Backronym - writercize #88

Most writers and news followers are familiar with acronyms - words or widely recognized initials created from the first initial of each component of a name or phrase.  Some examples include FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), HOMES (a way to remember the great lakes - Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior), AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).  A few common words are actually acronyms as well: LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) and RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging) among them. 

You may not be as familiar with backronyms, a word which I mistakenly thought I created until I looked it up.  It's not in Webster, but it is already on wikipedia and urban dictionary and was added to dictionary.com in June 2005.  Too obvious to be a novel idea, I suppose.  A backronym is a concept you are likely familiar with, but haven't previously identified.  It's taking the letters of a word and working them into a memorable sentence to describe or explain the word, or make a pun.  Some examples include Delta Airlines (Don't Even Leave The Airport) or NESW (Never Eat Shredded Wheat - to remember the directions on a compass).  From wikipedia, I learned that backronyms are often used in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA - an acronym) as teaching tools.  For example, DENIAL is "don't even notice I am lying."

writing exercise:  Write a backronym (or two) for your first name.

Click "read more" for the writercizer sample response on Alana.  (It's a harder exercise than it sounds!)

Road Warriors - writercize #87

If you've been driving for any length of time, no doubt you've experienced at least one frightful drive.  

I am preparing for an eighteen hour road trip to visit family, and while I am knocking on wood for a safe, uneventful drive there and back, the thought of so many hours on the freeway has me reflecting about past drives.

There have been slightly humorous yet grotesque accidents I've witnessed, such as the one where a semi swerved out of control in the rain in Tacoma, thankfully escaping damage to the driver or any other cars on the road, but popped open the hatch and spilled out thousands of chickens on the road.  Humorous sounds like a terrible adjective to describe the sight - grotesque and horrific may be more accurate, along with saddening since it showed just how many chickens are packed into a dark, cramped space during interstate travel - but at the time a chuckle slipped out unintended and unannounced.  I think it was relief that the blood smeared on the road mixed with a visual of what looked to be the most massive pillow fight on record was just that - many dead chickens and several more escapees running for their little lives.  It could have been so much worse, so what can you do when the road closes for thousands of chickens across the road?  Stop the car, reflect on the sight of it all and let out a little laugh at the absurdity of the traffic jam.

There have been times on the road that I've felt my heart race or my body tense, times that I've felt I narrowly missed what fate may have meant for me.  One day a couple of weeks ago I drove to visit my husband at work.  On the way, the car directly in front of me rear-ended the car in front of them.  On the way home, again, the car directly in front of me (different car, different light, same road) rear-ended the car in front of them.  I figured something was telling me to stay off the road for the rest of the day and hurried home, quickly parking my car in the safety of my garage.

I talk about driving and near-accidents (and those accidents you have been in) today because I think that those moments are full of fear, excitement, confusion, relief, surprise, anxiety, tension, wonder, frustration, anger, divine intervention.  These are all emotions that you want to tap into as a writer, and one of the best ways to do that is to close your eyes and relive a high-emotion moment from your own experience, then transfer that feeling into an emotion your character might feel.

writing exercise:  Reflect on a car accident or a near miss that you experienced as a driver or passenger.  Tap into the emotions and thoughts; remember the physical response if you are able.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about witnessing an accident in the rear-view mirror.


How Do You Do It? (Creating Instructions) - writercize #86

My kids are turning four next week, so I've got kids' party games and craft activities on the brain.  I am a list-maker and idea-organizer, almost obsessively, so before the birthday playtime commences, I will certainly have an outline of a few crafts and games for them to play.  Which got me thinking about instructions, and how people write them.

I have no doubt several of you have opened up an instruction manual for a game only to be scratching your head in the end, wondering what it is you supposedly just learned.  All too often, instructions are too wordy, too contradictory, or lacking in pertinent information.  If you're from a family that likes to play by the rules, at the very least to not be taken by surprise by an opponents cheating attempts, this can spell trouble on the family game night front.

I won't begin to tell you how many arguments my sister and I have had over Mexican Train dominoes.  The frustration is compounded by the fact that each set of rules we looked up online differed significantly.  Yes, it is wise to keep official game rules nearby in my family.  My husband has memorized the Hoyle's rules of a couple of card games just to be safe in case of future disputes.

All that is to say that rules (or instructions) matter.  And games (or crafts) matter, especially at a gathering when people want to be entertained.  It takes some of the entertainment pressure off of the host if it's a good game.  So, please share!

writing exercise:  Recount or invent a game or craft activity suitable for children.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response on homemade barrettes.


Next Word - writercize #85

It's Tuesday night, or early Wednesday morning if you're the technical sort, and that means I'm avoiding my "real" writing assignment like the plague.  I like to think of it as giving the story time to develop in my mind while I click here and there and not a serious case of procrastination.  At any rate, in the interest of forcing myself to finish writing tonight and slide into bed before 3 a.m., I present you with another easy peasy next word word play.

Next word is one of my favorite exercises to loosen the brain muscles.  It's simple word association - I give you a word, and you tell me your first gut reaction word in response.  Really I give you five words and you tell me your first reaction to each one individually.  Don't look for a hidden link among the grouping of words ... if there is one, it's unintentional.  Explanations optional, but always entertaining.

writing exercise:  Write the next word you associate with each of the following words:
  • wall
  • rock
  • juggle
  • blue
  • fork

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.  If you like this exercise, I post it about once a month.  Search my blog for previous entries.


For the Love of Bookstores - writercize #84

Borders Bookstore announced today that they are calling off the auction and liquidating all remaining stores and assets.  The beginning of this year, Borders closed over one third of their stores after filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy, in an effort to restructure and revitalize the company.  That attempt fell short as today they announced that the 399 stores that are left will be closed for good by the end of September.  Nearly 11,000 employees will lose their jobs, and authors, publishers and booksellers are scrambling to know where to go next in the on-paper writing world.  The company has not yet released a press release on their website, but a letter from the CEO to his employees was reported by newspapers nationwide.

Even e-book sales could be affected by the chain's demise.  According to MSNBC, many e-book readers go to the bookstore to browse for titles that they then download.

Although I wouldn't personally name Borders as my all-time favorite bookstore (that prize goes to reseller Powell's Books in downtown Portland, OR, which I blogged about in World of Words back in March), I do visit Borders at least once a month and generally make some purchase.

I am guilty of browsing for ideas at Borders like those e-readers; I generally browse and then buy from a reseller.  I don't own an e-reader and I'm not quite ready to make that jump.  That said, I would say it's nearly impossible for me to walk out of Borders without at least buying a coffee, a magazine, a couple of paperbacks for my kids and maybe a bargain book or two for myself.  In other words, I'm not dropping the dollars on a brand-new hardcover or $16.00 paperback, which I'll save the cash and buy secondhand, but I am certainly paying something for my hours of lingering.

I get a lot more ideas of what I'd like to read from employee recommendations and pulling book after book off the shelf and opening to read a page or two smack dab in the middle to see if it's my style than I do from my amazon "suggested reads" or Oprah's book club.  I like to take the time to discover a hidden gem, a new talent, an unknown author, and feel privileged to read their words.  

I get a lot more relaxation by walking through the front doors of the book store and breathing in the new books mixed with coffee and muted conversation than I do turning on my computer screen, with its harsh light and electronic buzz.

I know that Barnes and Noble will still exist, at least for now.  I know that there are other local, independent bookstores that I can (and will) visit, but I will miss my hours meandering through Borders.  

I am also a little afraid that books will follow the way of produce, hand-picked and displayed until we are only exposed to the same limited spectrum of choices from season to season, store to store.  I don't want my books to rely on social media, online advertising and Costco and book club selections to make it.  It concerns me as a writer, as a reader, as a lover of ideas, and as a lover of literature.  Diversity is good.  Strength in numbers.  

I am not anti-online sales, nor am I anti-e-readers.  If I ever try to walk down the path to publishing, I hope to make it an experience that e-readers and old-fashioned readers alike can enjoy.  I love clicking "buy" and seeing a book arrive at my doorstep days later, with the lovely anticipation as I wait for it to arrive.  Rather, I am pro-brick and mortar having the space to survive, and indeed to thrive, in the middle of this digital age.  And as long as people need work more than computers do, I want to give their smiling faces an opportunity to get a retail job and make my day happier as I walk through that door.

So, how does this relate to writercize you ask?  Here you go:

writing exercise:  It's PR and marketing time!  Write a catchphrase that sums up why you think we should save the bookstores.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


What's That Smell? - writercize #83

A writer's job is to communicate all five senses using only words.  Sound like a challenge?  It should.

Really, books don't smell.  At least rarely as the space they describe, unless it's an old book written about old books in an old library and the reader is reading it the old-fashioned way without some fancy e-reader.  They don't play a soundtrack or give you the voices of the dialogue or taste like the gumbo or coffee or spaghetti they might describe.  They don't splash pictures in front of you, unless it's of the children's or comic book variety.  You can't close your eyes and touch the world that the writer sees in the mind's eye, feel the main character's hands and nose, run into their front door, swing in the trees.  And speaking of the mind's eye, as if describing the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell weren't challenging enough, the sixth sense of intuition generally gets thrown into a good book as well. 

It's exhausting just to think about, let alone throw a story and some characters at.  So, today I'm tossing the characters, ignoring the story, letting five of those six senses fall by the wayside (well, somewhat) and focusing on smell.

Go ahead, breathe deep.  Smell your surroundings.  

And when you are deep in a story, this exercise will help you and your character breathe in the scent as well.  Knowing when to use the nasal sense to describe the putrid smell of day-old garbage, the musty scent of a humid basement in the thundering months of summer or the sweet lingering perfume of a girl on a shirt after a boy's first kiss will take you far in describing your scene.

Now, snap out of your own surrounding and breathe in the prompt below.

writing exercise:  It is morning; you turn the corner and catch a whiff of the bakery down the street.  Do you enter?  What does it bake?  What does it smell like?  Describe the setting.  (Again, this is not about the story or the character; this is a study on smell.)

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.  Truth be told, I'm not a big bakery girl, but I hope I can fake it enough to make you believe I am.  ;)

Guess What? I'm A Guest Today ...

... over at Misha's blog, "My First Book."  Here's the direct link to my post:  http://sylmion.blogspot.com/2011/07/hi-all-please-welcome-alana-to-my-first.html?

If you enjoyed my previous posts What's His Story? or Read Between The Lines where I presented you with a brief scene and asked you to provide the backstory, I think you'll like it.  Similar premise, slightly different angle and story.  Take a look and enjoy.  And writercize! 

While you're over there, scan through Misha's posts and her previous guest bloggers for lots of great writing information!

Stay tuned later on today or early tomorrow for a scent-filled prompt to come!


An Ode to a Toad (Poetry Schmoetry) - writercize #82

I'm not sure exactly how or when it happened, but replacing the start of any word with "schm" has become the perfect substitute for a rhyme when none exists or the author wants to lighten the mood.  It's actually pretty fabulous if you think about it - it makes writing much simpler.  Except for words that already start with "sh."  Then it doesn't work quite so well - shoe schmoe just doesn't have the same ring as napkin schmapkin or working schmorking or fancy schmancy ... or poetry schmoetry.  Try it for fun.  It's like a magic smile on your face.

Today's poem is a part of the Poetry Schmoetry blogfest hosted by Small Town Shelly Brown.  (Seriously, don't smile after reading that sentence - I dare you.)  The blogfest lasts until Friday and participants just have to post one poem this week to participate, so if you haven't already, get on the bandwagon and add yourself to her linky-link!

I was originally thinking I'd write a nice poem about the moon, but after looking at the silliness above, I've changed my mind.  Maybe tomorrow.  It's all about silly rhymes now.

writercize:  Pick a type of poetry.  (i.e. Ode, Sonnet, Ballad, Limerick, Haiku, Epic, Free, Quatrain, Acrostic - whatever you like)  Now, find a word or phrase that rhymes with that type of poetry.  Combining the two, give your poem the title and get writing!  

For example, you could write a sonnet on a bonnet, or an agnostic acrostic, or a quatrain in the rain, or a salad ballad.  You get the point.  I chose an ode to a toad.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample ode to a toad response.  Please note I am not a biologist, so if I make errors about the ways of the toad, forgive me. 


Alphabetical, Illogical Ways - writercize #81

This weekend I received the September issue of Writer's Digest magazine in my mailbox, and while I don't generally post anyone else's writing exercise, I saw a couple of irresistibly good ones to share.

There are actually several prompts on the WD website if you're trolling for ideas.  Of course, I encourage you to bounce around my blog first, but hey, you never can have too many ideas, right?

This comes from an article called "10 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Thinking Like a Comedy Writer" by Leigh Anne Jasheway, under technique #9: Keep Them on Their Toes.  She's referring to misleading your reader by throwing twists and turns into an otherwise straightforward story.  Her words are italicized in quotations:

"One of my favorite exercises for generating misdirected ideas is called Illogical Ways.  First, choose a problem you'd like to resolve with misdirection.  For example, let's say you're writing a novel and your main character needs to have a broken leg.  Your goal is to find illogical ways for that to happen.  Starting at the end of the alphabet (because it makes your brain work differently), list one illogical way for each letter.  For example:
  • in a Zebra stampede
  • slipping on nonfat Yogurt
  • a Xylophone accident
  • Wearing pantyhose too tight, causing her to trip
You can use this exercise to push even the most benign details of your stories beyond the obvious, keeping your readers enthralled along the way."

Although I love the broken leg idea, I'll change the topic to put a slightly different spin on things.  You might need to pull out a dictionary for this one!

writing exercise:  Using the Illogical Ways exercise from Z to A, explain why your character had a car accident.

In case you need help reversing the alphabet - here you go.  ZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDBCA

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response, beginning with runaway zamboni.


The Eyes Speak - writercize #80

It has been said, more than once, that the eyes are the windows to the soul.  I would imagine that even if we all wore straight jackets masking our body language, our eyes would deepen and confirm our truths and betray our lies.  We lock them in love, avert them in fear, wink them in flirtation, roll them out of disrespect and blink them to expose nerves.  

writing exercise:  Describe the eyes of a character in your story or those of a real person you have strong feelings towards - feelings of love or hate.  What do those eyes look like, and what do they tell you?

Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response(s) on her daughters' eyes.


100 Word Liar - writercize #79

Brevity has the power to be a writer's best friend.  A great writer has the ability to compose lyrical prose one moment and cut to the chase the next.  Brevity will help a journalist stay within maximum word counts, a greeting card writer pack a punch, a novelist write a successful query and a copywriter create memorable slogans.

When writing, challenge yourself to summarize the main points in one to two paragraphs and make sure that the summary is at the heart of the matter.  Anything else should support that core story.  You can do this before or after writing, depending on your personal style.  Those who outline and prepare first can do it before sitting down to write the story itself and use it as a road map; those who allow the words to tumble out first and find the story later can use it to guide rewrites.

Today's writercize, inspired by the Group Blogging Experience, challenges you to be succinct.

writing exercise:  Using exactly 100 words (including title), write a story with a beginning, middle and end inspired by the topic of lying.

Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response about how Naomi (meaning: honest) learned deceit.


Hope: Define It - writercize #78

One good way to find out if a person understands the concept or thing they are talking about is to ask them to define it in their own words.  Sometimes asking for a definition will direct the listener to a new word the speaker actually means to relate, and sometimes understanding the speaker's definition will clarify and deepen the listener's understanding.

Asking a child to provide a definition in his or her own words can be very beneficial for a parent or teacher in a couple of circumstances.  During a disagreement or emotional outburst, it can help the adult understand what a child is really feeling.  In a school assignment, it can help identify if the child is thinking about the lesson or simply mimicking the original text.

If a child can not define the word, ask them to define what the word is not.  In preliteracy skills, knowing what a word is not can be just as helpful as knowing what it is.  This is one reason books for young children focus heavily on opposites.

Even in a discussion between adults, a pause to clarify any one person's use of a word can help deepen understanding and connection.  

I often find that our individual perception of words, especially non-nouns, are like snowflakes or fingerprints.  No two people will define the same word in the same way.

writing exercise:  Without using a dictionary, define "hope."  Include an antonym.

Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response.


The Real Life Skills? - writercize #77

In a previous post called Question It All, I challenged readers to think critically about the news they read rather than digesting it directly.  I very much appreciate listening to news radio, catching up on current events in the newspaper and magazines and watching TV news (all when I have a moment of time to spare, that is) but I try to take everything with a grain of salt.  I expect reporting to be objective and unbiased, and I expect that facts have been checked, but I don't necessarily trust that it is.  When there's a scoop and ratings to consider, sometimes objectivity and fact-checking are placed on hold to get the story out.  

I'm especially wary when it comes to reports on statistics and studies.  It may be due to my Communications course on statistics in college, but I could pretty easily create a study to support any hypothesis I like.

Last week, Newsweek released it's list of the top 500 public schools, based on academic success factors such as college-bound seniors, SAT scores and AP course offerings.  I would be proud to send my children to a school that is on the list and feel pretty good that the academic consideration is well-covered.  I think the matrix is a good indicator of the academic component of the high schools, but I do think it falls short of the term "best schools."  In my view, a "best" school offers much more than academics; it offers education on life.  I thought about it for a few days and wrote an opinion piece on Technorati that was published earlier today.  A copy of that analysis is below.

writing exercise:  If you were creating a matrix to determine which schools best prepare their students for life after student-hood, what factors would you look at and why?

Click "read more" for the writercizer sample response.  (Article first published as How Should We Really Calculate The Best High Schools? on Technorati.)