Vocabulary and Word Choices

The other week at work, I heard an announcement for a Miss Ginger Lee to meet her party at a specified location. I thought about the announcement for a moment, then turned to a co-worker and told him I thought it might be a prank. After all, Ginger Lee, gingerly?

He had no idea what I was talking about. I decided fair enough, he wasn’t a native English speaker and it wasn’t a common word. So I mentioned it to another co-worker, an older woman who to the best of my knowledge is a native English speaker. She didn’t know what I was talking about either.

Is ‘gingerly’ that uncommon a word? I truly couldn’t say. I don’t think it terribly uncommon, and have actually read a story that had that word in use since. Personally, I think it’s a very useful word. I described it as ‘like how you carry eggs’. Would I hesitate to use ‘gingerly’ in my own writing? No, I wouldn’t.

What vocabulary level should you use when writing? Is it our job as writers to be clear and concise without room for error; or to teach and elevate the mind to new words and ideas? While both can be desired, at some point you have to compromise one for the other.

I read a lot. I live in a family where everyone reads a lot. My father in particular loves to use grandiose words. But large sections of my vocabulary come from reading. You can tell which sections because those are the words I don’t know how to pronounce. Does that mean that as a writer, I should be striving to teach new words?

Answer: I don’t know. I think it’s very much a careful balance. You can’t talk down to your readers, they will know and resent it. But if you try to show off by using verbal flourishes and extravagant words, they’ll resent that too. And nobody is going to sit down, reading your book with a dictionary beside them so they can look up the dozen strange words you sprinkle on every page. They will either guess, ignore them, or more likely, stop reading.

Mark Twain said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was the difference between lightning and lightning bug. So my suggestion is that you use what you believe to be the right word. If some people learn a new word, great. If your readers already understand, that’s great too.

An article I read years ago, can’t remember where or what the title was, said that the more advanced the text, the smaller the audience. It was specifically talking about poetry. Robert Frost has many fans (I’m one of them), because his poetry is easy to read and has themes that are understandable to many people. T. S. Eliot has many fewer fans (again, I’m one of them) because his poetry is so much harder to read and understand.

So, you want to write something that is at the pinnacle of wordplay and vocabulary? Well, why? If you want to write it because that’s what you enjoy, than go for it. Just be aware that your audience may be small. If you want to write it because it shows how smart you are? I’d avoid that.

Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to use a word that you are not absolutely sure of the definition. Ever. To paraphrase ‘How Not to Write a Novel’ (awesome writing guide, really) Ask yourself ‘do I know this word?’ If the answer is no, then you do not know the word. And someone else will know the word, and know your mistake.

Be aware of connotation and denotation. For those who haven’t used those words since high school English class; denotation is the dictionary definition of a word. Connotation is what people think about when they hear it. I see infamous and notorious used a lot. Sometimes supposed to be a good thing. But dictionary definition of infamous flat out says, known as evil. Notorious has a similar connotation, but can have a milder denotation.

How do you know if your vocabulary is unusual? After all, you’ve been using it all the time. Check with others, particularly others who are not people you associate with all the time. The people who run in the same circles as you do, probably have similar vocabularies.

How about characters? Can they have fancy vocabularies? Absolutely. But make it fit. An English Professor will speak differently than someone who dropped out of high school. Someone who uses elaborate words to show off will use different words than someone who uses elaborate words because they like the sound of them. Children will develop their vocabularies based on those around them. So even a very young child can have an extensive vocabulary if that is what they are being taught.

Next time, we’ll talk about regionalism, dialects, jargon and slang.

P.S. It turned out not to be a prank. She came through my line, and I saw her ID. Ginger-lee (Last name withheld).


Creating Strong Female Characters

There are increasing cries for strong female characters in fiction. I’m not saying there isn’t a need for strong male characters in fiction too, but there seem to be more of them, especially in a historical context. Unfortunately, while the media is trying to answer that call, it sometimes seems to misunderstand what the audience is asking for. We ask for strong female characters, and we are given women who go around beating up everyone in their path. Um, that’s not quite what we meant. Yes, they are strong, and they are female, but… (I know I read a great article on this, but it was some time ago, and I can’t remember where or what it was called.) Honestly, some of them are less a character than they are a plot device, same as many male action heroes. Not that they can’t be strong characters as well, but the ability to beat up bad guys does not a strong character make. Also, it is worth noting, that there are many different forms of strength. (Some spoilers for classic literature and generalized info about more modern cinema).

Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) from the Marvel Cinema Universe (I don’t know the comics well enough to argue them) is a strong character. She wasn’t (in my opinion) in Iron Man 2 where she was introduced. Oh, she had awesome fighting skills, and the serum needed to save Tony, but she was more of a plot device than a character. Then the first Avengers movie came around. She had people she cared about, enough to walk away from her current job. She had fears. She was an atoner. It gave her depth. Depth that subsequent movies built on. Natasha Romanoff is a well-rounded character, who happens to have internal and external strength.

So, in my opinion, is Jane Eyre. She never got in a fight, or beat anyone up. Probably wouldn’t know how even to save her life. But she is a well-rounded character who is strong in her own way. Jane refused to compromise on her principles, even when it meant walking away from the man she loved, a child she cared for, and a life of ease that the little girl who grew up in poverty could barely imagine. That makes her strong, in my book.

And really controversial, I believe Fanny Price in Mansfield Park to be a strong character. A lot of people, most Jane Austen fans, see Mansfield Park as her weakest novel, and Fanny as her weakest character. I’ll be honest. Heretical as it may seem for an English major (my school had a Jane Austin fan club, run by the professors), I am not a huge fan of Jane Austin. Most of her stories I can take or leave, and I actively dislike one. But Mansfield Park I like.

Fanny is a doormat for three-quarters or more of the book. She is treated as barely above a servant, and never, ever allowed to forget that she is a poor relation dependent on the grace and goodwill of her uncle, and should never aspire to the state of the ‘actual’ children of the estate. With the exception of her cousin Edmond, she is generally treated with tolerant indifference at best, to almost hostility at worst. But when asked to compromise her principals, she refused. First, she stood her ground with the play, convinced that Sir Bertram wouldn’t approve. Her cousin agreed with her, but was persuaded to act in it anyway. Then Sir Bertram came home unexpectedly, and surprise, surprise, wasn’t happy about it. The play was amazing foreshadowing actually. Knowing the play and who played what character helps foreshadow parts of Mansfield Park. But even without that, it’s the first time that Fanny holds an opinion that doesn’t fit with the others. Granted, she is still appealing to a higher authority, but that higher authority isn’t there and might well not have been there until after the whole thing is moot. But that means that when she stands up for herself, refusing to marry a man she doesn’t love even when absolutely everyone thinks she should, it doesn’t come from nowhere. And she holds to it, even when exiled from the house because of her stance. No wonder she never stood up for herself before. What does almost change her mind isn’t peer pressure, or the fact that she no longer fit in with her birth family and wished to leave, but that Crawford almost managed to convince her that he had truly changed. Even if you aren’t familiar with Mansfield Park, if you’re familiar with Jane Austin, you can probably guess the ending, but I won’t give more away.

I was at Marscon this weekend (Which was awesome), and was on a few panels. One of them, I can’t type out the name of, or say, but it was about modern female protagonist, were they (female dogs) or (fierce fighters)? There was some alliteration there, and I’m sure you can fill in the blanks. One of the moderators asked a question that was specific to a popular show I had never seen. So she asked me to pick another television or book series and track the female character arcs and how they fit in that continuum, and how they changed.

Like most people put on the spot like that, I floundered for a few minutes. Then I said I would have to adapt her question but I had an answer. (Finding the answer is easy when you change the question). Firefly has four female main characters. Every one of them is strong in their own way. But the ways they are strong changes. Kaylee is a mechanical genius, and cheerful and optimistic under almost any circumstance. She also has a strong love for what she perceives as finery and pretty things. Not a trait that one would necessarily associate with a mechanic who practically lives in the engine room voluntarily. Inara makes me think of a swan. All dignity and poise, she usually seems just a little removed from the worst of things or the crudities of life. Her strength is in her people skills and diplomacy. The fact that she has the backing of an influential group helps too. River has been tortured and is badly damaged, no one can deny. But she survived. And when her fetters come off, you don’t even want to be in the same room with her. Zoe is a survivor. She was a soldier who fought on the losing side of what was apparently a bitter war. Unlike Mal, her captain, she doesn’t seem to be continuing to live in that past, but has mostly moved on. Sure, she follows her old captain from the war, but she also tells him when he’s being an idiot. She is cool and calm under pressure, and not intimidated by anything. Strong characters, who happen to be strong women. And not one of them is interchangeable with another.

On an unrelated note, I did a little revamping of my website to make it easier to find the links to sample chapters. They are all on one page here. I will also be posting Marscon pictures soon on Pinterest and/or Facebook.


Who is your favorite strong female character? How about favorite Firefly character, male or female? (Mine’s Simon.)


Meeting the challenge

Or, don’t blow your New Year’s Resolution on the first day.

So, it’s a new year, good time to take stock, figure out where you want to go next, right? That’s what’s with the whole New Year’s resolutions anyway. So, was writing on your list? It was on mine. My rather ambitious list. That I didn’t write down. Or tell anyone. So if nothing happens…

Not exactly the best way to motivate. No, first off, keeping your resolutions actually doable is a good way to avoid frustration. Is my list doable? I have no idea, because I haven’t actually written it down, or gotten it in a solid form.

Second, some form of accountability is good. Write your list down so you can’t forget it. Even better, tell people what you want to accomplish. Better still if you can get them to try with you.

Third, make sure it actually does matter to you. Your more likely to succeed in a goal that you care about than one you don’t.

Four, make your plans concrete. Resolving to write a short story every month is more likely to happen than resolving to write more short stories. Saying that you’ll walk a mile three times a week works better than saying you’ll exercise more.

Five, find a way to reward yourself for succeeding. (If you are trying to lose weight, avoid food based rewards as much as possible). Maybe say you can’t buy that new game you want until… Or that you can do this that you’ve always wanted to do once you…

Six, actually do what you resolved to do. If you put it off, you’ll find plenty of excuses not to do whatever it is. But make a point of doing it, and keep it up.

So, is writing on your resolutions list? If writing is a priority to you, it probably should be. Find a way to challenge yourself. Say you’ll write x number of words over y period of time. Decide to submit to z number of markets. Decide to try a creative challenge. One of mine is to try to write a short story every week (heaven alone knows if I can manage that.). I’m also resolving to use social media more, like my blog, Pinterest and Facebook. For example, the Full Moon Festivities (first one is up).

Anyone want to share their resolutions?

P. S. Here are some guides on keeping resolutions.

First full moon festivities is up. History of the Werewolf. Includes werewolf jokes. Some are real howlers.

Happy New Year!

C Novam Godom. That’s Happy New Year in Russian. (Well, close enough). I am having computer issues again, but hopefully can work through them.

In honor of the numerous Weres in my story, and that 2018 is a year with some interesting lunar phenomena, for the next year, I will be posting something moon related every full moon. We’ll call them ‘Full Moon Festivities’. While the different things may be posted in different mediums, I will make sure to post a link here and a collection on the website. Since the first full moon of the year is also the first day of the year (Tomorrow), come back tomorrow and see what gets posted.

I would also like to announce that I will be a panelist at Marscon 2018 in January. The 12th through 14th, to be precise. Any of my readers live in that area, I’ll be happy to talk to you. And I have giveaways.

See you next year!

Characters, Plot, Drama, and Stupidity

Thank you for the support (I’m assuming the likes are a way of being supportive instead of saying you’re glad I can’t post 😉 ). I don’t know what happened or why but the gremlins infesting my devices seem to have gone. My computer is still sluggish at times, but not nearly as bad as it was. And my phone is being less finicky about charging. So I am not currently replacing either, though I may do so in the not-so-distant future. Anyway, for now, I’m back. This week’s Pinterest, in addition to writing pins, I’m going to include a few personal ones. Be sure to check it out. Not sure what FaceBook will be yet, but hopefully that will be interesting too.

If anyone is curious, I did not win NaNoWriMo this year, only made it about half-way. It didn’t help that my work schedule increased and that two weeks in a row I spent my days off work traveling. I considered trying to push the last week, maybe even pull an all-nighter or two, but I was already sick, and it didn’t seem a wise plan. Especially since I was struggling with plot ideas. Moon Fox 3 will come, but I’m putting it on the back burner for now.

Now, the post. This is going to be interesting because I actually somewhat changed my mind on the topic I’m posting on.

I was at the gym last week, and on one of the TV’s, Supernatural was playing. I personally don’t watch the show because I have a low fright threshold, but my sister is a fan, so I was able to recognize it and the main characters. I knew that salt was used at thresholds to keep the bad things out, or in. They didn’t come up with that, salt was a universal deterrent against ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night. I’ve used it in a few works myself. Well, someone tampered with the line of salt and a red shirt * got eviscerated (I don’t have a very high gross-out threshold either, which is another reason I don’t watch the show.) When the main character came in the room and spotted the poor dead red shirt, the traitor who claimed they found him like that, and the break in the line, he confronted the traitor. They got in an argument, and the traitor started monolog-ing. And I yelled at the tv twice telling him to stop arguing and fix the salt!

He didn’t and only escaped a messy death by a contrived coincidence* that barely avoided being a deus ex machina. Now, to clarify, I am not saying that Supernatural is a dumb show or that the character is stupid. Supernatural is an extremely popular show that must be doing something right, and I’m told that character is generally pretty smart. Maybe he is, but that was a dumb move on his part. And let’s face it, if the audience is irritated with your character for making dumb choices, then they probably aren’t enjoying your story. To give the show credit, they got a viewer (me) who wasn’t familiar with the show and had no emotional investment in the characters and who couldn’t even hear the show (I was reading captions) interested enough to scold the character for being an idiot. And remember the incident almost a week later.

My original plan was to talk about how to create drama without your character making really dumb choices. But I changed my mind somewhat.

I’m a cashier as my day job. I was ringing up a woman who had two kids with her in the ten to twelve year old range. The boy was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt but only the hood part. I asked him if he was a modern day Little Red Riding Hood. He laughed and agreed. His mother and I agreed that he shouldn’t talk to wolves. I followed up with something like, “After all, if Little Red Riding Hood had run away when that wolf talked to her… then she wouldn’t have been immortalized in literature. Her sister, Little Brown Riding Hood did run away, and no one’s heard of her. Have you heard of her?” The woman agreed she hadn’t. “Neither have I. Because I made her up just now.”

Humorously enough, the woman suggested I write a book. I told her I had written several though none were about Little Red Riding Hood. Later I realized that wasn’t quite true. I had written a short story variation of Little Red Riding Hood, where I twisted everything.

But my main premise is that your story might require your character to make stupid decisions. Or at least, not the wisest choice possible. Go with what the story requires, but also go with what’s in character. And why not see if you can create the same level of drama and conflict by having the main character make smart decisions? Might be a way to avoid clichés.

Find a way to make staying in the Haunted House scary even when your main character is smart enough to avoid the basement, refuse to split the party, and strongly suggests that maybe they shouldn’t try to stay past midnight, they can come back in the daylight. Armed. Write the first contact story where the two races don’t assume that the others are necessarily like them and that their misunderstandings may be misunderstandings, not necessarily a prelude to war. Not that they shouldn’t be prepared, just in case. And once, just once, I want to see the inevitable fight in a burning building stop with the parties agreeing to a temporary truce at least until they get outside the building.

Your characters will make mistakes. Even smart people do dumb things sometimes. They’re human (or whatever race they may be). But make sure those mistakes are in character. Remember that the average reader only has so much patience for a character they consider an idiot. How much time do you think the average reader will spend on a story where they spend a significant amount of time wanting to smack some sense into the characters?

Mind you, there may be times where that happens. I wrote a scene in Nightmare’s Revenge where if I wrote it right, the readers will want to shake some sense into the characters. But it not only is required by the plot (and it is), it makes sense with the characters.

So, best of luck.

By the way, is anyone interested in reading my totally twisted mixed up version of Little Red Riding Hood?

*Site has NSFW Language.

Thanks and apologies

First of all, you guys are awesome and I love you all. I was amazed at the turnout for a post I was so unsure of. Thank you so much. Secondly, I must apologize. Both my phone and computer are going through serious issues, and it looks like I may have to replace one or both. Something I’m not sure I can afford to do. Because of that,  I am having trouble posting or even just getting the computer to work properly long enough to write a post (I’m borrowing someone else’s right now). There will be no blog, Pinterest, or Facebook this week, I’m sorry. Hopefully a solution will be found quickly and cheaply and I can resume normal schedule next week.

Speaking of Pinterest, I’ve been using Quozio to pin quotes from my books. A nice program, but a little limited. Can anyone recommend a good free, preferably non-download program to make quotes? It has to work on PC because my smart phone is more of a dumb phone. Thank you so much for your patience and support.

Plotting vs. Pantsing

Wow! Last week’s post is the most popular I’ve ever written. I’m torn between ‘You guys are amazing!’ and ‘What did I write?’. Well, you are awesome. And I hope this post doesn’t disappoint. I’m a little worried about it, to be honest. A simple google search will reveal a ton of articles on this subject.

Writing a story is every bit as much a journey as reading a good story is. And like every journey, how you get there can be as important as where you go.

It’s possible to take a trip where you plan out everything in advance to the point of knowing where each stop will be and how long you’ll stay there. It’s possible to just get in a car and drive, going wherever your fancy takes you. Most people probably do something in between most of the time.

Writing is exactly the same. Some people know exactly where the story is going to go, every twist and turn, before they put words to paper. Useful for more complex works or mysteries. Also you seldom end up lost. But then again, you may miss some of the joy of discovery. Others just start writing and see where it takes them. NaNoWriMo is especially made for these people. Stories are generally less predictable, but it is possible to write yourself into a corner or just end up blocked.

I suspect most of us try a middle ground. (Sometimes called Plantsing). We have some idea of where we want the story to go, but continue to make up things as we go along. This is what I usually do. With a pretty heavy side of pantsing. My current story, I have little to no idea what’s going to happen. Even with its’ prequel, my most planned out story yet, I ended up coming up with a major side plot just because I decided that there was no reason for the Main Character to get the information she wanted just yet. It was too early.

So, which one is best?

None of them.

These are tools. What works for you may not work for me and vice versa. If I waited until I knew everything in a story, I would never get a thing written. But my stories are disorganized in the first draft and need a fair amount of revision and it isn’t uncommon for me to just blank out at various spots. A little more organization would probably help me out. Other people would be driven mad trying to write with as little to go on as I sometimes have.

Not one of these is better than the others. It’s simply what works for you. Experiment. If you’re used to planning everything out, why not try a little more freewriting. You make everything up as you go along? Try plotting things out a little more. Use your Writer’s Bible. Not every story needs the same combination. Maybe a little more planning for a mystery, maybe a little less for a romance. (Or switch them, see what happens). Have fun. If the journey isn’t fun for you, what’s the point?

Speaking of journeys, I missed last week’s Pinterest and Facebook updating, partially because of travel, but I plan to update them both this week. For any traveling this week, safe journeys. And Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.