Loving Language & Words

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Language and words, two of my favourite things. As I told you in a previous blog post, I love to write and now I will tell you that I really love to read as well. What first attracted me to writing was likely the passion I had for reading. If a book could spark my imagination and pull me into the story, I would read until I had finished the whole thing. It was truly the use of language and words that hooked me. So much that, at the age of thirteen, I started writing stories myself. At that time I was really enamoured with poetry and spent a lot of time creating ballads. Still, I did well, according to my eighth grade teacher. Did anything really spur your interest in writing and reading?

But this blog isn’t about my love of reading and writing but more about using the right words and language. One thing that always frustrates me is the use of words to try and prove “I” am better than you. I once had a manager who would use all the so-called big words she knew when talking to us. It didn’t work well as she often didn’t pronounce the words correctly or use them in the right context. So many professionals deliberately use difficult language when they really do not need to do so. What springs to mind? Lawyers, insurance brokers and doctors are all guilty. I’m a nurse and many, many times I’ve had to translate into simpler language for the patient’s understanding. My point here is – use words that everyone can understand. Don’t be condescending, just be natural. Sometimes I’m accused of being too simplistic but when I speak in public I really want people to understand my presentation, not struggle to understand the words I use.

Onto the WORDS! The English language is really great. I can find synonyms for any word I want to use. For example the synonym for “synonym” is equivalent. Why do we use synonyms? To keep our speech and writing from being repetitive. Plain and simple, if for example, you want to describe something as very pretty, you can use beautiful, attractive, cute, appealing. The choices are many. If a word doesn’t seem quite right, if it doesn’t say what I think it should, I head to my thesaurus and I find the synonym. And I don’t need to own a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, everything you need to know is now online.

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And then there are some of my favourite words, homonyms. These are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have totally different meanings. Most of us are familiar with the three homonyms there, their, and they’re. These are, I believe, the most misused words I see. Is their misuse caused by a decline in the teaching of English grammar? Maybe. I remember my son coming home from school one day so happy he got an A on an English assignment. He did it well but the word choices and spelling were atrocious. So I asked his teacher why she gave him such a good mark. Her answer was, she was looking for concepts and expression, the spelling or word choice didn’t really matter. Grrr!  Thirty years later, his spelling is much improved, largely due to his mother’s influence I’m sure.

I’m not perfect but I am proud to spell properly and use good sentence structure. But I believe the downgrade in our language and spelling, which seems to have happened over a short period of time, can be directly attributed to the increase of social media communication. In trying to text quickly or fit everything you want to say into the two hundred eighty character allowance on Twitter, people are using short forms and acronyms for many commonly used words and phrases. For your it’s ur, for please it’s pls, If I can’t fit a word into the space I need on twitter, I’ll rephrase the whole sentence. I just can’t really get comfortable not using my words.

So I will remain a fan of language arts and words and continue to try to use them appropriately.

 

 

 

Research Done!

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This idea has been rolling around in my brain for quite some time and I’ve decided to just do it! First step is planning. This will be a full length novel, I hope, with ten chapters and fifty thousand words. Whoa, that sounds daunting so how about I break it down to three hundred twenty or four hundred twenty pages. That’s a bit easier to handle. Breaking that number down even further each chapter of my book should be three to five pages. Hmm, I don’t think I’ll number the chapters.

Next I have to describe each chapter in two sentences. Don’t write down the details! For example, write Chapter One – introduce main characters – set the scene. Do not get bogged down in the particulars; quoting the old TV detective Joe Friday “Just the facts ma’am”. No embellishment is necessary at this point, you are just writing for yourself and this exercise helps get your storyline straight and firms up your main characters.in your mind. I’m amazed at how difficult it is to be disciplined in this phase. Really I just want to dive in and start writing but I truly believe that sticking to this format will help me succeed.

Once all my chapters are finished this way, I will start adding a few more sentences to each segment. But  I must still keep the sentences thin and easy to read with minimal descriptions. Basically at this point I have my main character’s name, her occupation and now I’ll expand by writing about her frame of mind and where she is at the moment. And don’t forget I have outlined all my chapters so am growing each one in turn.

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Starting with Chapter One, I can now focus on getting a feel for my novel. Are there any plot holes that need filling or chapters that feel like nothing is happening? Is my ending rushed? And most importantly, does my story excite me? If the answer to any of these questions is negative, then I have to go back and fix it.

It’s really okay if there are plot holes or slower spots. I’m giving myself permission to rearrange chapters and make plot edits right now. This is where I will fix problems that I found previously. Remember this is still my outline and shifting sentences around is relatively easy at this time.

Warning – this part is downright scary. Have someone read your outline like it’s a novel. Listen to their questions and comments. Don’t answer them right away but do answer them when you actually write the chapters. I think this is one of the hardest things to do. Trusting someone with my thoughts and ideas just makes me sweat. So many things are running through my mind, who do I choose, how do I choose? Oh boy! But this is necessary because I really want people to read my novel and I need the feedback.

Finally I’m going to edit my outline with any feedback provided. When the tweaking is done, I’ll send it back to be read again and edit some more if necessary. If I’m happy with the overall structure I’ll know I’m ready for the final step. I’m ready to WRITE THE DAMN STORY!!!

Who are They?

Whatever you’re writing about in your first novel, the characters in the story have to be believable. Personalities must come out early in the story so readers can relate to them and whatever is influencing them. This is, for me, the first step in creating my book. I am writing a romance so of course I have two main characters and a few additional ones who will also play a part in the mystery of the whole tale.

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Some teachers of writing advise you to develop a long background of detail about each character. This will help the writer know the character and how she will react under stress, happiness, anger or threat. As a writer, I’m not going to describe the family dynamics of each character, but I have to understand their motivations and therefore I have to know their culture, upbringing and family dynamics myself. I have to know how she will react to a situation, to authority, to a fellow worker. So I am now developing my characters and their personalities.

My characters therefore are no longer just a cast but are now thought of as people with personalities. It isn’t easy to develop these people and it is a good idea to write down all the little facets that make up the whole. So not only is my five foot nine inch, red haired heroine a strong minded woman with a bit of a temper, she is also determined to rise through the ranks and advance her career. Even though my readers don’t need more than a few details of why she thinks that way, I ought to have that knowledge because I know it will help me tell her story.

I already know what my characters look like but now I have to delve into their psyche. I need to know how my people think. What are her interests and passions? And what about his? The male characteristics need to be defined as well. Speech is another feature to decide. My female lead doesn’t speak in flowery language, she is a strong, young woman and I need to make her speech show that she is energetic and decisive. I also need to convey her softer side, because she does have one.

Her love interest, I did say this is a romance, is also a strong character and I have to figure out the dynamic between the two. Again it will be important to subtly point out their differences and similarities. After all how will the readers know about their attraction to each other if I don’t tell them through the many small ways people communicate, verbally and non-verbally?

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Next on the list of character development is the motivation for my characters. First on the list is Basic. This one involves survival, failure, curiosity, guilt, desire, and instability. So far none of these really describe my characters reason for being in the situation in which they find themselves although a couple of the qualities are certainly in the story.

Now I have Noble. Love, loyalty, humour, obedience, vengeance, inequality, and dissatisfaction are in this list and my people do have a few of these traits and feelings. Actually all of these words describe certain aspects of the personalities I am crafting.

Going on to Evil. Described as hatred, dishonour, pride, greed, revenge, lust, and jealousy. These traits will be used for a couple of my secondary characters though the two stars aren’t always sweetness and light and will definitely have some sense of a bad feeling.

Finally we have Fear. This has death, humiliation, pain, rejection, loss, regret and shame. These are pretty intense emotions but to some degree all characters will experience them. Every person will, at some point in a story, experience at least one of these.

I hope this helps you understand the work an author has to do to make the characters in any novel come to life. It isn’t an easy job and every writer starts the same way, with a basic storyline and the question who are they, these folks who want me to tell their story.

 

 

 

Camera Ready!

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photo by Christian Mackie on Unsplash

A few years ago, when I first started this blog, I was told that adding pictures to my blog would catch interest and make it easier to read by giving the eyes some relief. Okay but how the heck do I do that? I found that WordPress was pretty good at telling me how to add pictures but my pictures were sure not worthy. I’m not a photographer. I’m one of those people who knows what I like but there was no way I could replicate any type of visual art. So the hunt was on!

As I’ve said in a previous blog, Google is my friend, and I set off on the hunt for sites that had pictures I could use. There are thousands of photographs, called stock photos,  available to anyone, but there are some things to watch for. First, many sites will charge you for the use of a photo, so beware. Many free sites aren’t really free but do put out a few free photos each week. You can use these without charge, but the sites usually ask for your information. Of course it’s your decision whether or not to give it out but is really not necessary. Watch out for copyright infringement.

I’ve found two that are very user friendly. They don’t ask for personal information and there are many photos and graphics, sorted into categories, available to download. It’s fun sorting through for just the right shot and I confess I sometimes get distracted and spend a little too much time on the hunt. My two favourites are Pexel and Unsplash. Both sites have a “donate” button; it’s optional but they ask too that you give credit to the photographer who owns the picture. Often a credit comes up at the bottom of your photo when posted, but if not your blog site help tab can show you how to add a credit. Now I try to make sure that credit is given where it’s due and if you don’t see that caption on a picture on my blog, that means I took it myself!

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Photo by Omar Houchamil on Pexel

Yes, I am going to take pictures myself! I have already done a few; actually on a previous blog, Writing on Writing, the two pictures used there were my idea and taken by my husband. Neither of us are artistically minded but we try hard to follow the rules of photography. So what are those rules that I’m trying hard to follow?

  •      Take your camera everywhere. You can’t take pictures without it! Those pics you don’t like can be easily deleted.
  •      Get closer to your subject. You might think it’s good but a few feet closer can make it even better.
  •      Practice every day.
  •      If you photograph people, ask their permission before using their photos.
  •      Read your camera manual. It really has some good information.
  •      Beware of backgrounds. Or things to one side, like garbage cans. They just don’t look quite right.

And there you have it. I believe that pictures do make a lovely addition to everyone’s blog.

Writing about Writing!

 

SAM_1441When I retired I decided to start writing about things I wanted to do, was thinking about doing or actually doing in retirement. Since I really love to write but hadn’t done any for a long time, blogging seemed to be an ideal outlet for me. It didn’t require long writing sessions and I thought I could just put one out there whenever the urge hit. Most blogs are between five hundred to a thousand words. I like to write about five to seven hundred. Any longer than that gets boring, any shorter and it’s hard to fit what you want to really say into the space. My daughter-in-law helped me set up my site here, gave me some hints about hashtags and photos and here I am. This blog site costs about fifteen dollars a year (retirees do have to watch our pennies), gives a lot of support and advice and allows those of us who are newbies to really sink our teeth into the medium. I learned the sites that have free pictures to download and that it’s better to take your own photos. It’s a great opportunity to figure out the best shots, lighting. etc. Pictures do spur interest!

I started to write about things I thought would interest other retirees or those on the verge of retirement. I wrote about some savings retirees could find at stores in the area, about how sneaky pricing has actually cost money, about my day trips with friends, my foray into spending winters in Florida and our numerous trips to Cape Breton. But really how many times can you read my impressions about going down east? Even I started to lose interest! My writing became repetitive and felt like a chore but it was a great learning time for me so thank you for your patience.

My love of reading, writing, and language skills has been with me since I can remember. I read everything I could get my hands on; I always have and always will read. It helped me decide on my favourite fiction genre and helped me slog through textbooks as a student nurse and most recently, read and understand various government acts and laws. But I still prefer fiction.

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I’m old-fashioned enough to prefer pen and paper. At the beginning stage, I don’t even correct misspelled words or bad grammar. Just forge ahead putting words on paper. I’m not even concerned about sentence or paragraph structure because that will all be corrected when doing my first or even my second draft. Yes I am doing drafts for my blog. I’m also starting with short outlines, maybe one sentence per paragraph because this forces me into good writing habits and helps tremendously when I want my story to make sense. It’s going to take practice that’s for sure.

Through this blogging process, I have learned that the internet is my friend. I “google” a lot for information or instructions on a project. I recently rejoined Pinterest, not because I’m a crafty sort but because I want more information on the art of writing. Just about everything I wanted is there for free and I set up files to save the information. If I wanted I could have locked it away in a secret file but why? Interested folks can get it for free from my pinterest account or just by using a simple search. It’s so easy.

At any rate, the urge to write again is really strong. I want, this time, to be entertaining for anyone reading my blog. I hope my writing improves enough to feel confident in starting a novel outline; maybe a novella.

 

 

 

Another Trip East

The hubby and I decided to take another trip east this year. My mother-in-law turned ninety-four in March and we couldn’t make that celebration so we went on our own this month. Just a quick visit because we’ll be back in August for a family wedding. As usual the hubby tracks the weather and studies the future forecast so we can avoid any bad weather in our path. We Canadians are fixated on the weather and my family is no different. This time we wanted to leave on a Monday but put off leaving for a day due to snow predicted in Quebec and New Brunswick. Ha! we can avoid that by travelling through the States. The weather prediction was just fine. So we went to CAA, got a trip-tik and set off on our journey. Travelling on the 401, we experienced rain but no freezing temperatures. Then we crossed the Thousand Islands Bridge to the USA. What is it about crossing the border that makes us feel guilty? We aren’t criminals and have never done anything illegal but we all get a little stressed talking to the scary border guards. Maybe it’s because we have heard all the stories from others about their awkward experiences. We’ve crossed the border many times, been stopped for an inspection once and never had anything but pleasant contact with the officials. This stop was no exception.

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We were soon on our way, driving through the gently rolling hills of upstate New York and the lower Adirondack Mountain Range. There are some huge farms that are obviously quite successful. Beautifully kept yards and fields, barns that look to be up to date. The animals aren’t out in the fields yet but with the warmer weather it won’t be long before we’re seeing lambs, calves, and foals skipping through the grass.

Of course we had to have lunch and, while travelling, we like to stop at the quick stop areas just off the highway. Now years ago, we could count on the prices in the States being much lower. Enough so that with the dollar exchange, prices were still lower. How times have changed. A stop at McDonalds showed prices were exactly the same as in Ontario which meant, with the exchange rate, we actually were spending more. Our hotel rate was also considerably higher with the exchange. We didn’t do any other shopping as we were just passing through and wouldn’t be out of Canada long enough to make any purchases, so I can’t tell you anything about those prices.

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As I said, we travelled through the Northern States and the weather was perfect there. Temperatures hit 18 degrees, it was sunny and pleasant. We could see the Adirondacks in the distance, fog hanging low and pretty. As we drove up the mountain, the fog grew thicker, we could only see from fifty to a hundred feet in front of the car and I could feel the temperature dropping. and then the snow started. Noooo! Winter is over, the local weather was supposed to be great, not snowy. We drove on but the snow got heavier and we ended up stopping about two hours earlier than usual. That really threw off our itinerary but we have to remember we are retired and not on a schedule anymore.

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We spent the night in the small town of Waterville, Maine. Had a great supper at a local restaurant that was incredibly busy in spite of the weather. A wonderful testament to the food! Slept well and set out again at 8 am after a hearty breakfast. The weather cleared and warmed up a bit, the roads were clear and we crossed back to Canada at 11 am. Border guards on our side are lovely people, mild mannered and friendly. New Brunswick still had a lot of snow on the ground and it will be interesting to see how much is left on our return next week.Clear driving for the rest of our journey. Just into Nova Scotia, we had to stop for gas. In the distance was a familiar PetroCanada sign so we pulled off once we got to that exit. Uh oh. Turns out that station only carried diesel for the big trucks but there was a great little diner attached, with huge portions of delicious food and a waitress who was really good at her job and could sell just about anything.

My sister-in-law and her husband have a home just outside of Antigonish where we are always welcome to stop. We all call it the “Tea & Pee” place and we get to have a quick visit and stretch our legs. From there it’s only a two hour drive to Sydney River and the old homestead. We have visits with a multitude of relatives and friends and even get some shopping done. It’s a great way to spend a relaxing few days. Because my mother-in-law is 94 we tend to stick close by, she loves to play cards, watch the “judge” shows and chat so those are the things we do. The main card game played in Sydney is called Tarabish. The game is of Mideast origin and was brought here by Lebanese immigrants, around 1920 when many came for the work in the nearby steel mill and coal mines and the needs that sprang from them.

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Sometimes when Mom takes an afternoon sleep, the hubby and I will take a little drive or do a bit of shopping. Yesterday I just went out on the deck and watched the birds. Honestly the crows are the biggest and smartest in Canada. I spotted cedar waxwings, bluejays, common sparrows, and of course seagulls. There are also many eagles here though I didn’t spot any this week. The official bird of Nova Scotia is the osprey. Leaving the younger birds behind in the south, the older birds return to Nova Scotia in spring to mate. They’ll return to the same nests of bundled sticks and twigs that they used the year before. We spotted several of these, as yet uninhabited, atop telephone poles. Maybe the birds will start to return before we go home, otherwise we’ll have to wait until we come back in August.

As usual I save some personal shopping for my time in Cape Breton. There is a kitchen wares store nearby that isn’t available to me in Ontario so each trip I make a visit there to see what’s new and on sale. I lucked out this year and bought new sets of dishes at a terrific sale price. I was also really pleased to find chocolate from a company started in Antigonish by a refugee family. Peace by Chocolate is as good as advertised, better actually.

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On Thursday we set off on our journey home. It was sunny, still cool but a nice day for travel. Grass hasn’t come in yet so the disappearance of snow and ice left the winter thatch, thick and brown at the roadside. But most disappointing is the trash littering the area. It seems that litterbugs abound in the Maritimes. For heaven’s sake people, take pride in your province and don’t throw your trash out your car windows. It’s so disheartening to see all the garbage left behind by careless, unthinking people. The rest of our trip was uneventful, and clean. It did start raining in New Brunswick and through Quebec, but we missed the big deluge. Even so, we could see how high the rivers were and I hope the people living near lakes and rivers are careful and pay attention to their government warnings and stay safe.

So farewell Maritimes. See you in August when we return for a family wedding.

International Women’s Day

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Friday, March 8 is International Women’s Day. The history of this day goes back to the early 1900’s with women from around the world marching and striking for peace, food and their right to vote. Now the day is still celebrated world wide, some countries have a national holiday, some totally ignore it and some just pay lip service. Here in Canada the day is acknowledged and women may march for a cause and some introduce a project that is close to their hearts like the shoebox project.

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I describe myself as a woman, wife, mother, grandmother, and feminist. I firmly believe that women are equal in all ways. We are not superior to others but equal. I was fortunate to be raised in a female household. Dad died when I was nine and my mother remarried a couple of years later to a man who was in the navy so he was gone six or more months of the year. So myself, two sisters, my nana and my mum were all together in one house. My mother was totally female, petite, always in full make up and well dressed. But she could handle a hammer or screwdriver and built our TV stand herself and then built and replaced our wooden garage doors. We were taught we could do anything and encouraged to try many projects. I was athletic, excelled in English and history and did well in some sciences. The world was just waiting for me. I truly believe I was very fortunate to have the upbringing I did. We don’t need to tear down other women to achieve our goals but we do need to hold out a helping hand, ready and willing to lead the way. Because our goal is equality, we shouldn’t try to tear down men either just to achieve our goal of equality. Men and women must learn to treat each other with respect, each recognizing the other’s unique talents.

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This year, in Canada, our theme for International Women’s Day is Innovate for Change. There is a strong emphasis on STEM. Girls are being encouraged to study science, technology, engineering, and math. The female brain is equally able to learn these subjects and,  if their interest is there, study them and do well. Previously, women were discouraged from these studies, now they really are being encouraged. Women are being empowered. That’s not a catchphrase, it’s a truth. Our daughters, nieces, sisters are achieving empowerment when they are able to achieve a place in the decision making process, the ability to access opportunities available to them without limitations and restrictions. To achieve this we must celebrate the contributions of women and renew our efforts in achieving gender equality.

In high school, I was told I could become a nurse, teacher, secretary or housewife. I chose nursing and had a pretty good career. I mentored many new nurses, I stood up to the bullying system on behalf of myself and others, I taught a bit and I helped make my workplace, and others, safer. Secretly I wanted to study journalism and write, but for whatever reason I just didn’t have the drive to do it when I was that young. I believed nursing was my path and I was damn good at it. But I would have been a fantastic journalist. So to any and all who are reading this, encourage those girls and women to do the work that they know they can. Do the work they really want to do. Be FANTASTIC!!