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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Words With Impact: Honest Code: Process

Workshop: Discover Words That Sing

“What is art but a way of seeing” Thomas Berger

Do you remember playing a game as a child where you put your hands into a bag and guessed what was inside? Do you still remember your reactions to cold noodles or squishy pudding? Then each item you touched needed to be clearly identified with concrete words in order to see who guessed the most correctly. Generalized words weren’t good enough.

No sensory observation is considered complete until the fictional character’s emotional response is included. When eating new foods, or hearing new sounds, the concrete details help the reader recognize the character as more real as he reacts to the senses. Just as word choices need to be specific, so do the sensory details need to be definitive, externally as images and internally as personal reactions, like the shriek or shiver to those slimy noodles.

Words that sing into our manuscripts are not like a recipe where we add varying amounts of sugar, but instead where breath beats as fresh as each new dawn. It’s an ongoing process to keep them natural and vibrant and beautiful.

This, I think, is what Mollie Hunter reminds us—to be conscious of this in our writing and remember the sense of awe that accompanies our first experiences, and not to diminish their impact.  Learn to tap out the code and hope someone hears and understands.

Action Steps:

1.     Set up a study/research journal for yourself for writing images, movies, images, and reading images and choose a time frame to focus on one only. Either, weekly or monthly.

2.     Within each category consider both the verbal and silent themes you want to be your backbone and watch for words and images that will apply.

3.     Also take into consideration the sub-categories that may be involved specifically to your story’s genre. The weather threat of a catastrophic hurricane will be different in an historical, a contemporary, or a sci-fi setting.

Share: What code concept impacted you the most in this discussion? Why?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Words With Impact: Honest Code: Sensory Vocabulary

Workshop: Discover Words That Sing

“The senses are as core a scene element as you can get, and are very important in writing fiction because they transform flat words on a page into three-dimensional, realistic scenes.” Jordan E. Rosenfeld

The added beauty from a mythic world perspective is that the reality of common day-to-day activities can be developed into shadows, as passages from long ago or as foretelling to the future. They also have the potential to tap into echoes and allusions and metaphors. One way to access allusion and echoes is through the speech of metaphor, which enables us to enrich language and go beyond clichés.

For example in our early draft we just write everything down as it comes to us through our senses. Usually we lean on ordinary words for basic descriptions. Then we go back through to paint in feelings and scenery and ambiance. But sometimes we’re still stuck with the ordinary because it’s so familiar that other thoughts or phrases just won’t come to mind without sounding artificial or planted.

A good exercise to try is to describe an object without saying what it is. Try it out at the dinner table and see if your family can guess. This helps pull in new sensory details.

When eating new foods or hearing new sounds the concrete details help the reader recognize the character as more real as he reacts to the senses. Actually no sensory observation is complete until the fictional character’s emotional response is included.

We need the essential-specific word choices: salty-sour-sweet-bitter. If it smells bad is it like a sewer, or low tide? However we also need to recognize that what smells bad to one character may actually be sweet to another. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post, I discovered that one day when driving with an elderly friend. I smelt something noxious and worried it was my car. I asked if she could smell it and her reply was “isn’t it lovely?” Apparently we smelled sulfur, which to her reminded her of where she grew up near sulfur springs.

We also can’t incorporate every item, but need to choose which specific details are appropriate to enhance each scene. What will create the mood? Even in a fast moving fight scene we can have character feel the sweat and taste the blood on his lip. Concrete down to earth details that may or may not rise to metaphor, or symbol.           

Action Steps:

1. Repeat the “Read” the word action steps from last week focusing solely on what you can remember were sensory details that caught your attention or you most identified with. Write them down.

2. Choose the one that you found most curious or unexpected as a connection. Then again check with a dictionary or thesaurus to make a list of all the words you think would also have that impact. Which sensory focus do you want to catch a reader attention in your own novel?

Share: What was the funniest guess a family member shared?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Words With Impact: Honest Code: Silent Themes

Workshop: Discover Words That Sing

“I think that finding a voice in writing has everything to do with integrity and little to do with stylistic imitation.”     Maeve Binchy

Time as a metaphor can open up as much energy as splitting an atom. The possibilities seem infinite whether we approach it only in chronos time, or in kairos time. Combining both areas together can overwhelm our imagination with the result that we often return to clichés or common metaphors in order to communicate even the most basic characteristics.

Every day we live in both time dimensions. We march to chronos clock schedule. We hold our breath and our souls drink in kairos eternity. When we’re fortunate the two combine and give us a sense of timelessness. We are infused with a sense of purpose. And when our lives start to drift we hold onto those images to keep us on track. Often the very common images themselves are rooted in the ordinary and yet we see something far more.

In the movie Hugo this concept of time as metaphor is explored with extensive creativity, unveiling itself in multiple ways. The kairos time shines through the literal clock-ticking center. Keeping the clocks wound daily grounds the young boy Hugo into an everyday rhythm of reality. And living with the clocks keeps him connected to the memory of his father and the dreams of a new future. The clocks are so ingrained in his life that in some ways they become a picture of his heartbeat.

And still everyone will see this image through a different perspective. I came to the movie version without having read the novel. And I have not seen the 3D version. Others who have bring a different interpretation. In addition we all add our own personal ‘time’ attitudes to the mix. And the possibilities continue to explode into more metaphors.

How do you see time? How does your protagonist? Is it an ogre waiting to devour her day or a beloved friend inviting her to adventure? Understanding, and then capturing, the silent themes adds a richer layer to your ongoing word codes. Even if time itself is not a central theme in your story the attitude towards it can still be heightened for effect.  

Action Steps: Reading Images

1. “Read” the word themes that you noticed when you watched your movie, whether spoken words or silent themes. Write them down.

2. Before checking with a dictionary or thesaurus make a list of all the words you can think of that could also capture that theme as a metaphor. Look for unobtrusive openings to tag the silent theme in your own novel.

3. Pick up an anthology of poetry at the library or a second-hand bookstore. Read at random and note the effect different words have, or not. Some poets will stir a reaction in us and some won’t, regardless of how talented they are.

4. Keep a reading journal on the pieces you read and from other sources as well. Write down the words that surprise, or confuse, or frustrate you. Don’t take the poems apart like a high-school examination question but instead, as a reader, let the words sink in. You never know which words will become a theme or a metaphor for you personally

Share: What word or image caught you by surprise at your reaction?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Words With Impact: Honest Code: Resonance-Images

Workshop: Discover Words That Sing

“I suddenly understood that photography can fix eternity in a moment.”  Henri Cartier-Bresson

In later segments we’ll be looking at motifs in movies with a deeper conversation, but the resonance of images, whatever the form of art, also enables another insight into tapping into honest code of communication.

Looking at life close-up, or from a different perspective than everyday normal, can add a dimension of awe and wonder. The ordinary becomes mysterious. We begin to examine the intricacy of the moment. A snowflake, a sunrise, a fingerprint—all one of a kind in a world teeming with creation.

Studying a craft we fall in love with gives a lifetime of moments. Sometimes it becomes a vocation. A puzzle to solve—a medical breakthrough—a window into a person’s life or character—all breathing with hope and possibilities.

In the movie Hugo the young boy quietly and desperately tries to unravel the mystery of the automaton his father discovered. Its repair began as a mutual bond between them and now Hugo feels he must complete it as the last connection with his father. He is certain he will discover a message in it. He alternates between fascination and frustration as he applies his growing skill to unravel the mystery behind it.   

However the mystery is not his alone, but involves others and their personal stories. The circle widens. The mystery is not something fixable like his machine, but needs interpersonal healing of memories and new beginnings. When the answer finally comes it produces so much more than Hugo or his father or the automaton’s creator could ever imagine.

A message that gathers many moments and gives a glimpse of eternity’s awe.
What creative ability does your character turn to for discovery and study? How can the qualities of either the craft itself, or the skills your character uses, be implemented into your plot with words that open up a new discovery?

Action Steps: Movie Images

1. Choose two different movies from your personal favorites and watch the immediate opening of each with the sound on mute. What images stand out?

2. Re-watch with sound. What changes—if anything?

3. Read your opening scene as if it were a movie. What image would the camera capture?

4. Begin a habit of keeping a movie image journal.

Share: What emotional effect did you notice that you had not seen before?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Words With Impact: Honest Code: Scale

Workshop: Discover Words That Sing

“The capacity to recall the sensory impacts and perceptions of one’s early years is obviously also a vital part of the talent in question: but a further dimension of recall is needed for the physical world of childhood, which, we tend to forget, is out of scale in surroundings proportioned to adults.”  Mollie Hunter

As are our fantasy worlds out of scale to our normal every day experiences. Not just the right word then to describe heat, or cold, or color, or temperature, but also the emotion that resonates along with them. Crawling into a blanket-made fort for a child may hold all the anticipation of a dangerous journey, or a return to a safe haven. We need to be able to echo that experience as adults too.

The settings and description need to be in accord with both the age and the story itself. Too often I concentrate on the description and miss the added impact of the feelings. This, I think, is what can lead to a superficial treatment.

Then I remember the first time my youngest son saw the stars at night.  He was only two and did not have the vocabulary to describe what he saw. So he flung himself backwards and spread out his arms as if trying to hug the sky or hold it somehow.  Pure speechless astonishment poured out of him. That night we, who did possess the word vocabulary, saw the night sky in a new way. 

Reflect on a memory where you were astonished beyond words whether positively or negatively. What word or sensory concept helped you to process the experience?

That’s the code we’re watching out for. The one that is a higher reach or scale than our ordinary or automatic every day normal.  When we need some extra impact.

Action Steps: Writing Images

1. Using your stained glass window, begin a word journal according to each theme you listed.

2. Next to each choose a non-verbal image that captures the main emotion you recall as your experience.

3. Write down any words that impact you as you read or brainstorm through the months ahead, and place them in your journal under each category you have chosen.

Share: One of the wordless images you selected.

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Words With Impact: Develop Honest Code

 Workshop: Discover Words That Sing

“And all the time he taps he is asking himself, Is there anyone out there listening?  Can they hear me? Do they understand?”  Mollie Hunter

In her essay, “Talent Is Not Enough”, Mollie Hunter says that a writer is like a person locked in a cell for life, who learns things they desperately want to convey and develops a code to tap out the messages on the wall of the cell.

She points out that “the range of a child’s emotion has the same extent as that of an adult, and all the child lacks, by comparison, is the vocabulary to match his range.”  Often in children’s books I’ve found that there is superficiality. Instead of dealing with deep emotion with respect, it is stereotyped. That same lack of connection can occur in all other genres and audiences as well.

The books that resonate are the ones that take both pain and joy and treat them honestly. Why are true emotions so often avoided? Is it because, as writers, we ourselves have not learned to come to grips with the emotions that result? Or it’s too difficult to cross the chasm of vocabulary to make the connections in clear simple language?

That same concern can work in reverse, when trying to establish a symbol or theme in our world building. How do we find the one word, or phrase that will capture the essence of the theme or emotion or question?  How then do we bring this same clarity and simplicity to fiction without the story itself becoming simplistic? We need to find the right words in all genres.

Action Steps:

1. Download a copy of a visual image of a stained glass window and use it as a personal map over the next several weeks, or year. Fill in an interest choice for each space and then prepare to read/write journals, vignettes, or poems for at least a week in each category you have chosen.

Some examples: music, memories, special moments, secrets, smells, photographs, hiding places, family, friends, movies, house, room, back yard, and your favorite sport.

2. For this week choose one key category for yourself.

3. Then take one of the emotions you connected with and apply a similar code to your hero or heroine.

Share: What could you choose from your list for your protagonist’s personal map that no one else knows about?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Words with Impact: Eight Communication Basics to Discover Words That Sing

“The conscious use of mythic themes and tropes-that is elements and language that reflect either figuratively or literal use of images, symbols and folklore-is the key ingredient, allowing authors to explore realistic themes on a symbolic level.” Julie Bartel

Workshop Introduction

Welcome to Words with Impact. In this new blog workshop for 2019 we are going to look at key exercises that enable us to sharpen our senses, to discern language, shape images, define metaphors, and fine-tune word choices with purpose.

Words that sing are the words that stand out to the reader. They impact the heart and provide a lingering resonance. We choose these words like a painter chooses a particular color from his palette, or a poet her sound. They are usually ordinary words that are fine-tuned for a clear purpose. Musicians all use the same notes, but one may write an opera and another heavy metal rock. The styles, the genre, the melody all impact the final result. Likewise our words arise out of each project.

Words With Impact Outline (six weeks each)

Develop Honest Code

Deepen Vocabulary

Direct Language Communication

Discover Metaphoric Language

Draw Poetry Techniques Into Fiction

Describe Symbols as Allusions and Echoes

Design Symbols as Images

Discern Typology

Action Steps:

1. Choose a turning point memory in your own life, or for your character. Write it up with as many details as possible. Don’t worry about overwriting it. Pour in sensory specifics.

2. Now color code the sensory highlights as if you were filling in a stained glass window or a paint-by-number. Which color is predominant?

3. Re-write as a scene capturing that particular focus.

4. Did the sensory focus surprise you? Was it in agreement with the memory or in conflict?

Share: Is there one specific word that captures your emotions?

For example: Once I did a mini exercise describing the kitchen in the home I lived in as a child. I checked it later against an old photograph I found and I was amazed at how accurately the details had stayed with me. However, in the actual exercise I realized that one sense was entirely missing—smell. Now that missing factor really jumped out at me, a kitchen with no memory of smell. One day that one detail will make it into one of my stories.

Read deep, marcy

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