Monday, April 30, 2012

Photo-A-Day: April

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."--Scott Adams

April has come to an end, and with it another month of taking a photo each day. The project continues to be an exercise in creativity, and I continue to learn as I go. This month along with exploring color, light and emotion--and stumbling on a few unexpected surprises--I found myself thinking about the concept of  focal point.

Focal point: a.) a center of activity, attraction, or attention; b.) a point of concentration. "Why is the focal point important?" the people at N-sane Art ask. "Without a focal point, a spectator will lose interest quickly because he does not know where to look or what part is most interesting."

"A focal point," Zahid Javali, Wordstart, says, "is important because when you look at an image, your eye generally needs a 'resting place' or something of interest to hold it. Without a focal point, people will just glance at your pictures before moving on to the next one without paying any attention to them."

These thoughts reference the subject of visual arts--but what about the importance of a focal point in the art of the written word? Interestingly, Richard Ridley, at CreateSpaceBlogger, writes on what he considers is his focal point: the crucial scene. He says, "I'm working on a new book at the moment that clued me in on how I approach story...In writing this new book, I realized that one of the first things I do after completing the early pages is map out the most crucial scene of the book. Everything I've written to that point is the foundation for the scene that will define the story. It is the flashpoint of my centralized theme...If I should get off track while writing the book, I can right myself by keeping that scene as my focal point."

Ah, different branches of art dovetail together in this idea of focal point. I've learned something this month, all because I'm carrying my camera with me.

On to May...let's see what develops in the new month ahead!

Here's my April gallery. Hope you enjoy...
Previous Galleries:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Casting for a Better Vocabulary: Go Fish

"Writers fish for the right words like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called." --Jarod Kintz (source: Goodreads)

I thought this was a pretty cool quote, and decided to see where it might lead if I pursued it. And, as you might guess, I found myself on a fishing expedition. I remembered that Stephen King, in his book On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, suggests it "behooves" the writer to construct their own toolbox of writer's tools with vocabulary being at the top of the tray. I decided to build on that idea, but, instead of a toolbox, I'm going to pack a tackle box. Now I've never been much of a fisherman (fisherwoman? fisherperson?) myself--though my son always liked to fish, and we still have his old tackle box around here somewhere--but having said that, I still decided to...ahem...dip my toes into the water of this metaphor. Here goes.

In my vocabulary tackle box I will pack:

1. Lures. Books make great lures. "Read voraciously. It's undeniable that reading is the most effective way to get new vocabulary." --10 Sure-Fire Strategies to Improve Your Vocabulary.

2. Hooks. Be intentional. Hook words on purpose. "Find a new word each day for the next twenty-one days," says Marshall J. Cook, How to Write with the Skill of a  Master and the Genius of a Child. "This kind of exploration, fueled by a childish curiosity to find the names for things, can yield immense rewards for your emerging master writer...(and) help you develop your flexibility in exploring the full power of the words you already know."

3. Fishing line. Cast in wider waters of vocabulary words. For example, Cook also suggests studying the meanings of words from other languages for special insights. He shares: "The word for friend in one American Indian dialect translates literally as 'one who carries my sorrows on his back.' What a beautiful sentiment, and what a marvelous testimony to the spirit of the people who created such a language."

4. Sinkers. Sinkers are used to plumb bait to a depth where the fish live or are biting. Go to greater depths, too, in writing, by learning new words. Robert Harris in 1062 Vocabulary Words makes this case with his discussion on shades and degrees of meaning...exactness of meaning ...nuance...and clarification of concept.

5. Bobbers. These are the gaily-colored little floats that signal a fish is tugging on the line. And that, my friend, is the greatest thrill--at least it was for me those few times, as a child, my grandmother would take us kids to the lake. And then pulling the line up and finding a catch at the end--what fun! So should it be with learning vocabulary words--make it fun. Are you a crossword puzzle fan? Like games such as Boggle and Scrabble? "Having fun with words is one of the most fun and effective ways to build your vocabulary and thereby make your writing stand out. Enjoy words. Savor them. Find out their etymology, their uses, their synonyms and antonyms. When you have fun with words, it will show in your writing." ---Jacob Richman

6. Stringers. Fishermen collect their catch and join them together on a stringer, holding the fish close and fresh in the water until ready to go. So a writer has a stringer of her own: the dictionary. "Read the dictionary often," says Steven Taylor Goldsberry, The Writer's Book of Wisdom. "The loose words will inspire you to join some together."

7. Swivels. Swivels help the fisherman connect equipment such as one fishing line to another, or the line with sinkers and lures--giving them more opportunity for precise fishing. An expanded vocabulary connects the writer's thoughts and story flow. Having a good vocabulary is more than knowing a large amount of words, however. Luciano at's Top 3 Reasons to Improve Your Vocabulary, says, "The point of having a good vocabulary is being able to choose words with greater precision."

Vocabulary (n. the stock of words used as by a person, group of people, or profession; all the words of a language) in the broadest sense is a great wide pond, a pond of words from which to draw. Writing is communicating, and to communicate more effectively, the writer should intentionally cast for new words, just the right word, words that express more clearly what the writer is trying to convey.

And expanding one's vocabulary doesn't have to be a dry, boring, task-oriented exercise. It, like a fishing excursion, can be fun. So why not pick up your fishing pole, equipped with all the supplies needed in your tackle box, and head out to catch some words? The day is sunny. The breeze is blowing. The pond calls. Can you feel it?

Helpful links:
Merriam-Webster's Online Word of the Day
Think Map Visual Thesaurus
Creative Ways to Learn Vocabulary Words
Free Vocabulary Learning Games

Saturday, April 21, 2012

All in a Day's Work

Photo: Microsoft Office Clipart

"I turn sentences around. That's my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning." --Philip Roth

Sound familiar? Don't we all have days (weeks) like this? Maybe the upcoming week will be better. Hope so. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Q-and-A Fun

Photo: Microsoft Office Clipart
Got tagged the other day by blogger friend Debbie Maxwell Allen, over at Writing While the Rice Boils, for the following eleven-question blog quiz, and--taking a break from writing for the moment---thought I'd give it a try. What the heck, what do I have to lose (except maybe a little credibility?).

1. Book or movie and why? Books mostly unless the movie is based on a favorite book like Pride and Prejudice. Loved the book, loved the movie.

2. Real book or e-book? Gotta' go with real book only because I don't have a Kindle. Yet. Someday, though, especially for future trips still to be planned. I pack way too many books when I travel, and the carry-on gets mighty heavy sometimes.

3. Funniest thing you've done in the last 5 years? Well, hmmm, the one thing we still crack up over--although at the time it wasn't so funny--was the day a couple of months ago when we clumsy, butterfingered grandparents strapped in two of our grandkids to take Angelica to a preschool French class. Of course it necessitated switching their car seats over to our car, which we thought we had done successfully before their mommy headed off to work. We no sooner turned the corner on to the main road when we heard Angelica pipe up from the back seat, "Look at Adrian! Look at Adrian!"--all the time sounding like some fun game was going on back there. I turned around from the front only to find Adrian tipped over sideways, car seat and all, in the middle of the backseat. Can you say Keystone cops as you watch us pull frantically into a stranger's driveway and leap out of the car, trying to rescue the kid?? (He was okay, btw! Still I spent the rest of the trip wedged in the back seat between the two--now upright--car seats :-)

4. How would your best friend describe you? If they were honest they'd probably say I gesticulate (gesticulate: v. as in wave arms) too much when I talk. My dad once said I'd never be able to talk if someone tied my hands behind my back. My bestest friend (hubby) says I'm a good person to have coffee with...when I finally wake up (to hear him tell it) so I can talk. Next to all that, they might say I love to talk about books, writing, and/or the grandkids (note: see above). Oh, dear. I think I see a theme emerging here. Maybe I should invest more in writing dialogue?

5. Do you put yourself into books you read/write or the movies you watch? Only the ones that make me cry.

6. Favorite kind of car and why? I'd have to say an olive-green, '70 Mustang, since my then-boyfriend once picked me up in one. Surprise of surprises, he had bought the thing! I married him, and the car went on to serve us well in the first years of marriage and as the kids came along. Although, come to think of it, we never lost a kid to a car seat in it...

7. Would your choice of party be catered meal or barbecue out back? Does a catered barbecue count? That'd be my choice.

8. What's your favorite season and why? Fall. I love the warm colors. Always wish I could bottle them up and release them to float around me in the gray days of winter.

9. What specific lesson have you learned--spiritual, educational, occupational? How to choose here? Writing is a worthy calling...children bring great joy...a husband who is also your best friend is a good truly does make the world go round...a camera as faithful companion proves beauty is everywhere (I'm learning this as I do a photo-a-day challenge this year. If you want, take a peek: January, FebruaryMarch. Still working on April).

10. Besides writing, what's your favorite thing to do when you get some extra time? Read. Knit. Go for a walk. Take a photo. Gather family around.

11. What's one place you can be found at least one time a week? At church. On my three-mile walk route. Drinking that cup of coffee on Saturday morning with hubby.

I'm off to meet some of the other bloggers Debbie listed. And in turn I'm tagging the following fellow bloggers (I believe the original idea is to tag another 11, but my list is shorter than that) with the caveat that there isn't any obligation to take up the challenge unless so moved.


Cheers! And as we meet and greet one another, may we raise a virtual cup of coffee in passing.

Though it would be a whole lot more fun if we could do it in person...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

On the Subject of Emotions, Inspired by Pinocchio

"Why engage emotions? To create a good read. So yours will be the book that readers come back to again and again. So your characters will be remembered. So your novels will be recommended among friends." --Beth Hill

The day we chose to go to the art museum dawned sunny and bright. We knew, among other things, that we would view a sculpture that had only recently been dedicated. What we didn't know was what a lift we would receive when we rounded the bend to see it for the first time.

And then...there he was. Bigger than life--all twelve feet of him--cast in bronze and catching the sun's rays on his face: Pinocchio. Wow!

"Pinocchio (Emotional)," arms outstretched and face to the sky, stands outside the entrance to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Created by sculptor and artist Jim Dine, Pinocchio, the sculpture, has become an overnight attraction. The museum itself, dating back to 1886, is world-class---built, incidentally, only 3 years after Italy's Carlo Collodi first published his original Adventures of Pinocchio in novel form.  Now visitors stop to have their pictures taken with Pinocchio, faces animated and smiling, before entering the museum. Who wouldn't smile in the presence of such an overgrown, whimsical figure exuding such, well...such emotion?

You remember the story of Pinocchio, right? How Geppetto, the wood carver, makes a wooden puppet, telling the doll he will be his little boy. But almost immediately, Pinocchio gives Geppetto grief with his naughty behavior, enough so that he gets into more and more trouble. And each time he lies, his nose grows longer. "Pinocchio," says his guardian Fairy, "Every time you tell a lie, your nose will grow. When you tell the truth, it will shrink. You can only become a real boy if you learn to be brave, honest, and generous." (See more on the story at these links: 1, 2, 3, 4.)

Emotions range from defiance, alarm, fear, shame and loneliness (after all, bad boys turn into donkeys, you know) to surprise, hope, gratitude, elation--and love. By the end of the story, Geppetto is able to say, "Pinocchio, today you were brave, honest and generous. You are my son and I love you." On that day, the wooden puppet becomes a real boy.

I think I see now why Dine titled his sculpture "Emotional," don't you?

Emotions. Feelings and responses, perceptions and sensitivities. Reactions to life, positive and negative. We don't always know why we react the way we do, but we know how we feel. And it is through the use of emotions in our writing then that we also engage our readers, trigger their emotions, help them feel what the characters are experiencing--and create a good read. Yet, how do we go about conveying emotion in our work? Three tips to consider:

1. Raise the stakes. This sure happened to Pinocchio. Orson Scott Card, in Characters and Viewpoint, says: "Reading a story is not a passive process. While a reader may seem to be sitting still, slowly turning pages, in his own mind he is going through a great number of emotions. Underlying all of them is a strong tension. The stronger it is, the more the reader concentrates on finding out what happens next...the more intensely he feels all the emotions of the tale."  There are several things a writer can tap into, according to Card, in order to help raise those stakes, including the use of such elements as suffering, sacrifice, and jeopardy.

2. Touch the reader. Beth Hill, at The Editor's Blog, says "Readers like to be touched, moved, by story." A sample from her list of 18 suggestions for helping readers feel emotion includes: don't hold back...recognize the importance of word choice...create a situation that's important, vital, or life-altering if not life-threatening (again the case for Pinocchio--and Geppetto)...put characters under time constraints...write conflict into every scene.

3. Show, don't tell. We as writers hear this over and over, but nowhere is it more important than as a way of conveying emotions. "Let your readers figure out what emotion characters are feeling by reading their actions," says Evan Marshall at Write the Novel Fast. We don't have to be told that Pinocchio is disobedient and impudent. He shows it by dancing on the table when he's told not to, when he runs away, when he lies and his nose grows. We don't have to be told he's ecstatic over becoming a real boy, he shows he is by his actions.

Need help in identifying various emotions? You might want to check out Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions, Wikipedia's Contrasting and Categorization of Emotions, and Buzzle's List of Human Emotions.

All of these thoughts stemmed from a simple trip to the art museum. And that only as we stood outside! Imagine the emotion-evoking images and masterpieces that awaited us inside, including artwork by Monet, Picasso, Duvenek, Warhol, and Henri Matisse. Ah, what an inspiring day.

Emotion: how does it contribute to making a book you've read memorable? How do you stir it up in your writing?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Book Metaphors: Six Ideas and Counting

What is a book to you, metaphorically speaking?

Others have weighed in on the subject, as evidenced by the following six quotes:

1. "Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life." --Jesse Lee Bennett

2. "Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time." --E.P. Whipple

3. "A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of  counselors." --Henry Ward Beecher

4. "Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind."--James Russell Lowell

5. "Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers." --Charles W. Eliot

6. "Books are a uniquely portable magic." --Stephen King

Six quotes turn into fifteen metaphors: compass, telescope, sextant, chart, lighthouse, garden, orchard, storehouse, party, company, counselor, bee, friend, teachermagic.

But we don't have to stop there. We're writers--how about making up a few of our own?

Photos courtesy of
My contribution: "a book is a ticket." A ticket to worlds and stories, places and things, ideas, insights, and imagination. A ticket to colors and wonder, images and emotions, mystery, heart tugs and promise. A ticket to the tapestries and threads of history and humanity--and to hope.

Would love to hear your ideas. How would you describe a book, metaphorically speaking?