Verbizing (yes, it’s a word!) (okay, it’s my word)

What’s the most important part of a story? The plot? The characters?

How about the verbs?

Okay, maybe they aren’t the most important part but wow, they can make or break it.

Secret wisdom of the earth by Christopher ScottonI’m reading The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton and I am dumbfounded (love this word – oh, and what a great verb!) by how he simply makes up verbs. Out of thin air. He takes ordinary words and he verbizes them (there! I just did it too! I verbized the noun, verb.).

Watch how he does this:

I remember watching my mother from the backseat as she stared at the telephone poles flishing past us, the reflection of the white highway line in the window strobing her haggard face.

The first time it happened, on the first page, mind you, I thought – flishing? huh, never heard of that verb.

But then again and again (and again) he simply created verbs where there were none. Jounced? (okay, that one’s real, but who uses it?) Vigiling? Birth-defected?

How empowering, I thought.

The verb you choose for a sentence can be the difference between eating vanilla store brand ice cream and Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food flavor ice cream. Totally different experience.

For example:

He walked slowly along.

He lollygagged.

The bird flew across the grass.

The bird flashed across the grass.

She thought about it.

She sloshed the idea around in her head.

See? It’s easy. And what Scotton has proven to me, is that if you can’t think of a verb, you can simply make one up. Nobody minds. Really.

The toddler wasted time.

The toddler fiddle-de-dooed.

Cake? Right?

If you need a few lists of verbs check out foxhugh.com who teaches ESL and has lists of action verbs, PLUS a cat and the hat rap video and a number of other interesting posts. You could also check out ResumeGenius.com which claims to be the longest action verb list in the universe, although I’m quite certain that Fox Hugh has it beat.

If worse comes to worse, you can also right click on a boring verb in your document and look at the possible synonyms, there could be a more interesting alternative there.

Want to pump up your manuscript? Search out words like was, is, walk, sat, run, read, stand, etc., you know the standard stuff from your first grade primer, and see if you can liven up your sentences by plugging in more interesting verbs.

It used to be we had to stick to Webster’s for our word choice, but I’m pretty sure that rule is long gone. I can’t imagine how spell check or auto-correct keep up. That’s their problem, though, because clearly best-selling writers make up words everyday—why can’t you?

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to read more, meander on over to my website. We’re just getting my Street Team (Cara’s Cronies) off the ground. I’d love to have you on my side!

Oh, and if you’re totally into dogs, check out my blog about fostering rescue dogs!

Enough of the shameless self-promotion. Have a blueberry pie with fresh cream kind of week!

Blessings,

Cara

 

 

Nature Vs Nurture: Am I a Story Genius?

I buckled down and got serious about my assigned reading this week, plowing through three chapters of Story Genius. The picking apart of the story writing process prickled my nerves a bit. I’ve never been good at following directions and details bore me to tears, but I pledged to read this book so I powered on.

I found myself, nodding, duh, duh, duh at some points and at other times I underlined sections like I did in American History class, thinking, “This is the part that will be on the test.”

And then I went for a run and thought about it. I don’t have time to read to be reading. My shelves are creaking with books I’m dying to read. So, what is the point here? Why am I forcing myself to read craft books? Can’t I just write? Continue reading “Nature Vs Nurture: Am I a Story Genius?”

Avoidance Techniques from a Master (Week 4 of my Be-a-Better-Writer Reading Program)

Reading multiple writing books at once has my head spinning. This past week, while distracted by my BIG NEWS, I had a hard time making myself sit down and follow my reading plan for becoming a better writer. I do my assigned reading in the evening, but each night I found a reason not to read. Instead, I spent a lot of time with my foster puppies…..

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And I caught up on The Crown and sorted my Netflix que and finished reading Dogged Pursuit by Robert Rodi (hilarious) 6480008 and The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (exquisite). 15705011Next, instead of doing my assigned reading Continue reading “Avoidance Techniques from a Master (Week 4 of my Be-a-Better-Writer Reading Program)”

May the Power of Literature Change Your Life (Week Two of my Be-a-Better-Writer Reading Program)

Okay, I’ve changed my mind.

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This is a picture of my cat Hermoine, because she changes her mind frequently and never apologizes about it (she also sits shamelessly on the heater vent and hogs all the heat in the kitchen). Please do not take note of the filthy floor, focus on the cat.

 

 

Story Genius and Lisa Cron are pretty genius.

After sharing my disdain last week, I take it all back. Digging deeper into this book, I’m finding nugget after nugget of gold.

Maybe I was a bit sensitive after her comments about pantsers (those of us who write by the seat of our pants as opposed to careful outlining). I’ve decided that Lisa Cron actually does have room for pantsers in her heart. At least my kind of pantsing.

She’s not shoving an outline down my throat (at least at this point), but she does want me to know exactly what it is my protagonist wants and what is keeping her from it. The intersection of those points is what she terms the ‘third rail.’

While I may have no idea what’s going to happen in any story I start, I do know my protagonist inside and out and am very certain of what she wants. I even know the first obstacle which will throw her into a tailspin and start my story. After that, though, all bets are off, but inevitably obstacle after obstacle will present itself.

In my novel Girls’ Weekend there were three protagonists (although Cron has helped me see that there is actually an ‘alpha protagonist’) and I knew what those women wanted (even though not all of them did) and what stood in their way. In reality, looking back, that could have been three books. A nice little series. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

So, yeah, enjoying Story Genius.

The other books are also inspiring me, even Donald Maass. Here’s a line I’ve been ruminating on from Fire in Fiction:

“Like a handshake, an opening and closing line can create impressions and expectations. They can set a tone.”

I’ve gone back and begun looking at each chapter and studied my opening and closing lines. It’s one way to be certain my story is bringing the reader along purposefully. He also talks about being certain there’s a purpose in every scene, not just artfully rendered sentences. I’m a serious proponent of that direction, and I chuckled at his line about the purpose not having to be obvious. There’s no need to “squat atop it like an elephant on an egg.” Totally going to steal that line at some point.

And then this from Fierce on the Page:

“This is the power of the written word. As we take in a story that affects us, we meet ourselves more deeply.”

Yes. That’s exactly it.

Natalie Goldberg echoes this sentiment:

“A responsibility of literature is to make people awake, present, alive.”

Doing all this reading about craft and purpose and style and function some days makes my head spin a bit and makes me feel like not only do I not know what I’m doing, but maybe I should apply for a job at the new Burger King that just opened in town. But Jordan Rosenfeld was there to catch me when she wrote:

“Trust your gut about what resonates and what does not. Know that you’ll know what to cut and what to keep…..You will find the alive passages, and you can even choose to build on them. Those are the words you are meant to write; similarly, the life that flows is the one you’re meant to live.”

I think she might have more faith in me that I have in myself, but I’ll borrow it for now.

May the power of literature change your life this week.


And now for all the self-promotional whoo-ha (cause this way we can be more connected, maybe even best friends…):

If you’d like to sign up for my not-so-regular-but-I’m-working-on-it newsletter, click here.

If you’d like to check out what else I write or take a peek at my books, hop on over to CaraWrites.com.

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Week One of my Be-A-Better-Writer Reading Plan

I’m one week into my Be-A-Better-Writer reading plan and I already feel like a better writer. I’m learning a few things and I feel intentional, which is my favorite kind of feeling.

Plus, I really like coloring my notes with my gel pen set. I underline and star and copy thoughts into my notebook and then go back and circle and underline even more in color. Plus, some pages of my journal have little coloring breaks—

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Reading six writing books each day is a bit like having six teachers hanging out in my office with me. I like some more than others. I find myself looking forward to opening some (Writing Down the Bones, The Art of Memoir), forcing myself to read others because I know it’s good for me (Fire in Fiction, A Writer’s Guide to Persistence), and having mixed emotions about the other two because while they captivate me with their engaging style, every now and again they irritate me (Story Genius, Fierce on the Page).

Some of the writers feel like old friends I’d love to meet for a beer and commiserate with about the sad state of the publishing industry. Others feel more like the teacher I had in third grade who was really pretty and let us watch Electric Company during class, but also scared the shit out of me and rendered me mute with her wicked brilliance and condescending confidence.

Story Genius is probably pushing me the most. It’s making me question the framework of the story I wrote this fall.

Fire in Fiction is making me examine the characters in that story. Although Fire in Fiction is also the book I’m least inclined to open if I’m sleepy or unmotivated. Maass uses TONS of examples from books I haven’t read which is frustrating because my sad little brain is overwhelmed with sorting out the story he’s quoting instead of the point he’s making. It’s exhausting. Add to that my feeling of inadequacy because I haven’t read so many of his examples. If I was a real writer, I would have read them, right?

Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is Continue reading “Week One of my Be-A-Better-Writer Reading Plan”

The Education of a Writer

girl-1174539_960_720One of my biggest regrets in this life (and I say that like I have a lot of regrets in this life, which I don’t) is that I didn’t study writing in college. Both my degrees are from liberal arts institutions, so that means I did plenty of reading and writing in college, even took courses on it, but I didn’t major in it. I look back now and I’m not sure why.

As a child, I read constantly, carting home stacks of books from the bookmobile that set up shop in the bank parking lot on Tuesday nights. Each summer before we left for our two week vacation in an un-airconditioned, TV-less cottage at a beach with no boardwalk, movie theater, or mall, my mom would take us to a used book store and I’d fill a brown grocery bag with books and then spend my entire vacation reading in the sun or on the screened in porch once I’d burnt my body to a crisp after a few days.

When I was a teen, I suffered through the self-conscious, angsty, insecurity typical of most teens (although at the time I thought I was the ONLY miserable teenager who hated to look in a mirror). Reading was my escape. I lost myself in books that took me far, far away from my tiny little town where every embarrassing moment and bad hair decision followed you through school with the same kids year after year.

In high school my favorite class was the journalism elective I took repeatedly, writing for the school paper. I loved the students in that class and the obvious passion of our instructor who ran the class as if we were a world-class publication.

Freshman year in college, that first semester in English 100, my wickedly funny professor always picked my essays and stories to read to the class with her syrupy southern accent, cackling as she read. She loved my writing and told me so.

So why I didn’t turn to writing as a career, I don’t know. I suppose I didn’t believe that I could possibly write something anyone would want to pay money for. Becoming a published author was, and still is, exceedingly difficult. It takes vast swaths of confidence in yourself and your abilities, something I was decidedly missing in my youth.

Since embarking on a professional writing career about ten years ago, I’ve done everything I can to educate myself. I’ve taken online courses, attended conferences, signed up for workshops and classes locally, and accumulated a vast library of books on writing. And yet, I still feel uneducated when it comes to writing.

So this year’s resolution is to hit the books. Many of the books I’ve piled around me have barely been opened. My excuse is I’m too busy writing, to read about writing. Pretty good excuse, right?

Not this year. I’m at an impasse in my career. My third novel comes out this spring and what happens after that is anybody’s guess. I don’t have a contract or commitment for my future writing. So, I’m taking this time to avail myself of the knowledge and direction in the books I already have (and a few I bought with the cash my FIL sent for Christmas – thanks Jim!).

I’m hoping to post about what I’m learning here on this blog, offer insights on my Facebook writer page and tweet the real gems on twitter. Again, best laid plans, you know? Puppies and publishing opportunities could sidetrack me, but I’m writing it here in the hopes that you people will hold me accountable.

Here’s my reading list: Continue reading “The Education of a Writer”

Anybody Can Write a Book, Right?

It used to be that if you wrote a story and it appeared in book form, then you were published.

Okay, maybe it still is like that, except now there are qualifiers. The unspoken (and sometimes spoken) question is how were published?

It feels a bit like the battles I stepped into after my second child was born when I stopped working full-time and stayed home to raise children. The working mothers vs the stay-at-home moms. The assumptions flew both ways and were equally unfair and at times, ridiculous. We were all still doing the hard work of being mothers.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about traditional publishing and self-publishing. Continue reading “Anybody Can Write a Book, Right?”