Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Time Savers: Bakin' yer Bacon

 
 
I can bring home the bacon...I can fry the bacon...I even know how to save my own bacon (usually), but baking bacon? That just sounds unnatural, so of course I had to give it a try. Here is what I learned, and a step by step tutorial on doing it yourself.
 
Step 1: Set oven to 350 degrees 
 
Step 2: Cut entire slab of bacon in half with kitchen shears. I use kitchen shears because I can cut through the whole slab much easier than with a knife.
 
Cutting your bacon in half is not strictly necessary, but I wanted sandwich-sized bacon.
 

Step 3: Lay a sheet of parchment paper (if available) on a cookie sheet with edges (you don't want hot grease rolling off the sides into your oven.) Now lay out your bacon in whatever arrangement works best for your pan and your purposes. You can see I reuse my paper until I have all my bacon baked.

Step 4: Put your bacon in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes depending on how crisp you like it. (Ok, so this is a picture of me taking it out, but doesn't it look yummy?)

Step 5: Use a spatula to move the cooked bacon to a paper-towel covered plate to drain.

Step 6: Yum! Drool a little...and then sneak a piece when no one is looking. From this point, you can devour all the yummy goodness or save some for later.

Step 7: We made a couple of sandwiches and put the rest (I cooked 2 lbs) into a Ziploc bag with another paper towel to catch any extra grease. Store it in the fridge, so it's available for sandwiches, bacon bits, a quick breakfast, or just to sneak a piece now and then.
 
Warning: You may need to hide the bacon or put it in a tub marked {insert something your family hates to eat}--to keep it from disappearing too quickly.

Step 8: Don't throw out that bacon grease! Save it for the next time you make eggs, fried potatoes, cornbread, or whatever else you might want to flavor with bacon grease. My grease jar today used to be a baby food jar, and it just barely holds the grease. Learn more about grease jars here.
 
Step 9: Throw out your parchment paper and put your clean pan back in the cupboard. Or, if you didn't have parchment paper, buy some for next time and then take dish soap and squirt a good amount on your pan. Use your hand to make sure the entire pan is covered, including corners. Let the pan sit for an hour or two and then wash off with a sponge.
 
Step 10: Tell all yer friend's about my "Bakin' yer Bacon" post so they can try it too!
 
Now, wasn't that easy? No more bacon splatters from skillet frying either!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Taking Time Off Mid-Project can CAUSE Writer's Block





In his book, On Writing, Stephen King writes "I'll also suggest that you can take one day a week off, at least to begin with. No more; you'll lose the urgency and immediacy of your story if you do."

Dun Dun Duh... This is what I have allowed myself to do. I have taken too many days off and allowed my story and characters to stagnate. Now...how do I get them back?

Neil Gaiman suggests: "Put it aside for a few days. Then sit down and read it as if you've never seen it before. And often, when you get to the end you'll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are."

I have already put it aside for (more than) a few days, so this is definitely a good one to try.

Orson Scott Card says: “Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me."

Ok, I can see this point as well. While I think my block has to do with too much time away from the story, I should definitely reread and make sure my scenes are believable and important to the story.

Charlie Jane Anders writes about 10 Types of Writer's Block. "If you've been stuck in the middle for a while, though, then you probably need to do something to get the story moving again. Introduce a new complication, throw the dice, or twist the knife. Mark Twain spent months stuck in the middle of Huckleberry Finn before he came up with the notion of having Huck and Jim take the wrong turn on the river and get lost. If you're stuck for a while, it may be time to drop a safe on someone."

Well, I HAVE been stuck for awhile now...perhaps it is time to throw in a plot twist that even I didn't see coming.

MJ Bush at WritinGeekery says "What causes writer’s block? It can be any number of things, but the most common is reaching a plateau in your learning curve."  She goes on to define my particular problem as: "Burnout: You have no inspiration or motivation." Some of her suggestions for conquering writer's block include "Focus on getting better rather than doing good. Reflect on your progress. Track your improvement. Gauge your real skill level."

My favorite take-away from MJ is to focus on getting better. As long as I am improving my craft, whether by reading, studying the craft, or writing on another project, I will never be a victim of complete Writer's Block.

In her Top 10 Tips for Overcoming Writer's Block, Ginny Wiehardt writes: "Implement a Writing Schedule. Carve out a time to write and then ignore the writer's block. Show up to write, even if nothing comes right away. When your body shows up to the page at the same time and place every day, eventually your mind — and your muse — will do the same."

This advice is some I have seen several times in researching how to overcome the dreaded "block." It may well be the first idea I implement. I absolutely think this suggestion will help in my writing. (Now, how to schedule this time around working full time midnight shift, homeschooling and generally being available as wife and mother...but that is fodder for another post.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I'm No "Niche" Writer


Recently, I have been on hiatus from blogging, and really, from writing of any kind. My muse seems to have gone on an extended vacation and the joy I normally feel when creating has been robbed.

I originally took a break from my blog, planning to do some soul searching. I needed to find my "niche market." I needed to determine who my target audience was, and write the things they need or want to read. It seemed every writing blog was telling me to stop writing about the things I care about and focus on one area.

Well, I have a problem with that...I am not a 2-dimensional being. I am multi-faceted and I cannot channel my writing energy into one subject area.



Learning this about myself gave me some pause at first--I wondered if my readers would be put-off by the fact that I cannot stick to one subject. In the end, I decided to attempt to categorize my posts and if a reader isn't interested in a post about homeschool, she can skip through and read a sewing tutorial or a bit of flash fiction.

So far, the categories I have come up with are:

Homeschool

Tutorials

Flash Fiction

Life Skills (Home and Family planning, organization, budgeting, parenting, etc)

Writing Rubbish (Anything I wish to write about writing).


Almost everything I write can be categorized into one of these five areas. This will give me more leniency than trying to write about only one subject, and will serve as a bit of variety to (hopefully) increase my readership.

I understand that some people feel this decision may hurt my chances as a writer, but I have to do what I feel is right for me.
 
And that is what I want to leave you with...follow your own heart instead of trying to fit someone else's mold. Your own mold is waiting for you, and it fits you perfectly.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Flash Friday - Willow's Wrath

Picture Prompt for Flash Friday @ http://flashfriday.wordpress.com/ 
Click the link for rules and to enter your own flash, then read my response below.
 
Bell Tower of Guadalest, Costa Blanca, Spain. CC photo by Anguskirk.
 
 
 
Willow's Wrath
 

 
Willow sprinted through the old forest, flames licking her heels. This was her final race--the bell tower, her goal.

Tears streamed down her face--she cried for the trees, for the animals, and for the spirits.

She stumbled up the stone steps towards the tower. At their summit, she summoned the last of her strength to ring the bell. Its peals echoed through the hills--a warning of approaching danger.

Willow murmured a final prayer for her people and flung herself from the tower. Eyes closed, she welcomed death.

Her eyes opened in the spirit world--but nothing had changed. She rode the wind, untouched by the fire as it consumed the forest.

As her village came into view, she willed the wind to turn south--it hesitated, unaccustomed to following orders. She strengthened her resolve and commanded the wind to change direction.

Seeing her village was unharmed, she searched for the pale faces--they would not escape their carelessness, nor her wrath.


 
 
As a bonus, here are two more bits of flash I wrote recently which I didn't blog.
 
 
Earth goddess. Imaginary Worlds exhibit, Atlanta Botanical Garden. Photo by C. Joey Ivansco.
 
 
 

Fountain of Beauty

In a fit of jealous rage, she trapped me here--turned me into an earthen statue, living but dead. It was not my fault Zeus loved me, I did nothing to entice him--but Hera is a jealous woman.

I do not create the water, but it flows from my hand. I can influence it, poison it, imbue the drinker with special qualities. Now...what would infuriate Hera?

Each maiden who drinks from my pool will be given a double portion of my beauty. The nymphs who make their home in my waters will be second in beauty only to Aphrodite herself.

Zeus will be filled with all-consuming lust for these, my daughters. Hera will have no choice but to release me from my prison. But in case she gets any ideas to partake of my nectar herself, my spell will work in reverse on any immortal who drinks.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.





Chia Goddess

“Earth Goddess” my sign reads but the flowers here have given me another name.

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-chia!” they call.

“In a few days you will be nothing but a grass-covered hill,” laughs the Peony.

“You look like an overgrown Chia pet,” chortles the Dahlia.

As the seeds begin to grow, I fear they are right—their taunts weaken me, and even my Chia grass withers. I will be but a barren hilltop—not even fit to grow grass.

Deep inside, something stirs. Their barbed words no longer bind.

I set my mind to my task. I enrich my soil daily. I drink in the water, the sun, and the nutrients available. More plants inhabit my soil—only a little Chia grass remains.

When the botanical garden opens, people hurry past the Roses, Irises and Dahlias. The Lilies are admired but a moment.

At my exhibit, people linger; they gaze on me with wonderment. I am now worthy of the name Earth Goddess.

 
 
 
I welcome your comments. Which story is your favorite? Why?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Flash Friday 5-16-2014 -- Independence Day

Picture Prompt for Flash Friday @ http://flashfriday.wordpress.com/ 
Click the link for rules and to enter your own flash, then read my response below.


The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental.

Independence Day 
(140 Words)
 
Oh, the celebration!
America’s most recent purchase from France has arrived and all the world has turned out to see. Dignitaries from across the globe have front-row seats for this momentous occasion. The Queen of England with her entourage sits next to the Prime Minister of India with his.
 
The crowd cheers as the president is led to the platform. For all he has done for America, our esteemed president will be the first.
 
Everything is in place, the tracks are greased, blade sharpened, equipment tested, only the basket is missing.
The crowd grows silent in anticipation of the release.
 
Whoosh…Thud!
The president’s head rolls at my blood-spattered feet as the crowd thunders.
 
“Best seats in the house.” I wink at my husband as more politicians are brought to join the growing line.
America has declared her independence once again.



Your comments are welcome, but please be nice. This is a work of fiction and is not meant to be representative of any specific person. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Flash Friday 5-9-14

Picture Prompt for Flash Friday @ http://flashfriday.wordpress.com/ 
Click the link for rules and to enter your own flash, then read my response below.

Past and Present No 2, by Augustust Leopold Egg, 1858. Public domain photo.

The Strong One

I heard Mama scream and ran into the bedroom. I watched her lift his lifeless body. She held him for several long minutes. I broke the silence. “Mama…” She looked toward me and then blankly past me. Absently, she passed baby Jonah to me and stumbled across the floor to her rocker.

Mama was still rocking when I saw Lizzy coming up the lane from school. I wanted to keep from upsetting Mama more, so I stepped out to meet Lizzy. I explained what had happened in the best way I knew how, but I mustn’t have done a very good job, because she ran inside and buried her face in Mama’s lap.

I re-entered the house to find Mama absently smoothing Lizzy’s blond curls and felt a pang of jealousy. I wished momentarily that I was small enough to crawl into Mama’s lap and let her take away my troubles.

Now it’s my turn to be the strong one...


(The above is a (condensed) excerpt from the historical fiction novel I am writing.) 

____________________________________________________


 Here is my second entry.

No More Secrets

Loraine’s sentient hair curled around her mother’s fingers, drawing her closer. Warmth spread through her body under Leda’s touch.

“Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“I’ve kept this secret for sixteen years. Your father doesn’t know we lived and I didn’t think you would understand.”

Loraine pulled back from the embrace. “Understand what? That my father tried to kill both of us—simply because I was going to be different than other kids?”

“He was trying to protect us both—or so I am told.”

“From what? And you don’t protect people by killing them!”

“Your father was confused and scared—he didn’t know any better way.”  

“Loraine, I want you to know; you saved both of our lives.”

“Me? How? I wasn’t even born yet.”


“I didn’t understand until later, but somehow a tendril of your hair coiled around my heart—and started it beating again. I thought I had dreamed it until you were born with these abilities.” 

____________________________________________________
 

Edited to add: I won honorable mention for this second piece at #FlashFridayFic. I am truly grateful.


I'd love to know what you think--leave me a comment!

You can also follow me on social media.

Twitter: @CharityPaschal2 https://twitter.com/CharityPaschal2 

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Morling Stronghold - Picture Prompt



500px originally shared:
"1000 Years" by Impossible: http://bit.ly/1lC5rjT


The Morling Stronghold

Loraine gazed over the city from her vantage point on the cliff. The fog hung low in the streets and cracked with electricity. Her hair twitched nervously. She knew this must be a Morling stronghold and that she had no choice but to enter. It was her duty as a Protector. If there was any chance her charge might be there, she must risk all to find him and return him to his parents.

Looking over her shoulder, she interrupted the whispered conversation of her companions--her parents. "You don't have to come with me," she said, half-hoping they would agree to stay behind--at least then they would be safe. "Balderdash," her father said, "This little boy may be your charge, but the fate of an entire race is at stake--you're not going in alone."



Thanks for reading. Constructive criticism or unfettered praise is welcome.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Flash Friday 5-2-14

Picture Prompt for Flash Friday @ http://flashfriday.wordpress.com/ 
Click the link for rules and to enter your own flash, then read my response below.


The Sea Horse. Photo and sculpture by Jeffro Uitto

No Escape (158 words)

Loraine always enjoyed her early-morning run along the beach. She ran as her true self. Her hood fell back, allowing her black tresses to tangle in the wind. With fog thick around her, she felt safely anonymous on the deserted beach. As she ran, water droplets clung to her skin, creating iridescent arcs against silvery scales—her webbed feet left extraordinary marks in the wet sand until the tide swept them away.

Loraine’s thoughts were on her promotion. At only thirteen, she had been chosen to join the most noble of factions—during tonight’s ceremony she would become a member of the Royal Order of Protectors.

“Crack!” The sound echoed against the bluffs. Loraine whirled--every muscle tensed. Twenty yards away stood a driftwood sculpture of a wild mustang. It beckoned. She stepped closer. Her hair whipped about her shoulders—a warning!

As she dove under the waves, Loraine realized there would be no escape—she was targeted.



Thank you for reading! Let me know you enjoyed it! Leave a comment or connect with me on Twitter @CharityPaschal2.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Flash Friday 4-25-14

Picture Prompt for Flash Friday @ http://flashfriday.wordpress.com/ 
Click the link for rules and to enter your own flash, then read my response below.



Canal Workers (Suez Canal). CC Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy.


A Daughter in Peril (158 words)

Leda donned the black hood nervously. "What if he refused to help?" She rapped on the door of the dilapidated apartment building.

“May I help you?”

Leda took a deep breath. It had been years since she had seen him.

“I need your help Beck. Your daughter is in trouble.”

“I have no daughter,” he replied wistfully. “I almost did, once.”

“Remember this picture?” She handed him the device. “Leda had just told you she was pregnant—scroll through—that’s your daughter.”

“Impossible,” Beck muttered, returning the device. “Leda is dead—I killed her.”

Leda removed her hood and stared into the eyes of her husband. “You did. Our daughter saved my life.”

“You kept her from me all these years--why?” Beck challenged. “I didn’t even know she existed.”

“You tried to kill us, remember? But now she’s in trouble and you are the only one who can help. She was taken by Morlings a week ago.”



Thanks for reading. Let me know you liked it. I love comments!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Picture Prompts: Flash Friday 4-18-2014

Flash Friday is no more, but my picture prompts were taken from http://flashfriday.wordpress.com/.

Gare du Nord, Paris. CC Photo by Elliot Gilfix.


Loraine tugged at her green hoodie. The station was crowded; people bumped and jostled her as she picked through the crowd. She had taken the norm tincture, effectively hiding her webbed fingers and scaly skin, but the hair—it could not hide her sentient hair.

She cursed silently as her hood was knocked back. She yanked it up, drawing it tighter about her face as she scanned the crowd. She had seen the amulet earlier—the one worn by the Morlings. She could not be captured.

She knew there was a Morling in the station with her. She had seen the amulet; she could smell the electrical charge of his breath.

Leaving the crowded station for the empty platform, she hurried to board. “Soon,” she thought, “only a few hours and I’ll be safely home.”

“I know who you are.” The electrical hiss in her ear rendered Loraine unconscious. She had let him get too close; now she was helpless.

____________________

So...Whadya think? Let me know in the comments!


Wow! I won an honorable mention for this piece. Quote from the judge:

Charity Paschall, Untitled. I love flash fiction that hints at a much larger story, just as this one does. What are Morlings? Why does the Morling’s voice render Loraine unconscious? Don’t even get me started on her sentient hair! If this was an excerpt on the back cover of a book, I’d open it up to page one.

Here's the link to see the others that won.

http://flashfriday.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/flash-friday-vol-2-19-winners/

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Scavenger Hunt Sunday 4-13-2014

I had planned to start focusing on my writing more and not keeping up with Scavenger Hunt Sunday...but I've changed my mind. I enjoy photography and being able to share my stories, so here I go:

1. Neglected
This poor sheep has neglected her fleece all winter. Her barber is having a bit of trouble. 
(If you know sheep parts and this happens to be a male--forgive me.)   ;)

2. Signs of Spring
I photographed the lovely buds on this Redbud tree on my wild edibles hike at 
Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. 
The buds and flowers of this tree are edible. They are members of the legume family.

3. Last thing you bought
No, I did not purchase a pig! I bought admission for my family to the Homeplace Living History Farm at Land Between the Lakes in Tennessee. (LBL lies partly in KY and partly in TN).

 4. Shadow
The shadow of this tree's limbs create balance in this picture taken just before the 
wild edibles hike at LBL's Hematite Lake--in the background you can just barely see a 
bit ofwater spilling over the spillway.


 5. Four Things
Alyson felt she should be in the picture along with the four cast-iron skillets hanging on the wall. Next time, I may get her to wear the pioneer dress I made her--would make for a cute photo.


Thanks for joining me on this photographic journey. All of my pictures this week were taken at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. If you have never visited, you are missing out! Follow me or check back for future posts on LBL. We will be visiting frequently over the next months as I am researching and writing a book based in the area.

Friday, April 11, 2014

What's in a Name? Choosing Names for Your Fictional Characters.


How do you name your characters? Do names matter? Do you stick with names you know or have heard? Do you make them up yourself? I’m sure most writers have some type of system, and I would like to share mine with you.

First of all, when I try to think of a character name, I usually need help getting past the everyday Jennifer and Jason, Debby and Donald, Michael and Michelle. These names don’t evoke emotion in me anymore because I have seen them so many times.

(Ok, Michael is my son’s name--he is named after my father-in-law, but that’s a personal emotion—not a reader emotion.)

When choosing character names, it is important to consider genre and your audience. If you are writing leveled readers for first graders, by all means, use names like Tim, Bob, and Jan. You throw Aretha in a first grade leveled reader, and your manuscript is likely to go in the circular file.


Here are a few random(ish) names (some pulled from my writing, others truly random). What emotions do these names evoke? Who do you picture in association with each name? Do certain names seem to lend themselves well to certain genre?

Leda
Arnetha
Beck
Lindsay
John
Leon
Ruth
Ryan
Kristy
Kate
Elizabeth
Charles
James
Katherine
Laura
Jennifer
Joe
Daniel
Steve
Loraine


I will share my perspective on those names in a minute. But first I want you to consider: 

Do you get a different vibe from Katherine versus Catherine? 

How about Cathy/Kathy? Kate?    Kristy/Christie?    John/Jon/Jonathan?  

What about Lizbeth and Elizabeth? 

For me, a different spelling can completely change my perception of a character. (Note: Please do not take offense if one of these names is yours and you do not like my initial assumption--I know many people with these names who are not described by my initial reactions--for demonstration purposes only).


Leda – Pretty and exotic, but older woman.

Arnetha – Could be sci-fi, Fantasy

Beck – Strong and Handsome. 

Lindsay – High school girl—cheerleader? Popular.

John – Tall, strong, solid

Leon – Small stature, whiny.

Ruth - Shy, dark hair, glasses.

Ryan – High school – Popular, Football player

Kristy – Mom of young children, pretty, blond

Kate – Strong, tall, dark hair.

Elizabeth – Woman of stature, Wealth, a noble name

Charles – A young boy trying to be a man. (Charlie...wants to be called Charles)

James – Older, a gentleman

Katherine – tall and strong of character

Laura – Historical name, strength of character

Jennifer – Mom (Jen or Jenny if younger character)

Joe – Comedian (This is personal; every Joe I know is a joker).

Daniel – Strong, dark hair

Steve – slim, dark hair

Loraine – curly dark hair, exotic eyes

Now, you may completely disagree with my visualization of these names…and that’s okay. The main thing is to establish that people will judge your character by their name; names have significance. 

Sometimes I will pick a temporary character name to use in my draft, simply so I can get on with the draft without spending time picking the perfect name for my character. Other times my character will change his or her essence and prompt me to change their name due to my preconceived notions regarding their name.

Currently, I have two main ways that I pick my character’s names—besides out of thin air like I did with Loraine.

            1.   Online search:
This may look different each time you search depending on what you are looking for.

·         Interesting baby names
·         Lawyer names
·         Noble names
·         Cheerleader names
·         Baby names 1912
·         Vietnam Wall names
·         Pioneer names
            

           2. Cemeteries
Yes, cemeteries. I look at the names (and dates) on headstones in old family cemeteries. Headstones are particularly helpful for my historical fiction. I learn:

·         Historical names
·         Popular names in a certain time-period
·         Average age of death in a certain time period

Taken at Turkey Creek Cemetery on a recent trip to Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky.


To these name-finding resources I would add:

  1.  Phonebook: if you still own one
  2.  Genealogy search: can provide information on average family size etc.
  3. Family: personally I would use extended family, deceased grandparents etc. 
  4.   Bible: look at the “begets”—there are lots of name options there. 



How do you choose character names? Have I given you any additional resources to check out? Comments are appreciated. Follow me on social media for future tips.


 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Picture prompted.

Photo Credit:
"Foggy Otzarreta" by Joserra Martinez:http://bit.ly/PGw37k

+MJ Bush asked "What kind of scene would you write here?" Here is my response:


Breathless, Loraine slumped against the tree--a soft cushion of moss beneath her. She peered through the early morning fog back the way she had come--towards Morling Manor.  
The house would soon be waking; they would find her missing and set the dogs on her. Loraine dipped her bare feet, bloodied by sharp rocks, into the water. Whirlpools of red, changed to pink froth and were swept downstream. The wounds healed almost immediately on contact with the water. 
Loraine's fingers splayed over the moss carpeting the forest floor. If only she could stay in this place--but such dreams were impossible. Her kind would never be safe in Shermel Forest; not while the Morlings were around. She shivered at the thought of her recent captivity--she must keep going. 


Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts! Leave me a comment.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What on earth is a Grease Jar?

Grease Jars:

Hillcreek Pottery sampling of Grease Jars at +Silver Dollar City Attractions 

Perhaps you have heard the term grease jar before, and perhaps you have not. To be honest, I don’t recall ever hearing the term growing up, but I am aware that my grandmother used one and most likely yours did too. 

A grease jar is just a jar of bacon grease which is going to be used later for something else. They are especially popular with people who enjoy cooking with cast iron because they help to keep the cast iron well-seasoned.

My grandmother kept her grease jar beside the stove, and used her grease often enough that it did not go bad. Some people still keep them next to the stove but I worry about spoilage and keep mine in the fridge.

Okay, my current grease jar is an old canning jar, but I love this one 
from Hillcreek Pottery at +Silver Dollar City Attractions 

When you are ready to use your grease, bring it out of the fridge and scoop it out like shortening--or you can warm it up a bit to use it as a liquid.


I had planned to write an entire post dedicated to grease jars and their use, but there is someone else who has already done it—and probably better than I could. Christy Jordan at SouthernPlate.com is who originally taught me (through her posts) the wonders of bacon grease. 

Sure, I had reused grease to fry eggs but that was about the extent of it. Christy showed me what I was missing.

Read about grease jars here and here on her website and look around at all of the other great recipes and stories she shares. 

Do you have a grease jar? Did your grandma have one? 


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How to Use a Thesaurus to Improve Your Writing

As a fairly new writer, my thesaurus has quickly become a close companion. A thesaurus is used to find synonyms or antonyms to common (or uncommon) words--they can be helpful for vocabulary building, or just adding some variety to your writing. A thesaurus can be an excellent writing tool but it can also get you into trouble. Currently, I use an online thesaurus rather than a print one simply because it is at my fingertips on my phone, tablet, or laptop.


Thesaurus:
Photo credit: +Martha Curtis


What happens when you look up thesaurus in a thesaurus?

I tried it on thesaurus.com and was rewarded with this list of words:

  • Reference book
  • Glossary
  • Lexicon
  • Onomasticon
  • Terminology
  • Vocabulary
  • Language reference book
  • Sourcebook
  • Storehouse of words
  • Treasury of words


Dictionary.com defines the word Thesaurus as ‘a dictionary of synonyms and antonyms’


As I am writing, or rather, as I am editing, I begin to notice words terms I have used over and over again. These repetitions make my writing sound tired and dull stale and boring even to me.  If I can’t be excited about what I have written after only the second or third time seeing it, I know it will not seem fresh to a readers eyes either be stimulating to my reader either.  


In the above paragraph, I used the strike-through so that you could see some of the possible changes a thesaurus can help you to make. (Apologies for any difficulty you had reading it as a result).


I use my thesaurus to banish clichés from my writing, I use them to improve the description of a scene, and I use them when I cannot find the right word. I occasionally use the thesaurus to find a word that I have previously heard in conversation but am unsure of the meaning.



In her article, Is the Thesaurus Your Friend?, K.M. Weiland asks: 

'Why should a writer limit his vocabulary to words he's known and used all his life? If a word is correct for your story, it doesn't matter if you've known the word for years or if you just learned it.' 

 (Note: this is a partial quote, for the caveat; click through to her blog post).



Writing is not simply putting one word after another; good writing has a rhythm and flow that is almost musical. Consider your favorite Dr. Seuss book. Would he have been so popular writing about Sam the Turtle instead of Yertle the Turtle? Of course not! The lyrical way that he organized words is what made his books popular.

Readers do not want to read tired sentences; they enjoy lyrical locution. 


Would you rather listen to someone lecture in a monotone, or are you engaged by speakers with expressive inflection? Do you tune people out when they use the same tired words again and again? Personally, I would rather listen to someone who has life to their voice, and similarly want to read someone who has given that life to their words.


Perhaps you already know hundreds of thousands of words, and don’t believe you need a thesaurus. Let me ask you. Can you always recall the exact word you want to use at a given time? Do you know their meanings, and can you arrange them in a sentence with lyrical flow? If so, perhaps a thesaurus would not be your tool of choice.


Look at the possibilities for replacing the word "large" in your writing...
Look for inspiration in the antonyms too!

Photo credit: +Martha Curtis 

The thesaurus can be a great asset to help you find less-used words, or to help banish clichés from your writing but it can also be your downfall.


When you look up synonyms, you might see a word there that you had overlooked or didn't previously know the meaning to. Before you use it, consider this—will your reader know what it means? There are some words you can let context define for you, but if you get too heavy-handed with these flowery words, your reader will feel as though you are writing over their head and will lose interest quickly. Let this be a word of caution to use those words sparingly.


In her article, Hint to Writers: Use the Thesaurus with Caution, Jennifer Blanchard wrote: 

'By using the thesaurus to change words I thought were “common,” I ended up sounding fake. And readers can always tell if a writer is being genuine or not.'



Consider these examples:

The blonde laughed at me.

The golden-haired beauty giggled at me.

The auricomous gentlewoman cachinnated at me.


I personally would not have a clue what the writer was trying to tell me if I read that last sentence. I would either skim it and keep going—perhaps losing an important element in the story—or I would lay the book down and probably not pick it back up. Either way, if the writer did this to me again—I would be turned off and would not bother finishing the book.


A thesaurus can be a great tool to help you engage your reader and offer them some verbal variety but you must be careful not to overuse it. 


Do you use a thesaurus in your writing? If not, will you after reading this article? What is your favorite writing tool? I would love to hear from you in the comment section.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Scavenger Hunt Sunday 3/30/2014

Confession: All of these photos are archives--but only from a week ago. I got into writer mode this week, and completely forgot to turn photographer mode back on. On the upside, I finished and submitted two pieces (will definitely post here if they get published), read tons about writing, plus worked a little on my novel and my blog layout. So, all in all it was a productive week, whether or not I took fresh pictures.

1. What IS that?
I didn't realize blowing the picture up would make it look so strange, but you might recognize it as peanut brittle being poured from a copper kettle at +Silver Dollar City Attractions 

 2. Yum!
Enjoying a fresh warm funnel cake dusted with powdered sugar.

3. On the Road
The sun was setting behind us as we left Branson for home.

 4. On the Shelf
I love these Grease Jars from Hillcreek Pottery at #SDC. 
(Look for a post later this week about grease jars and their use).

5. Bad Habit
Hi, my name's Michael and I'm an appleholic. 
((Hi, Michael))
--Ok, really he was bowling for apple juice but it sure was cute.

Thank you all for looking. I enjoy hearing from you if you stop by to visit my blog. Linking up with: 


Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Temporary Change in Writing Focus Can Increase Your Productivity



How do you know when the story you are working on is the one you need to be working on at any given moment? For me, it has to do with focus. If things that couldn't possibly happen in my story keep popping into my head, I take that as a sign I need to take a break and work on something else for awhile...namely whatever it is that keeps popping into my head.

I consider myself to be a historical fiction and poetry writer with a few true stories from my own life thrown in for good measure. However, I recently had this great idea for a story in the science fiction/fantasy genre and no matter what I did, I could not get rid of this idea that had taken up residence in my brain...but then when I tried to focus on it, it felt forced because it is different than what I am used to writing. I felt like I really didn't have a good plot, just a good scene or two really--that's when I decided to take advantage of the one great scene and try writing some flash fiction. I am still in the drafting stages but I think flash may be just long enough to use the material that inspired me without forcing me to create a full plot in a genre I am unfamiliar with. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

I have another story in the works as about an Army Sniper in Vietnam which I began writing to show my husband that I have ability as a writer and that I could even write something he would be interested in. I think it may turn into another flash fiction also, or possibly a short story due to my personal interest in the story waning. Each time I think about trying to create a full novel from that story, I find myself unable to come up with a full plot, or even other characters that seem believable.

The novel I originally started is about a young girl growing up in rural Kentucky during the depression, who is suddenly thrown into an adult role where she has to make adult decisions and take care of her family herself when her mom falls ill. This was my main focus when I started writing, and I think I have plenty of material, as well as ideas for a second and third book already--but I don't want to get bogged down in a novel for the next two years and come to the realization that I am the only person who is interested in such a novel. So, I am splitting my focus a bit in order to get my feet wet and discover my niche.

If you find yourself staring at the blank page, try putting it away for awhile. If you feel the need to write something, try going for a different genre or writing just for fun--see where it takes you.

Update: I have a fully written children's book ready to publish, and a rough draft started on another (with ideas for several more.) My writing journey has been full of twists and turns, setbacks and bursts of inspiration. I don't think I will ever be on the straight flat road as a writer, but I am enjoying the bumps and twists of the scenic route right now.

How do you determine what you will write on a given day? Do you have more than one thing going at a time, or do you have to focus solely on one story in order to make it work? What are you writing today?