September 18, 2010

Merriam-Webster is Watching You

You are being watched. Yes, the folks at are watching the words you look up on their website, and this month they listed the Top 10 Words of Summer 2010. Here they are.

1. “Refudiate,” Sarah Palin’s combination of “refute” and “repudiate.” (You won’t find this one in the dictionary.)

2. “Inception,” most likely connected with the summer blockbuster movie with the same name.

3. “Despicable,” as in “Despicable Me,” another hit movie in Summer 2010.

4. “Moratorium.” Webster’s suggests this one is related to the Gulf oil spill.

5. “Austere,” probably a reflection of current global economic conditions.

6. “Cacophony,” looked up most often during the World Cup soccer match in South Africa and attributed to the use of the “vuvuzela.” (Look it up.)

7. “Doppelganger.” George Stephanopoulos, on "Good Morning America," sent viewers searching for this word. Do you think Julia Roberts and the real Elizabeth Gilbert look that similar?

8. “Opulent,” a popular word around the time of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

9. “Vapid.” Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan used this word to describe her confirmation proceedings.

And finally, word number ten:

10: “Frugal,” relating to how Americans are adjusting to the current economic state.

If you haven’t visited the Merriam-Webster site lately, hop on over there and have some fun. Along with a searchable online dictionary and thesaurus, you’ll find dozens of fun word games and tons of information about new and interesting words.

What's In a Word?
Fascinating Stories of More Than 350 Everyday Words and Phrases

If you love discovering the origins of words and phrases, check out this book by Webb Garrison. What's in a Word? is the sort of book that you can read in small bites. Filled with trivia, it is guaranteed to inspire out-of-the-ordinary dinner table conversation.

Here’s a teaser: Do you know what it really means to “bring home the bacon?” This phrase originated in a 15th century entertainment venue similar to our modern-day reality shows. Way back in 1445, a church in Essex County, England began awarding a “flitch of bacon” to the pair of newlyweds who after one year of marriage was chosen as the perfect example of happiness and fidelity. A jury of six bachelors and maidens judged the contest, and the winning couple literally “brought home the bacon.”

What’s in a Word? is published by Thomas Nelson and available from your favorite bookstore.

Are you a member of Thomas Nelson’s Book Sneeze? Get free books in exchange for a review on your blog and any consumer retail website. Sign up here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

September 9, 2010

Story Elements -- 10 Tips to set the Scene

virtual realitynoun
a realistic simulation of an environment including three-dimensional graphics . . .

As a fiction writer it’s your job to create virtual reality, to design a setting that makes readers think in three-dimensional pictures. If you’re good at set design, your readers’ imaginations will interact with the environment you create.

Try these tips for setting the scene.

1. Create a setting to influence action. What elements in your scene will trigger your characters to react?

2. Use setting to create conflict. Think about contrast and opposition. An example from real-life: It’s a balmy, sunny morning on Khao Lak Beach, Thailand. A young couple sip their morning tea and make plans for the day when suddenly they are swallowed by a giant tidal wave 100-feet high. Do you see the contrast? A beautiful day turns ugly. The ordinary becomes extraordinary.

3. Allow your characters' senses to help describe the setting. What do they see, smell, hear, feel and taste?

4. Think about your story's social setting. Imagine you’re directing a movie scene. Along with your main characters you have “extras,” people surrounding the central action. Look around your virtual environment at what these extras are doing. How do they affect the setting?

5. Use natural surroundings like weather, light and color to help set the mood.

6. Avoid obvious and overused settings like modern-day Paris, New York and Los Angeles. Your story will be more interesting if set in a not-so-familiar time and place. Take readers someplace fresh.

7. Search your surroundings for realistic settings. The perfect setting for your story might be in your own back yard: a boarded up house gutted by a fire, a carnival making a brief stop in your community, a cupcake bakery on the outskirts of town.

8. Set your story in an unlikely place, a love story in a lighthouse, a comedy in a graveyard, a ghost story in a circus tent.

9. Research, research, research. Make your setting believable. If your story is set in a real time and place, it has to be true to the actual setting. When I wrote Sydney's Outer Banks Blast, a Camp Club Girls mystery set in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I relied on photographs, maps, travel guides and tourists' reviews. Don’t guess. Do the research.

10. Show, don’t tell. A sentence like The wind was blowing is boring. Show how the wind interacts with your setting. The wind tossed the small boats as if they were made of paper.

A great setting is evocative, well researched and skillfully described. If done well, it immediately captures readers’ interest and holds it through the entire story – and that’s the primary goal of good fiction.

September 2, 2010

Beating Writer's Block -- How to Find Inspiration

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "In writing, there is first a creating stage -- a time you look for ideas, you explore, you cast around for what you want to say. Like the first phase of building, this creating stage is full of possibilities."

So, where do writers cast around? While suffering from writer’s block this week, I went on a quest to discover what inspires other writers. This is what I found:

Writers find inspiration spending time with other writers
at writers’ conferences,
in a writing class,
as members of a writers’ group,
networking online and
sharing personal experiences.

Writers find inspiration reading
magazine articles,
social media status updates and
online message boards.

Writers find inspiration observing
the sky, and
changes in weather and seasons.

Writers find inspiration viewing
plays, and

television programs.

Writers find inspiration listening
to music,
silence, and
everyday sounds.

Writers find inspiration in unique places:
flea markets,
historical re-enactments,
train or bus stations or airports,
natural settings like woodlands or beaches,
amusement parks and
(my favorite) in courtrooms.

And here are a few “out of the box” ideas:

Some writers find inspiration

wearing certain articles of clothing when they write (I can only imagine!),

eating specific foods while writing (or, I suppose drinking specific drinks?),

in a laundry room, sitting on a lawn chair and using an ironing board as a desk.

Are you laughing? Well, that last one came from Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code!

What inspires you to write?