy with other characters and lose my protagonist in the turmoil. (In the novel I’m currently reading, I find myself liking the secondary characters more than the protagonist!)
  • Narrative implosion. My story line goes off in a thousand directions curves back in on itself and implodes into total oblivion! Whoa!

 

So dear Blogger writers, what’s the point of all this? My point is that we should be open to our “highly intuitive writer minds” when, for whatever reason, you suddenly feel something is not quite right with the way your narrative is moving—then believe me there IS SOMETHING WRONG, so, stop and review your work. I was reluctant to change my Chapter Six. But, I did it, and I am happily surprised with the results.

NOTE: As a writing exercise, re-writing a scene from one point of view to another often reveals some very interesting aspects of your story. I’m sure this has been said a million times…sorry.

Picture above: Crows in our front yard. Talking!

What are your thoughts about shifting from one POV to another?