Looking for the Best Word? Tip #38

noisy
Word cloud via Prowritingaid.com

Some help here for writers who want to make their work more interesting, varied, accurate, and effective by using the best words. Also insights into some peculiarities of English for language learners.

A good thesaurus gives alternatives for the idea of a word, but not all of these are true synonyms: context is vital. One way to check suitability is to place synonyms into the sentence to test if they make sense. But it’s not foolproof, so a good dictionary is essential.

My dictionary of choice is the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And I use the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection. I’ve installed WordWeb on my Mac for times when I’m in a hurry and the apposite word evades me. And I’ve downloaded the Kindle edition of Kathy Steinemann’s ‘The Writer’s Lexicon’ to consult whilst editing my fiction, so I can inject more variety to the text.

However, I attempt to dig the best word from my overloaded memory first: it’s good mental exercise, which I need on a regular basis! Other books of words, which I consult when a word escapes me, live on reference shelves behind me.

So, to this week’s word:

A slightly different approach this week:

I was invited to write the foreword for a recent book on word use. Kathy Steinemann’s ‘The Writer’s Lexicon’ is a super resource for writers and those who want to express themselves in a more personal way, avoiding the clichés and overused words of everyday talk. Earlier this week, I received my copy of the paperback through the post from Kathy, so, with her agreement, I’m using an example from her book.

Noisy or Loud:

“Are you tired of devising alternatives for noisy or loud?

Search no further.

Step closer, dear writer.

Closer.

Shush now while I invite you into the tranquillity of my studio. Take a seat by the open wind—

What’s that? A chainsaw? Perhaps a lawnmower? No, it has a high-pitched whirr. Aha! The neighbor is whipping weeds. Here. I have an extra set of earplugs for you. Put them in now before you get a headache…

Did I use noisy or loud in the previous paragraph? You already know what a chainsaw, lawnmower and weed whipper sound like, so I’m guessing you heard a racket.

Merely incorporating loud objects in your poetry or prose can paint an effective picture. Or you can create comparisons.

His snoring, a dive bomber in my dreams, morphed into a sleepy wish for an extra pillow to smother the pilot.

The woodpecker’s insistent rat-a-tat-tatting pounded like a jackhammer in my head.

Kathy goes on to list alternative nouns alphabetically, followed by an alphabetical list of active verbs and another of adjectives.

The spelling, by the way, is American, since Kathy’s country of residence is Canada.

The book deals with Overused Words and Phrases, Overused Punctuation, Taboos (think absolute adjectives, cursing, have, I, etc), Sensory Words, and The Environment.

It’s a great inspirer for better language use. And it’s available as an ebook and a paperback. (I have both!) And you can obtain it through Amazon, or visit her website.

Writerslexicon
Kathy’s book lies awaiting among the paraphernalia of my work on the plan of a location in my latest scifi novel.

I’ve no financial interest in the book, I simply think it’s an excellent tool that should be available to all who use the English language to express themselves more clearly and poetically.

For language learners, there’s a great group page on Facebook.

I welcome observations and suggestions here. Please use the comments section below for your ideas and thoughts.

Progress on the WIP: #SciFi in the Making.

Slide5

The first rewrite is complete! Whoopee!

But that’s by no means the end of the process.

Having made the changes to the story elements, I’m now checking for consistency on all 36 named characters over the 54 chapters. So far, I’ve done two of the major players and two minor ones. It’s a check to make sure I haven’t made them sound like each other in conversation, or, worse still, sound like me! The task is quite demanding and time consuming. Although, with Scrivener, I can do a global search for the character’s name and just visit the chapters where that particular player is featured. A few of the minor characters appear only in a couple of chapters, so they’ll be quickly dealt with.

Once that’s done, I’ll concentrate on language, looking for overuse of certain words, inserting the odd metaphor where that’s appropriate and ensuring I haven’t overdone any descriptive passages.

The final stages include running each chapter through Prowritingaid to find those errors that are so easily missed by eye, printing out each chapter for my beta readers to report on, deciding which of their comments I need to address, and then a final read aloud, from paper, to check on the flow and pace, and find any sentences that just sound awkward or clumsy.

After that, it’s off to the publisher for his editors to make suggestions that need addressing before the book is finally put to bed.

So, as my publisher would say, ‘Onward!’

Dreaming of Steam, An Anthology from Fantastic Books Publishing, Reviewed.

Dreaming of steam

Subtitled, ‘23 tales of Wolds and rails’, this book of shorts contains a veritable trainload of charming stories. There are histories, romances, memoirs, ghosts, crime, and even some science fiction and fantasy displayed in this box of delights.

Although each story has a different author, there’s unity of approach and style that makes the volume a cohesive whole.

The reader is treated to dark tales, light tales, and mysteries. Many encapsulate the beauties of an area of England I know well; my birthplace, East Yorkshire. More specifically the Yorkshire Wolds, an area of natural beauty less well known than it deserves. Those rolling hills and hidden vales have a friendly face, a welcoming aura.

The railway features strongly here, since this book was compiled as the result of the cooperation of the Yorkshire Wolds Railway and a local publisher, who devised a contest for short stories. The winners, along with invited stories from established authors, and some of the short-listed entries appear here.

All the tales are well written, engaging, and have a certain charm about them. There are stories set around the inception of the railway that inspired this collection. Stories set during the two world wars, contemporary tales, and even futuristic takes on the theme.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the Yorkshire Wolds, read this and you’ll want to go. If you’re a railway enthusiast, this book is definitely for you. And if you’re a general reader, you’ll find much here to delight and entertain.

A lovely book that’s a joy to read.

Available from major retailers, or direct from the publisher here.

Looking for the Best Word? Tip #37

fast
Word cloud via Prowritingaid.com

Some help for writers who want to make their work more interesting, varied, accurate and effective by using the best words. Also providing language learners with insights into some peculiarities of the English language.

A good thesaurus gives alternatives for the idea of a word, but not all of these are true synonyms: context is vital. One way to check suitability is to place synonyms into the sentence to test if they make sense. But it’s not foolproof, so a good dictionary is essential.

My dictionary of choice is the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And I use the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection. I’ve installed WordWeb on my Mac for times when I’m in a hurry and the apposite word evades me. Also, I’ve downloaded the Kindle edition of Kathy Steinemann’s ‘The Writer’s Lexicon’ to consult whilst editing my fiction, so I can inject more variety to the text.

However, I attempt to dig the best word from my overloaded memory first: it’s good mental exercise, which I need on a regular basis! Other books of words, which I consult when a word escapes me, live on reference shelves behind me.

So, to this week’s word: Fast.

This short, inoffensive word falls into the category of a contronym, which is a word that means the opposite of itself. I’m examining this word because it can so easily be used as the ‘easy’ choice. But it can also be the ‘best’, depending on usage.

Fast – Roget lists these headers: firm, tied, inseparably, anachronistic, fixed, speedy, coloured, retained, do penance, ascetism, be ascetic, fast, starve, unchaste, offer worship.

The word holds multiple meanings. To fast, as in to cease eating, often for religious purposes. To be fast, as in a ‘fast woman’, a sexist term describing a woman who is sexually forward. To move at speed, as in ‘The fast car took the corner at high speed.’ To be fixed, as in ‘His shoe stuck fast in the sticky mud.’

Examples of usage for ‘fast’ as a contronym: meaning either ‘moving quickly’ or ‘fixed in position’.

Moving quickly:

‘Usain Bolt is a fast runner; currently the man who can cover a hundred metres more rapidly than any other.’

Fixed in position:

‘Research indicates that those with right wing views hold fast to their beliefs and are almost incapable of moving from their fixed positions.’

For language learners, here’s a great group page on Facebook.

I welcome observations and suggestions here. Please use the comments section below for your ideas and thoughts.

Progress on the WIP: #SciFi in the Making.

Birthday1
On the way to the pub for our meal.

It’s been a funny old week. A few unrelated events have disturbed the intended plain sailing of the rewrite. And, yesterday was my birthday. A fun day spent at the local hospital in the morning, where two lovely ladies in their uniforms probed various orifices and inserted implements of torture in an attempt to resolve a minor medical mystery. Unresolved, I was provided with new pills and instructions and sent on my way. In a few months, I get to revisit the investigation. What fun!

From there, being in the city, which we visit as infrequently as possible, we shopped at the supermarket for a few essentials and some fuel for the car. Back home, I was disinclined to celebrate too frivolously, as parts of my anatomy were complaining following their earlier assault. No matter, I booked a table at a local eatery, up in the hills, for the evening. And we spent our afternoon locked to our individual keyboards.

Birthday2
The birthday boy pauses to survey the countryside.

The evening brought a climb through the woods, where we encountered a pair of fallow deer and stopped to enjoy the scenery under a bright evening sun. We enjoyed a fine meal, served with a bottle of fizz, and then walked the mile and half back home under a chill but clear sky, watching a large fox cross the road ahead and hearing a couple of local owls calling through the dusk.

Birthday3
Valerie understands the priorities: wine first, meal once they’ve set the table!

As for the work in progress; it continues to go well, if rather more slowly than intended. As I write this, I have another 10 chapters to attack. These last will need most work, as it’s the denouement that I most want to change. But the other 34 chapters are looking good so far.

So, rather like last week, lots done and lots still to complete. But we’re getting there. More next week.

love of the monster, by AM Roselli, Reviewed.

Monster07052017_2

Poetry can be sublime, complex, evocative, tantalising, inspiring, provoking, sensual, thoughtful, engaging and many other things. AM Roselli’s poems manage to fit all these qualities.

I first encountered AM’s remarkable poetry and artwork via her website, anntogether.com, to which I was directed by another friend online. I was engaged at once. This is a woman with real heart who is modest about her accomplishments with paint, pencil and pen. Her mastery of poetic form sits so provocatively alongside her wonderful illustrations.

There is passion here, mischief, sorrow, eroticism, a quest for answers and an honest portrayal of emotions many would quail to express in public. Her use of language leaves me breathless. As a writer myself, I feel humbled by her grasp of the possibilities words can realise.

This volume of illustrated poems is a beautiful piece of work. It’s a book I’ll open frequently to enjoy again the worlds imagined and described by this talented writer and artist.

Anyone who loves words, anyone fascinated by the art of an unusual mind, anyone with empathy for the imagination well explored will find much to enjoy in these pages.

The Polygamist, by William Irvine, Reviewed.

Polygamist

A very human story of one man’s relentless search for a way of life that will suit his view of what a man’s life should be. Culture, religion, philosophy and morality all impact on the story, which has a Muslim protagonist, Omar, living in India, where his beliefs are in the minority.

There are lessons here for the non-Muslim, explanations of the peculiar (to most Western minds) attitude to women, and insights into the equally odd (again to most Western minds) approach to marriage.

Reading this book as an Englishman, raised in the Christian tradition, which I long ago rejected, I sometimes struggled to form empathy with the protagonist’s spiritual and practical conundrums resulting from his choice of lifestyle.

Making a deliberate decision to marry a number of women, more or less simultaneously, as an antidote to his previous unsatisfactory sexually promiscuous lifestyle, places him in situations he’s failed to expect.

The story is well told, with narrative attempts to explain the reasons why this man does what he does. In the process, the reader is informed about the values and priorities ruling the Islamic way of being. It’s alien to the Christian mind and I was conscious throughout of filtering events and attitudes through a personal history of both early church teaching and a current agnostic standpoint. As a result, I was rarely sympathetic to issues that caused Omar such soul-searching. To me, the answers were relatively straightforward. But I understand my approach to the ethics and morality of his lifestyle choice are entirely different. I tried, therefore to enter the mind-set of the protagonist. It made reading the book a slightly schizophrenic experience.

The character of Omar, as well as those of the women and other men he mingles with, is fully developed. Here is a man with a very specific view of the world and his place in it. That he’s from a wealthy Saudi Arabian family overlays the narrative with the inevitable selfishness displayed by such easily acquired riches. But it also adds a layer of the ‘exotic’ to the character.

For many people, he could so easily have been portrayed as a bad man with a poor moral sense attempting to kid himself he was simply living according to his culture and upbringing. But the author wraps the personality in layers of awareness and speculation that render him a much more interesting and, to some extent, even admirable man.

He’s determined to live his life in accordance with his own honest assessment of his sexuality and inability to commit to a single relationship for any length of time. His solution makes some sense within the context of his background and cultural heritage.

The women in his life are drawn with equal depth and concern for their humanity. Although he often attempts to manipulate them to his own ends, they are strong enough to reverse this trend and control him in ways he least expects.

There are a number of events outside the main topic of polygamous marriage that take Omar into situations the author has devised to demonstrate various social woes of the world. These fit well into the story and form a sort of illuminated parallel existence that’s both separate from and inevitably associated with his lifestyle choice.

Interestingly, although there are, almost inevitably since this is a book about the sexuality of a man with a big appetite for amorous encounters with women, detailed explanations of his physical engagement with his various partners, I found nothing erotic here. That may, of course, say more about me than about the nature of the depiction, who knows?

I enjoyed the philosophical debates, the short passages of cultural education, the glimpses into lives of people I’m unlikely to ever encounter in my own life, and the pictures the author paints of the various locations described in the book.

For me, the fact that Omar is from a wealthy background reduced my ability to take his problems as seriously as I might’ve had he had more of a struggle with everyday living. But, that aspect aside, I found the immersion into an entirely new culture in a land I’ve never visited to be instructive and informative.

This is a complex book filled with engaging characters, set in locations of real interest. The story, unfolding via many challenges, varies its pace to suit the action.

All in all, I found this an engaging tale that informed me without in any way altering my attitude to certain aspects of the issues depicted. In fact, in many instances it confirmed what were previously no more than suspicions about Muslim attitudes and priorities. Fortunately, for an agnostic, the religious aspect was heavily overlain with the cultural background, so I never felt I was being preached to. An enjoyable tale, which entertained whilst it informed and educated.