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

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

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Dream Makers Writing Prompt (3)

Daybreak in Alabama by Langston Hughes

“When I get to be a composer
I’m going to write me some music about
Daybreak in Alabama
And I’m going to put the purtiest songs in it
Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
I’m going to put some small trees in it
And the scent of pine needles
And the smell of red clay after rain
And long red necks
And poppy colored faces
And big brown arms
And the field daisy eyes
Of black and white black white black people
And I’m going to put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers
And touching each other as natural as dew
In that dawn of music when I
Get to be a composer
And write about daybreak
In Alabama.”

1.     Write a brief prose piece about what your dream looked like in the past, or looks like now.

2.     What strikes you the most about the author’s use of senses? What do you see, hear, touch, smell, taste in this poem?

3.     Re-write your prose piece adding sensory detail.


After a few days re-read the three poems and your response to each. What comparison of your dreams have you experienced that relates to the models Langston Hughes gives in these poems?

Write your own poem.

1. Do you see a re-connection to the power of dreams in one’s life?

2. Which sense of voice at what age, or emotions, do you most identify with?

3. What is your new dream?

4. If a writer what idea starter do you see as a new project: picture book, short story, character, incident scene, or new research.

5. In whatever art or life form you have for a new dream to follow this year—what are your first steps?

6. Choose one step to do the first week of this new year.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Dream Makers Writing Prompt (2)

As I Grew Older by Langston Hughes 

“It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun--
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Between me and my dream.

Rose until it touched the sky--
The wall.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!”

1. How does the wall metaphor impact this poem? What other feelings or emotions does it imply?

2. Identify and list places where your dreams were stopped or side-tracked, delayed, or changed. Next to each write down one to three metaphors that express the situation.

3. Choose one metaphor and expand it by saying other ways you could describe it.

4. Re-write that chosen incident either as a poem or prose piece incorporating your metaphor, and if appropriate, the voice age at which the incident was experienced.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dream Makers Writing Prompt (1)

Dream Makers Writing Prompt

Readings: Poems by Langston Hughes
            The Dream Keeper
            As I Grew Older
            Daybreak in Alabama

            Read Assigned Poem           
            Exercise: Write down any words that jump out to you and then consider their Definition or Explanation or Questions they spark.
            Freewrite: Without considering sentence structure or punctuation, write down everything that comes to mind. Maybe set a timer for five or ten minutes.
            Writing Prompts: Set your notes away for a few hours or a day and let the ideas float for a while. Then take a short block of time to respond to the poem or the questions for each one.
            Dream: What connection did you make to this word personally in this poem?           

The Dreamkeeper by Langston Hughes 

“Bring me all of your dreams.
You dreamers.
Bring me all of your heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.”

1. What were some of your dreams as a child, a teen-ager, a young adult, and now?

2. Which word in this poem do you most relate to?

3. Which words do you wish you could relate to?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Journal With Impact: Overview

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“Surely a kind of fascination or a deep desire to learn more about a subject must be there from the start.” Jane Yolen

Whether you have been exploring a journal memoir, or nature, or travel, or family, or vocation, or ongoing reflection, your material has been growing.  If you decide you’d like to begin sharing your thoughts with others one-to-one, or as a blog, or in articles, or books the next steps can become basic outlines and categories to see where your content is overflowing or where it is slim and needs more research or personal involvement.

Think in terms of a preliminary outline to gauge your primary purpose and direction.

What is your story/subject about? Where did it start? Is it an idea to explore, a character memoir, a significant place, or a feeling that sent you on a search?

What is your delivery voice? The delivery voice, like any story, includes the writer’s voice, which must be the consistent voice of your work and worldview. It includes the:
narrator’s personae/personality
attitude  towards the subject
world at large.

What language style will engage a conversation between you and your reader? What words will sing from your story to your readers’ hearts?

And with whom do you most want to share? When you know that the above questions will almost answer themselves.

Hope you continue to enjoy journaling.

Thank you for reading and participating in this year’s blog. In January the new writing blog will be based on my workshop Words That Sing. Below is an excerpt exercise on a language search for when you just need the right one for a particular reason or moment.

And for those of you who would like some small snippets to journal on for a few more weeks, I am posting three blogs based on poems by Langston Hughes as you consider your own dreams for the coming year.

Holiday Blessings and Happy New Year.

Action Steps:

Here’s a brief excerpt from an opening paragraph from an exercise called Quilting in the Ditch, given by James McKean in the book The Practice of Poetry.

“Choose a particular item or activity and make that the object of the language search. Find out as much as possible about the language associated with that object, especially active and concrete verbs, the history of the names used for that object, and terminology that seems especially colorful. Then save from your search a list of nouns, a list of verbs and a list of adjectives.”

I’m focusing on this section only as a variation on the list poem as well as a general search for key metaphoric and rich words. The first run may or may not contain usable words, but by doing so you’ll spark imagination. And/or you may discover just what you needed for a particular sentence or detail.

Here’s an example of one word I searched just on the surface. I didn’t take his next step of research on this. Dividing the nouns, verbs and adjectives gave me sufficient material for my needs at that time.


Nouns                                                Verbs                                                Adjectives
arc                                                enclose                                    curved
spatial position                        draw                                                navigational
instrument                                    determine                                    indicator
directional device                        pivot                                                magnetic
circular cord                                                                                    ‘moveable rigid legs
hinged at the end’

I ended up with fifteen words to choose from. The next word I choose to search was navigate for which I ended up with thirty-six words.

To my surprise I was actually able to incorporate the moveable rigid legs.

Have some creative exploration.

Share: What surprised you?

Read deep, marcy

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