Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Follow that Dog

People watching is good, clean fun--and good practice for a writer.

Say you're at the park with the kids. It's a new park downtown, with plenty of room and green spaces and seating and art. There are all sorts of people around, both with and without kids.

Two old men sit on a bench, angled away from one another... Three teen girls lay in the grass with their heads together, legs splayed out like spokes in a wheel, their hands in the air as they emphatically make their points... A young couple chases after a toddler who runs through the columns of an interactive fountain, squealing with delight... A dog wanders down the path, stopping to sniff at random bushes, carefully chosen.

That's what you see when you look. But don't just look; use this bucolic scene as a writing exercise.
Two old men sit on a bench, angled away from one another (what does their body language tell you? What can you hear in what is unsaid?)... Three teen girls lay in the grass with their heads together, legs splayed out like spokes in a wheel, their hands in the air as they emphatically make their points (what plan are they hatching?)... A young couple chases after a toddler who runs through the columns of an interactive fountain, squealing with delight (Are they happy? Is that their child? Does he have a brother or sister?) ... A dog wanders down the path, stopping to sniff at random bushes, carefully chosen (Where is that dog going?).
I challenge you to follow the dog. Look beyond what you're seeing and develop subtext. Every person has an interesting story. Every person will surprise you with a true tale of their own antics, but what stories can you create when you look around?

Give them story lines filled with the stuff your own writing is made of--conflict, mystery, intrigue, romance, pain, compassion, redemption--you never know where that dog will take you.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: The Describer's Dictionary

We're creatures of habits, aren't we? Not just humans, but writers. When editing (myself or someone else), it's funny how often specific words or turns of phrase are used. When we're writing, we probably don't even recognize that they're coming, but when reading these frequently dropped words & phrases become speed bumps. Use the same words often enough and you'll catch yourself recognizing them. And if you're like me, you then turn it into a game to see how many you can find (take a shot next time you read [insert overused word or phrase here]!

And sometimes, all the Roget's Thesauruses (Thesaurusi?) aren't enough.

Enter David Grambs' The Describer's Dictionary. Whether you want to take your writing from the mundane to the literary or you're just trying to find the right word to describe a dart-shaped thing (belemnoid--but I might not use that. That's an obscure one) or a better way to say "walking aimlessly" (rambling, waddling, roving), possibly with duck-like short steps (waddling), both of which may be found in the "Walk (Gait) and Carriage" section.

I will give you fair warning, however; each section, along with a wealth of word choices, comes with excerpts from literary works that expound on that particular topic. So a quick minute to find a word may turn into a languished hour spent reading literary excerpts.

The Describer's Dictionary is available in digital and physical formats at your favorite bookseller.