Posted on September 17, 2012
I wish I could say NO WAY!
When I shared a recent chapter with my critique partners, one of them questioned this sentence, “He found himself in deep water.”
Frequently what’s playing in my head fails to come across on the page in early drafts. Thank heaven for CPs who call me when that happens.
Not this time, though. This time I was using Texas talk.
She’d never heard the expression “in deep water” used that way. Her stumbling over the phrase led to a discussion of colloquial language and how words, phrases, and even clichés vary from one geographical area to another.
In Texas, we have a whole slew of vocabulary that has folks scratching their heads. I just used one—slew, meaning a whole bunch. We’re always y’all-ing and gonna and fixin’ when we talk. Non-Texans do sometimes need an interpreter.
Some more phrases:
come hell or high water – proceeding, regardless of the problems, obstacles, etc.
conniptions – get upset and raise a ruckus
hissy fit – kin to a conniption a state of extreme agitation and not a pretty thing to see
hot as tin toilet seat – in Texas we know that’s HOT
screaming bloody murder or banshee scream – not a pleasant sound at all
bone tired – yep, been there
slow as molasses – visualize black syrup oozing out of the jar
keep your pants on – meaning not what you think, but to be patient!
When I’m being lazy with my writing or rushing, Texas terms and phrases naturally flow into my first drafts.
I also have favorite words that pop up. Words like: had, that, could, was, felt, knew, thought, saw, walked, come. Margie Lawson calls these “weasel words.”
I learned in Margie’s deep editing class, The EDITS System, to keep a WEASEL WORD CHART listing colloquial phrases, overused word, throw-away words, clichés, and opinion words.
Unfortunately, my chart populates too easily. I’m my own worst copy editor. that’s why I always pay a professional before my books are published. The words I overuse stand out like sore thumbs to others. (Sorry, Margie had to use a cliché to prove my point.)
During the revision stages, the chart helps eliminate such weasel words and phrases using my word processor’s search and replace function.
BUT characterization can need slang and colloquial regional dialogue. Texan talk has a function if the protagonist is a Texan or the setting is Texas.
Are you working on a Texas setting or character? Here’s a great resource: http://www.rice.edu/armadillo/Texas/talk.html
Other times, overuse in novel narrative becomes a stumbling block, pulling readers from the story.
When that happens, the reader does what no writer wants a reader to do—QUITS reading!
If colloquialisms are your writer’s voice, I caution you to be sure your reader can understand what you’re saying. Always remember what I learned in a Susan Wiggs workshop.
In the battle of words, the story reigns.
Our word choices should always move the story forward.
In case you’re wondering what I did about my CP’s question, I decided the reader could discern the meaning from the rest of the scene and left the phrase “deep water” in the manuscript.
How about you…
Do colloquialisms, local slang and weasel words slip into your novels?
Are you guilty of using expressions you grew up with that might confuse a reader? Care to share some and explain their local meaning?
Posted on September 14, 2012
Anthropomorphism is a literary technique in which human characteristics (or characteristics assumed to belong only to humans) are assigned to other animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as organizations, governments, spirits or deities. (I’m quoting Wikipedia.)
The word has been around since the 1700s.
Not being a literary writer, I don’t use the technique much, but I’ve often been accused of anthropomorphizing my dogs and other non-living things.
Doesn’t every one name their vehicle or their vaccum cleaner? Well, you should!
That’s why I understand completely when Chicken Wrangler Sara treats her chickens like they’re human, which is what happened when one of her hens named Butterscotch got herself into a bad situation.
Here’s the story from Chicken Wrangler Sara’s email. Additional comments not italicized are mine.
Our chicken feeder is suspended from the ceiling of the coop with a wire the size of a coat hanger. This morning, when I went to let the chickens out, one of them was hanging by one toe from the wire above the feeder.
One interesting thing about chickens is that if you hold them upside down by their feet, they get very calm. (Don’t ask how I know this.)
So the poor chicken, named Butterscotch, was incredibly calm. Now if I had been hanging upside down by my toe all night, I definitely would not be calm. This is just another difference between humans and chickens.
Anyway, I had to work hard to get her toe unstuck all the while explaining to her that chickens are not acrobats.
(Like the chicken was listening. More likely a little anthropomorphizing going on! LOL)
I ended up untwisting the wire which immediately freed Butterscotch’s foot. I carefully carried her out of the coop and set her by the water thinking she might be thirsty as are most of the chickens in the mornings.
So are the bees who share space at the Miller Farm with the chickens, making an interesting scene at the water cooler every morning.
(A bee blog for Miller Farm Friday is in the works. That’s really anthropomorphizing when you attribute human characteristics to things that can really, really hurt you!)
Butterscotch didn’t drink but hobbled to the front of the yard and sat down. I went on with the morning chicken chores, keeping an eye on her.
When I had finished, I picked her up to examine the injured toe. It had begun to bleed and was getting caked with dirt. I’m no vet, but I am a mom and I know that open sores and dirt are not a good combination.
So I carried Butterscotch up to the garage where we keep the betadine and poured some on her foot.
Then I gently washed it off with the hose and decided she needed to go to the chicken infirmary for observation. So I hollered for Catherine (her oldest daughter) to bring me a rag towel and laid it down in a laundry basket. Then I gently lowered Butterscotch into the basket and put a small waterer in with her.
I went back in the house but soon realized that if she happened to get out of the basket, her toe would be the least of her problems. The dogs would love to “play” with her.
Especially Bella. Remember she’s the farm daschund who is always watching and waiting for a chicken to get free. And trust me she’s not thinking about anthropomorphizing that chicken.
So I put another laundry basket on top and behold a “chicken infirmary.”
Butterscotch rested comfortably all morning and after a consultation with the resident chicken vet, Rachel, Butterscotch returned to the chicken yard.
She immediately started pecking at the ground for food then ran to where all the other chickens were pecking to see if they had found something more appetizing.
At last sighting, she was limping slightly but seemed to be glad to be “home.” I made her promise not to do any more acrobatics, and Chicken Vet Rachel decided to wash her foot every morning to prevent infection.
YOUR TURN: Are you guilty of anthropomorphizing either your pets or using the technique in your writing?
Posted on September 10, 2012
What does it take to be a writer?
Is all you need to be a writer pen and paper or a typewriter or an iPad or laptop/computer with a word processor? Maybe all it takes is the latest writing tool like this:
Or is there more involved besides having the proper writing tool?
Simple answer, YES.
A writer’s journey is a solo trip. A lonely trip and no two writers achieve success in the same way.
I think, to be successful, an aspiring writer must possess, at a minimum, these things:
- A PASSION
- A WILLINGNESS TO PRACTICE
- A DESIRE TO LEARN
The most important trait a writer needs is the deep desire to write and a steadfast commitment to his passion.
“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” Hebbel quotes
Writers must write because, if we don’t, we are miserable. The desire flows with our blood.
If you watched the Summer Olympics last month, you saw performances by athletes who had practiced and trained YEARS for the opportunity to compete in their chosen event.
A certain number of hours practice is frequently necessary to be considered proficient at so many things.
Think about airline pilots who must have a specific number of flying hours before they are qualified to solo. Teenage drivers get learner permits and must practice before taking a test to prove their proficiency and earn a driver’s license.
Writing is no different. Writing requires practice.
The exact amount of practice depends on your natural talent, how quick you learn the techniques of your craft and how much passion you have for what you’re doing.
Which brings up another question, how often should you write?
My simple answer: EVERY DAY.
But how much should you write? Does it matter?
According to James Thayer’s Author Magazine article “How Many Words a Day?” Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day.
Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day.
Ray Bradbury, who authored over five hundred science fiction novels and short stories which someone calculated to be three and a half million words worth of stories, advises writers to “Write a thousand words a day and in three years you will be a writer.”
To succeed as writers, we must practice by writing something, anything every day.
On LEARNING or STUDYING writing craft
Most people wouldn’t dream of trying to build an automobile without learning about auto mechanics. Unfortunately, too many people try to become writers without learning about the craft of writing.
An idea for a story strikes, and they start writing. They never consider story structure, POV, or any of the other skills embedded in every novel we read.
This, imo, is why so many aspiring writers fail so often.
Without learning basic skills, you won’t go far as an auto mechanic, no matter how many hours you put into practicing. Think about artists. They learn to mix paint, how to prepare a canvas and color theory at an art school. Aspiring auto mechanics go to technical schools.
Learning about basic craft skills requires time and study. To me, it’s the most important aspect of being a writer.
Sure, some writers succeed without study. With study, I believe success comes faster.
Even those born with great talent rarely go anywhere without equal measures of passion and practice. Mozart was a virtuoso of musical technique and artistry, but even he needed to learn his craft. He was full of passion for music, he practiced all the time, and he studied.
There are hundreds of great books on writing. I’m sure you have your favorites. On my website you’ll find a complete list of writer resources and some inspiring quotes. Below is a short list I recommend for every writer’s craft resource shelf:
- Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell
- Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass
- Break Into Fiction, by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love
- Story, by Robert McKee
- Scene and Structure, by Jack M. Bickham
- Getting Into Character, by Brandilyn Collins
- Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias
- The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley
Writing classes – on-line and at colleges and universities – also offer wonderful ways to develop writing skills. Too many classes, in fact, to list them in this post. I’ll do another blog with my recommendations soon.
Writing conferences offer yet another means to study writing craft with the added benefit of networking with like-minded people.
If you happen to live in or near Houston, Texas, there’s going to be a great writer’s conference next month—Northwest Houston RWA’s Lone Star Writer’s Conference featuring James Scott Bell.Yep—same one whose book is #1 on my recommended list.
The conference also offers a tremendous line-up of editors and agents. All for only $130.00. Check it out here.
Now you know what 3 things I believe are necessary to be a success writer so get out your iTyperwriter and GO, GO, GO.
YOUR TURN: What do you think it takes to be a successful writer?
Posted on September 7, 2012
Monday’s Labor Day holiday signaled the end of summer. For a large percentage of the population this week also signaled the start of school which in turn meant moving kids out of the house and back to classrooms.
With all that moving and changing and settling into routines going on, I thought Sara’s email about moving chickens was a perfect fit today. See if you don’t agree…
Fowl Moving Day
There comes a day in the life of every child where they get too big for wherever they are and they have to move. It starts with the move from bassinet to crib, then crib to “big bed” and eventually they leave the house altogether.
The same type of process happens with chickens.
then move to a brooder (in our garage).
From there, they move into a small chicken yard in our back yard where the Bantams (a smaller breed of chickens) live all the time. As they get bigger than the Bantams, they move into the big chicken yard.
A similar, but simpler, process happens with the quail. They simply go from incubator to brooder to one of the quail cages in the back yard. On this particular Saturday, we had both quail and chickens to move.
A multi-step process involving cinder blocks, extra cages and much squawking.
We started by consolidating our three quail cages into one. The cage in the chicken coop only had one quail in it. I believe this quail was somewhat lonely as he spent his days walking in circles in the cage. (Of course, this could also be a result of the bird brain mentality.)
His cage is up high in the chicken coop where neither my daughter nor I can comfortably reach. Hence, the cinder block.
There are two openings in this cage and the quail would run back and forth requiring two people to be ready to catch him. That would be me and my daughter.
So we put the cinder block in the middle and each of us put one foot on it and the other on the side of the coop. Before long, we had trapped the quail and moved him in with his new cage mates.
This left his cage empty for the new quail that were outgrowing the brooder. At first, the move stressed the transferred quail. After all, they’d only seen the inside of our garage, but they have adjusted quite nicely.
Step two of moving day involved putting the young roosters into a separate cage to be fattened up before going to freezer camp and eaten later. Before you cry “animal cruelty,” I can assure you, their life has been much better than that of the chickens you buy at the grocery store.
In case you don’t remember, the witch locked up Hansel and had him stick out his finger occasionally to see if he was fat enough to eat.
Anyway, the roosters had no idea what was happening though I was a little concerned about their transition. But since none of them were named, I wasn’t that attached and stopped worrying.
Sadly enough, when we returned from church Sunday morning, my daughter discovered all but one of the roosters had died. Apparently, they don’t like change (or they got wind of their fate and decided to commit mass suicide).
There was one lone survivor and my daughter, having learned well from her mom’s previous rooster rescue of Einstein, brought him inside.
Mr. Rooster spent the night in our living room and seemed to be better the next day. I named him Einstein II and now he’s living out his natural life with the chickens.
Our final step on this moving day was the easiest – moving chicks out to the small chicken yard.
Teaching them to go into the coop at night is not so easy. For now, I reach under the coop each night to get them and tuck them in with the Bantams. Hopefully they will get the idea soon.
P.S. Besides this being the week I start my piano students, this week happens to be the week that the eggs in the incubator are going to hatch. The cycle is continuous.
I started three new piano students to the sounds of a lone chick calling for the others to come out and play 🙂 No one seemed to mind. You never know what you will learn at the Millers.
Yesterday one of my piano students danced around the living room during her brother’s lessons. She said, “You know how they do a rain dance to make it rain. Well I am doing the chicken dance to make the chicks hatch.”
Unfortunately it didn’t work until after she left. 🙂
I love my job.
My favorite part of this email was Sara’s opening paragraph:
There comes a day in the life of every child where they get too big for where ever they are and they have to move. It starts with the move from bassinet to crib, then crib to “big bed” and eventually they leave the house altogether.
I remember those stages with my three children. I really looked forward to the progress each stage represented and now looking back, I wish they hadn’t come so fast.
YOUR TURN: So how’d your week go? Any chicken dancing going on? Kids moving out or in? Kiddos climbing those giant steps onto the yellow school bus?
Posted on September 3, 2012
Nathan Bransford’s blog, “The Publishing Process in Gif Form,” made the rounds on Twitter, FB and many boards and loops. It’s worthy of another view.
For those who haven’t read the blog and don’t know him, Nathan Bransford is a children’s author, a former literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. and is now the social media manager at CNET. Bransford knows the emotional process of writing from all angles and his blog illustrates a writer’s rollercoaster ride perfectly and his blog is hilarious.
Another blog I read, especially for humor, is The Steve Laube Agency. I met Steve, president and founder of the agency, at an ACFW Conference many years ago. Wise man.
He’s a 30 year veteran of the bookselling industry. His career began in the bookselling arena with a store in Phoenix. He worked with Bethany House Publishers. In 2004 he formed The Steve Laube Agency and represents everything from the sweet romance to the systematic theology.
Fridays on his blog are FUN day. Recently he shared this great video by James Andrew Wilson titled The Five Emotional Stages of Writing a Novel. Make sure to watch through the credits.
Wherever you are in your writing process, I hope I made you laugh today.
Happy Labor Day and labor on! Our readers are waiting.
Posted on September 1, 2012
Happy Release Day to Jody Hedlund for Unending Devotion!
High-Stakes Drama Meets High-Tension Romance
In 1883 Michigan, Lily Young is on a mission to save her lost sister, or die trying. Heedless of the danger, her searches of logging camps lead her to Harrison and into the sights of Connell McCormick, a man doing his best to add to the hard-earned fortunes of his lumber baron father.
Posing during the day as a photographer’s assistant, Lily can’t understand why any God-fearing citizen would allow evil to persist and why men like Connell McCormick turn a blind eye to the crime rampant in the town. But Connell is boss-man of three of his father’s lumber camps in the area, and like most of the other men, he’s interested in clearing the pine and earning a profit. He figures as long as he’s living an upright life, that’s what matters.
Lily challenges everything he thought he knew, and together they work not only to save her sister but to put an end to the corruption that’s dominated Harrison for so long.
Jody Hedlund is an award-winning historical romance novelist and author of the best-selling books, The Preacher’s Bride and The Doctor’s Lady. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Michigan with her husband and five busy children.
To celebrate the release of Jody’s book I’m paying tribute to my dogs who have given me their unending devotion in exchange for so little—food in their bowl and a pet on the head or rub on the belly every now and then.
My love affair with Old English Sheepdogs began with Obadiah who never quite understood he was a dog.
Next came Micah.
He joined my granddog Bernie, a terrier mix, who came to live with us when our son went off to seminary. Rhinestone was our rescue OES.The three of us made quite a spectacle walking in the neighborhood.
As happens with large dogs, Micah’s hips played out. We lost him and Bernie (at age 17) about the same time. Rhinestone became even more attached to me. When we emptied our house to have hardwood floors installed, I worried the stress would be too much for her.
She went to live with my sister-in-law who had never married.
The two became best buds. I wrote about their story in The Dog Next Door.
For the first time ever we were dog-less.
I hated it.
So we found Tobias (Toby).
A couple of years later Buster, a twelve pound Maltese, came to live with us.
You can read all about a sister’s uneding devotion in Jody’s book. Available on Amazon.
What about about you? Do you give or receive unending devotion for someone or pet?
Posted on August 31, 2012
Last Friday I posed the chicken lips question. Sorry to report, I haven’t come up with a definitive answer. But so far, my research has turned up some most interesting responses:
- a Fried Chicken Lips blog that reviews restaurants in Georgia.
- Chicken Lips’ — a World Humor Comedy Theater which presents customized music and comedy performances for businesses, associations, and private events.
- a Stafford, England dance band named Chicken Lips
- Urban Dictionary declares the question a nonsense retort to a stupid or rhetorical question
- WordReference.com has an entire thread on the question… (Caution some of the language is a bit over the top and may be inappropriate to you.)
Nothing about the anatomy of a chicken. Never fear, the chicken wrangler and I will continue our search and report.
Meanwhile, I’ll share another series of emails from the Miller Farm. These are all about feeding the chickens.
From Sara – the Miller Farm chicken wrangler:
I was checking on the chicken yesterday after a couple of days of bad weather. I decided to give them some grass. This means clipping grass from the backyard with hand clippers (an action which the neighbors find a bit strange) and tossing the clippings over the fence to the chickens.
Since they have eaten the chicken yard grass down to the dirt, they are most appreciative of any clippings they can get.
So I’m kneeling on the ground, clipping grass and I looked up to see three of our five dogs eating grass.
This made me wonder – is being a chicken contagious? Or does grass really taste that good?
What happens with these email conversations is that the whole family chimes in. Each tries to outdo the other.
Here’s how her sister responsed – who happens to be my cover designer extraordinaire (if you don’t believe me check out my books page)
Silly dogs!! Grass is for chickens!!! Finding your children or spouse eating grass now THAT would be problematic to be sure…
A reasonable response. I waited to see what email came in next. Then the chicken wrangler’s father responded:
“Be careful with dogs and chickens and grass. You could end up with pooched eggs!”
Couldn’t top that. I didn’t try. Next day Sara’s email continued the tale of chickens and grass…
So I went out to check on the chickens and cut some grass for them this morning. I noticed their feeder was almost empty – again. I told them they were eating like pigs.
That made me wonder – do we need to consider the chicken we eat as pork?
That would give a whole new meaning to the phrase “the other white meat.”
No responses. Perhaps, like our meal conversations, everyone was laughing too hard. Or thinking too hard!
It’s Labor Day weekend. Last holiday of Summer 2012. A time when we celebrate with parties, parades and athletic events. A time for cookouts and lazin’ around and grillin’ whichever “white” meat you prefer. Be safe and enjoy.
Thanks for dropping by the porch today, folks. I hope we started your holiday with a grin or two.
Posted on August 20, 2012
It’s Monday again time to begin our writing week. I thought it would be fun to consider how other writers write (wrote).
So what method will you be using to write this week?
Where will you be writing?
How much do you play to write?
I’m inspired. My goal this week is to complete revisions on the first five chapters of my current WIP.
How about you?
Posted on August 17, 2012
Yesterday morning when I (Sara the Chicken Wrangler extraordinaire) went to let the chickens out and give them food and water I discovered that one of the quail had gotten itself stuck in the space where the eggs roll out of the cage. This is not the first time this has happened so I was not at all surprised. After all quail, do have bird brains.
As I was getting it unstuck, I saw that the cage looked like something out of a quail horror movie. There were blood splatters all over the feeder. The stuck quail didn’t appear to be wounded enough to produce that much blood so I looked at the other quail.
One had what I guess would be the equivalent of a bloody lip — if quail had lips. Its mouth was bleeding and so every time it shook its head, blood went everywhere.
Not being as attached to the quail as I was dear Einstein (the rescued rooster from last week), I decided that what happened in the quail cage, stays in the quail cage and returned to the house.
Later that afternoon I went to retrieve eggs and check on the birds. One of the quail had in fact died. Since there was nothing I could do for it (I only revive roosters.), I went to play another round of “Get the egg from the small coop,” a game in which the challenge is to get the egg from the back of the cage (which is slanted away from the door) to the door and get it out before it rolls back down.
To make the task easier, I have found the perfect branch with a hook in it to scoot the egg forward. So far, my record is three tries before the egg goes into my basket.
Then I checked the other coop, which had a stunning lack of eggs. I thought perhaps the dirty condition of the nest boxes prevented the chickens from laying. After all, I would not even consider laying an egg in that filth even if I were prone to laying eggs – which I am not.
So I headed back up to the house for a shovel to clean out the nest boxes. I filled water jugs and headed back to the chicken yard with the shovel balanced on top of the chicken waterer. [In case you don’t know what a chicken waterer is check out this site.]
As I approached the coop, I saw something I never hope to see again. Bella (one of the four daschunds) had one of the chickens by the neck. I assumed she pulled it under the wire covering in the gate.
Anyway, I dropped everything to the ground and ran towards them yelling at Bella to stop.
Bella was distracted long enough for the chicken to head under the shed. Little did the chicken know that dachshunds are bred to go into small spaces after animals.
Bella headed under the shed. I, being much larger than the chicken and Bella combined, decided to approach the shed from the side in the chicken yard. I pulled the hen out from under the shed into the safety of the chicken yard.
Chicken wrangler – 1, Bella – 0