Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Ze Accent

Via Wikipedia
Ve all know zat ze evil villain must have ze accent.

I mean, how else vould ve know zat he vas evil?

Does anyone else find it amusing that evil villains in American stories usually have accents?

Maybe it's our American snobbishness, or maybe it's just ingrained in us from the WWII and Cold War periods where the villains in all the stories were Nazis/Communists/Russians.

I don't know why it is, but I do find it amusing.

The types of accents range from German to Russian to French to British to some made-up in-between language, like Gru's:

Accents usually come with stereotypes as well; for example, the cold British snob, the cruel German general, the handsome but vicious Spanish spy, the calculating Russian lady.

If you do write a character (especially a villain) vith ze accent, keep in mind these three things:

1. Listen to ze real accents   

Don't just assume you know what Russian sounds like and switch out all your the's for ze's. Zat vould neither be professional nor honest. 

Don't know anyone who speaks with a Russian accent? Zat is vat Youtube is for, mein comrades.

2. Don't spell out everyzhing

If you've ever read Huckleberry Finn, you've come across a passage like this:
“Sometimes you gwyne to git hurt, en sometimes you gwyne to git sick; but every time you's gwyne to git well agin.”
Via RT
That might be all well and good for Mark Twain, but please please please don't use it in youse awn writin'. Not only is it hard to read, but it can also interrupt the flow of the story as your poor reader tries to decipher  vat you are actually saying.

How many times in zis post have you had to stop and go back and read zat odd spelling? Zat is not vat you vant, mein comrades!

3. Avoid ze stereotypes

Is the accent part of the character or the character part of the accent? In other words, why are you writing about a character vith an accent? Is it so that your character will be scarier? More stylish? Weaker or dumber sounding? 

Don't give your character an accent just because. It's a part of backstory, of where they grew up, who they grew up with. It's not an accessory. Character before accent, mein comrades!

Follow these three tips and ze accents vill be much better. Until next time, mein comrades!

Do you have a character with an accent? What are some accent stereotypes that annoy you?
Let me know by commenting!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for Yes, More T.S. Eliot

Four QuartetsFour Quartets by T.S. Eliot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know I've mentioned this already, but I do love T.S. Eliot. His poetry isn't the kind that you understand right away. It's not light reading, but it's beautiful.

Four Quartets is, without a doubt, my favorite of his collected poetry that I've read so far. Wasteland was beautiful, wild, crazy, and deep, but Four Quartets is much more soulful. It was also written after his conversion to the Anglican church, so it has a lot of religious and spiritual themes, a lot more than Wasteland did.

The book is arranged into four separate poems: Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding.

When reading T.S. Eliot, my routine is usually this:

  •  Read once, just listening to and enjoying rhythm and sounds of words
  •  Read again, this time looking for the meaning
  •  Read the third time, trying to make sure I understood the right meaning
  • Read again, understand enough to move on

That's actually a lot like how you're supposed to read the Bible. Read, digest, read, digest.

I'll leave you with some bits of poetry from the book:

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind us of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

- From East Coker

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope,
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith,
But the faith and the love are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

- From Burnt Norton

For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. 

- From The Dry Salvages

We shall not cease from exploration, 
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.

- From Little Gidding

Have you read any T.S. Eliot? Have a favorite book of poetry? Have a fixed way of reading poetry? Hate poetry? Love poetry?
Let me know by commenting!

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for eXit

Via Wikipedia

I've always thought that writing exits was a little bit tricky.

You can't do them as smoothly as they work in real life. For example
He turned and exited the room
is the standard way of removing a character, but it can sound a little awkward. (An awkward exit. Say that five times fast.)

It would be so much easier to write "character exits. Fade out" but that's screenwriting, not novel writing.

I was curious how "the masters" handled exits, so I gathered up five books by five of my favorite authors and sifted through them. None of them, so far as I can tell, used "turned and exited."

Here are five authors and the way they write exits

Brian Jacques, Redwall
The scavengers dashed off, bumping clumsily into each other with panic as they tried to get through the door together.
This certainly brings a more vivid picture than "turned and exited" does.

Jane Austen, Emma
Without knowing when the carriage turned into the Vicarage-lane, or when it stopped, they found themselves, all at once, at the door of his house; and he was out before another syllable passed.
An awkward situation calls for an awkward exit, but Jane Austen handles it smoothly.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
"Stay there! she said, and she sprinted up the stairs to the girls' dormitories.
If Hermione had merely "turned and exited" it wouldn't have conveyed her excitement as well.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Speckled Band
She dropped her thick black veil over her face and glided from the room.
The mysterious woman cannot simply "exit" the room.

Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire
My body reacts before my mind does and I'm running out the door, across the lawns of the Victor's Village, into the dark beyond.
Much more powerful than "turned and exited."

Dashed off, sprinted off, glided off - there are lots of alternatives to the generic "exit."

Now I just need to find ways to put better exits into my own writing.

I have to exit - I mean, dash off now!

Do you have trouble writing exits, or do they come naturally? Ever written an awkward exit? Ever read an awkward exit? Ever made an awkward exit?
Let me know by commenting!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Word Clouds

If you've never heard of word clouds before, let me tell you what they are.

A word cloud assesses your most used words in a certain piece of writing and groups them in attractive patterns, like the one above.

I use a site called Wordle. Wordle is free, easy to use, and you can enter anything from a piece of writing to a blog feed. I entered my blog feed into Wordle and it came up with the above picture.

Writing is the most used word on my blog right now (go figure!). Like comes in second, or maybe book, with vision in a close third.

I'm still puzzling over stars. When did I mention stars? Oh wait, that would be the Goodreads reviews.

The only downside to Wordle is that to get the picture off the site you have to take a screenshot. If you don't know how to do that, there's an easy tutorial here.

It's a cool site, and a neat idea. Go check it out!

Have you ever used Wordle, or any other word-cloud-producing site or program?
Let me know by commenting!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Vision

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. Proverbs 29:18

What's your vision?

When I started CollegePlus, one of the first things they had me do was complete a little workbook called Life Purpose Planning. The purpose of that workbook was to help me find my purpose in life (goodness, this could have been the post for "P.")

It asked questions like:

What do you most enjoy doing when you have an hour of free time?
What are you naturally good at?
What areas do people typically ask you for help in?
If you could pick one job that you would never, ever, want to do, what would it be?

It was written to help students who are starting college to discover their interests, to decide which degree choice or field of work would be best for them, and to express what they wanted to do with their life. After the workbook was completed, it asked me to write a vision statement.

It felt a little odd, writing a vision statement for my life, but it really helped me to see more clearly what I wanted to do with it. And having a set goal made me feel less like I was wasting my life. More like I had a game plan. I wasn't drifting aimlessly with vaguely defined goals anymore.

I had a purpose.

What's your purpose, your mission in life? In other words, why are you here?

Answering this question is important not only for college but for all of life, and for all vocations and situations.

For college students, it's important to know what you want to do with yourself, with your life. You don't want to waste four years of college for a degree in a field you don't like and will never use. Know your purpose.

For writers, it's essential to have an idea of why you're writing. And this is not about audience - who you're writing for. It's about the reason you pick up a pen each and every day and put words on paper. It's about the goal you're working towards. Why choose writing over any other field of work? And what do you want to accomplish by writing? How do you want to be remembered? Why?

For bloggers, this is also a question you can ask. Why am I blogging? Who am I blogging for? Does this blog convey the message I want it to convey? Writing a vision statement for your blog might be a good idea if you're struggling with finding your message.

And of course, for anyone, regardless of age or interest, it's good to think about why you're here. I understand, however, that the answer will be different for those (like me) who believe that they were placed on this earth by an omnipotent and loving God, and for those who believe they are the product of a cosmic accident.

I believe the only true way, the only true purpose in life is that which glorifies God. That not only influences my vision, it is my vision.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me save that Thou art.

Have you ever written a vision statement? If you could write one, what are some goals you would include in it? Do you feel like you have a vision for your life? For your writing? For your blog?

Let me know by commenting!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Updated Interface

No, I'm not going to complain about the Updated Interface.


Okay, maybe just a little.

I got switched over today. This is my first time writing a post in the Updated Interface. It feels like I'm writing in a Word document. And I had trouble finding this page in the first place. In fact, I had trouble finding everything. And it's kind of hard to see. Everything is so white - it's blinding me.

But now onto all the positive things about the Updated Interface!


  • The fact that it has an "Overview" page
  • The drop down menu that's... um, more streamlined?
  • The reading list is bigger
  • The posting page looks like a Word document, as mentioned above
  • In "Pages" you can choose to create a new page, or create a link to a web address (that's pretty cool)
  • "Templates" shows you both your template and your mobile template
  • It's a lot simpler and easier to create a new blog. 

Really, try clicking on the "new blog" button. You'll get this:

Pretty neat, right?

So everyone breathe, the Updated Interface isn't that bad. And remember, if you really dislike it you can send feedback to Blogger. Just be nice about it, okay?

And of course, if you're totally lost Blogger has provided a helpful step-by-step guide to using the upgraded interface.

Even if I'm not entirely happy with the new look (my poor eyes!) I'm glad Blogger is working on making things better for us.

I just might have to wear sunglasses while blogging from now on...

What do you think of the new look? Have you tried out everything yet? Hate it? Love it? 

Let me know by commenting!

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Tortured Artists

Drawing by Ava. Used with permission.
So I'm writing this blog post in between taking a long, lonely walk in the haunted woods and sitting in a dark room, hunched over a typewriter, weeping over the heartbreaking poetry that I'm writing.

No, I'm not depressed. I'm trying to cultivate my inner tortured artist.

You can too! Here are 5 easy steps to becoming that famous depiction of the mad genius.

1. Doubt yourself.

If you like what you create, you can't be a tortured artist. You must always, always doubt your work, never ever be satisfied with it, and go into fits when anyone praises your work.

2. Learn to play the violin. 

Come on, we all know this one. Sherlock Holmes.

And besides, can you think of an instrument that is more dramatic than a violin? You can also substitute an organ or an out-of-tune piano if you have to. Just make sure to rock back and forth violently when you play it.

3. Make friends with some strange animal - rats are excellent, birds are okay (especially if they're crows or ravens).

The best way to reinforce the idea that you are not of this world, and don't understand ordinary human beings is to make friends with normally spurned creatures.

(This will also give you extra pity points.)

4. Develop a signature messy hair style.

Tortured artists have no time to take care of their hair! They're plagued by visions and dreams and ideas that must be put down on paper or canvas or sheet music! All the same, make sure to choose your trademark messy hair carefully. Einstein looks like he put his finger in a light socket. Make sure yours is as fitting.

5. Die young.

Because only the good do...

Also by Ava. Used with permission.

Follow these five steps carefully, and you're well on your way to becoming the mad genius of legend.

Are you a tortured artist? Do you have any tips to add to the list?
Let me know by commenting!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Seven Books

I've read a lot of books on writing, but only a few have really impacted the way I think. 

Here are seven books that changed my perspective on writing:

Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That ResonateInvisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate by Brian McDonald

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is probably the best book on screenwriting I've read. I read it twice in a row the first time I picked it up, and I don't normally do that (especially with writing books). In clear, accessible terms, Brian McDonald explains the reasoning behind the choices that writers make - the "invisible ink" that holds the story together.

The Lively Art of WritingThe Lively Art of Writing by Lucile Vaughan Payne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the earliest books on writing that I read, and I really enjoyed it. It focuses on essays (the forms and how to craft arguments) and how to write descriptions, use active voice, and what to avoid when writing. It's one of my very favorite books.

The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction WritingThe Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing by Francis Flaherty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I stayed up much too late reading this book. The length of the chapters made it easy to read just one more.

Francis Flaherty believes that every article, whether it's about finance or medicine or anything in between, is a story, with actors who feel things and do things, and the key to good writing is to identify and bring out the human elements.

The book, though aimed mostly at journalists, contains practical advice on crafting interesting stories that all writers can use. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone writing non-fiction.

Screen Teen Writers: How Young Screenwriters Can Find SuccessScreen Teen Writers: How Young Screenwriters Can Find Success by Christina Hamlett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very easy-to-read, informative book on screenwriting (geared toward teens). It inspired me to read more books on writing.

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young WritersThe Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I believe this was the first book on writing I ever read, and I still have fond memories of it. A good book on the "art" of fiction. He uses a metaphor that I wholeheartedly agree with - that a story should be like a "dream" for the reader, and that you want to do everything possible to keep them in the dream and not disturb them by putting yourself or anything unnecessary in the story.

77 Reasons Why Your Book Was Rejected77 Reasons Why Your Book Was Rejected by Mike Nappa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent book on how to (as far as possible) avoid rejection. The author can sometimes be a little harsh (he even apologizes for it at the end of the book) but most of the time it's on topics that writers need to hear. I would highly, highly recommend this book for anyone who's serious about getting published.

The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your ScriptThe Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script by David Trottier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A well-written, comprehensive book on screenwriting. It taught me a lot about writing dialogue and crafting tight narratives, as well as the terms, rules, and general observances of screenwriting. I would highly recommend it, right after Invisible Ink.

What are some books that changed your perspective on writing?

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Random Pictures from the Library

I know, I know. First the kitten post and then this. 

I'm setting myself up to be that old cat lady librarian. Give me just a second while I go finish crocheting that light socket plug cover....

Above is the holds section. It's where (obviously) the holds are shelved. Someone's reserved a pretty pink book. 

This is the children's section (note the Dr. Seuss poster). The reason the picture is so blurry is that I didn't want to look like I was stalking the little kids or anything, so I took the picture fast.

I think this is my favorite picture, even if it is a little backlit. 

It's the large print section, Ca through Eng.

This is the blurriest picture because, well, this is the dreaded CD section.

See how all the CD's are on racks? Yeah, that may work for stores, but when you have multiple CD's, from A-Z, being picked up and put back by hundreds of people, and being replaced daily by library shelvers....

It's not good.

To normal people the CD section looks like it does above (only less blurry), but to library shelvers the CD section looks more like this:

Can't you see that as the cover for a horror film? How about CD's on Racks: The Rising. Cue the creepy music, then cut to the innocent shelver.... mwahahahaha.

And of course, this post would not be complete without a picture of my cat. This is Sherlock, sleeping on my lap as I type this.

Now I'm off to crochet another doily - I mean, ride a motorcycle. Yeah, that's what I meant.

In other news:

You voted, she drew it! Ava's sketch is now in color.

Do you love your local library? What's your favorite section?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quotes

I love quotes. I love when someone says something so true about something so well that it can all be condensed into one or two sentences. Yes, you can quote me on that. ;)

Here are a few of my favorite quotes

(If you want to read more quotes I like, I have a page dedicated to them.)

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Thomas Mann

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”
Toni Morrison

“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning...”
C.S. Lewis

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
William Shakespeare 

“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible.”
Rod Sterling

“Still, it doesn't do to murder people, no matter how offensive they may be.”
Dorothy L. Sayers

“Fiction does not spring into the world fully grown, like Athena. It is the process of writing and rewriting that makes a fiction original, if not profound.”
John Gardner

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
C.S. Lewis

“I began to get really keen, for every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.”
John Buchan

“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Arthur Conan Doyle

“Reading is one form of escape. Running for your life is another.” —Lemony Snicket

Do you have a favorite quote? I'd love to hear it!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Personality

Image via Wikipedia
Ever taken a personality test?

Some people don't put a lot of stock in personality tests. Some people are addicted to them. Some people are afraid that learning their personality type will mess up their mind, or make them excuse their faults.

It all depends on their personality, right?

I'm not too obsessed with personality tests, but I do like reading about them and taking them and making other people take them.

What can I say? I like psychology.

If you have never taken a personality test (gasp!) then you can instantly remedy that shocking situation by taking a free personality test here. (Warning - it's a long test)

After that, you can find out more by taking your four letter type and reading about your personality here.

When I took the test, the closest match I got was the ISTJ, or Guardian Inspector.

Here's a bit of the description of Guardian Inspectors, from the Kiersey site:
The one word that best describes Inspectors is superdependable. Whether at home or at work, Inspectors are extraordinarily persevering and dutiful, particularly when it comes to keeping an eye on the people and products they are responsible for. In their quiet way, Inspectors see to it that rules are followed, laws are respected, and standards are upheld.
Yes, that's me. I've got to have my rules, and lists, and laws, and standards. And if a rule doesn't work - I throw it out and make a better rule.

That's probably why I'm so obsessed with proper punctuation...

Something that may be useful for writers (and that I haven't actually done yet) is to take the test from the perspective of your main character (or any other character you're having trouble with).

Not only could it help you find out more about how your character thinks and feels, but it could also help you discover how you and your character think differently.

Since I'm an "I" (introvert) it's helpful to read about how extroverts think. Perhaps if you're an extrovert, it would be good to read about introverts.

Whether you 100% believe in personality tests or are skeptical, it's good to at least have a basic idea of the most generic ways that people think.

And not just for writing, either. It helps with life.

So my cat (Buster Keaton) doesn't really have anything to do with this post, except for the fact that he's sitting by the keyboard as I write it. And I thought it was a cute picture, so I added it.

In other news:

(Yes, I'm doing the "other news" thing again)

Feel like voting?

Go check out Retro Zombie's blog. He's presenting a "face-off" for every letter of the alphabet. The current match is Po vs. Paul.

Also, my sister (whom I've mentioned before) has sketched a couple of girls, and wants you to decide which one she should redraw in color. Go let her know which one's your favorite!

What's your personality type? Do you like personality tests, or do you just think they're too inaccurate or constricting? What's your MC's personality type?

Let me know by commenting!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Ostentatious Prose (Among Other Things)

I had momentary moment of panic today. I logged into blogger, clicked over to my blog to get a link and, horror of horrors...

the sidebar was missing!

I scrolled to the bottom of the page and there it was, beneath the posts. And I couldn't figure out how to get it back to where it was supposed to be.

Thankfully, I've been following The Real Blogger Status for a while now, so I clicked over to the blog to see if I could find out how to fix it.

I came across this post, which advised changing the most recent thing you'd done. Well, that was publishing my "N" post. So I saved it as a draft and republished it, and voila! the sidebar reappeared!

If you haven't already done so, I advise you to go visit that blog.

And now on to our regularly scheduled A-to-Z post

Question: Am I being ostentatious by using the word "ostentatious" to describe prose?

Don't write the way this bird looks.
What does "ostentatious" mean? It means showy, or to do something in order to show off, or to be conspicuous or pretentious.

Yeah, saying "ostentatious prose" rather than "flowery prose" does sound a little pretentious.

But hey, you all know the real reason I'm using the word "ostentatious." Because I already did a post for "F".  And besides, "ostentatious" is such a fun word to say. 

However, ostentatious prose is not very fun to read.

One of the most common bits of advice I hear for writers is "get yourself out of the picture."

In other words, you want the reader to forget about you as a writer. Don't let them even remember that you're there. You want them to forget that they're reading something written by you and just be engrossed in the story.

That doesn't mean you don't have a voice. It means that while they're reading the story they don't hear you in their heads reminding them every ten seconds "I wrote this I wrote this I wrote this! Aren't I such a good writer??"

Compare this:
When I sleepily open my stunning blue eyes to blearily glance at the rumpled, cream-colored sheets on the opposite side of the bed, not only is it inexplicably vacant, but it is also as chilly as an icicle in the far-flung reaches of the frozen north.
To this:
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. 
The first example is so overloaded with adjectives and similes that it makes the story drag, and is very stuffy and annoying. The second example (the opening line from The Hunger Games) is crisp, clear, and to the point. We are placed inside the main character's head, and inside the story, without any unnecessary fuss or detail.

So, in summation, my dear devoted readers, whenever the dreadful time comes when you are sorely tempted by the vile devils of ostentatiousness, it is much advised that you, oh peerless perusers, swiftly flee the terrible clutches of its ostentatious claws of grim death.

In other news:

Feel like giving out story prompts today? Two of the A-to-Z participants that I'm following are basing their themes around prompts given by readers.

Jessica Salyer at Just Following a Dream presents a word each day that readers must use in a sentence that will then be included in an ongoing story. You have until 10 PM CST tonight to enter a sentence that includes the word "omnipotent."

Jessica Marcarelli at Visions of Other Worlds is having a Saturday flash fiction challenge. Go leave her a comment with a prompt that starts with the letter "S"!

Have you ever had trouble with a disappearing sidebar? 

Do you have a problem with writing ostentatious prose, or does clean prose come naturally for you? Is there any specific bit of ostentatiousness that habitually annoys you?

Let me know by commenting!

N is for Naming

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Names are powerful.

What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.

- William Shakespeare
In a way, Shakespeare's right. Roses could be called "ferns" but they would still smell like roses. But we don't define roses by how they smell. We define them by what they are.

To name something means to own it. When you name pets or cars or electronics, in a way they become uniquely yours.

Remember that scene in Annie when the cop says "if he's your dog, call him"?

Once Annie calls Sandy by his name, Sandy becomes her dog. She owns him.

In a similar way, when writers name their characters the characters stop being nameless, faceless creatures and become more fully realized, living, breathing people.

I think naming characters is one of the most time consuming and the most fun parts of writing. I sometimes spend hours agonizing over a character's name, looking at meanings, at rhythms, at sounds.

Something I find helpful to use is the random namer. Even if it doesn't show me the name I want, it gives me ideas for what I don't want.

I recently used the random namer while I was looking for a name for a girl in my WIP. It brought up the name "Austine."

I don't know why, but that name really struck me. It's a little out of the ordinary, and I like names that are a little out of the ordinary. So Austine is my new favorite name.

Sometimes the characters walk into my head already named, but often the meanings surprise me.

My MC of my WIP is named Simon. One of his flaws is that he's afraid to speak up; people don't listen to him. He came already named, and I'd never bothered to look up the meaning until recently.

I discovered that Simon means to hear, to be heard.
Coincidence? I think not.

My name has connotations of honor and victory of wisdom. I like to think that has relevance for my life.

My middle name (Marie) means "sea of bitterness." Perhaps I will triumph over bitterness to achieve the victory of wisdom? I don't know what God has in store for my life.

But I do know the one name I have that has eternal significance. I am a Christian, endowed with the name of Christ, that name that is above all names.

And of all the names there are, His is the only one that really matters.

What does your name mean? Do you believe your name has any special significance to your life?

Are there any names you especially like? Why is that?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of UdolphoThe Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Emily gazed long on the splendours of the world she was quitting, of which the whole magnificence seemed thus given to her sight only to increase her regret on leaving it; for her, Valancourt alone was in that world; to him alone her heart turned, and for him alone fell her bitter tears.”

When I first read Northanger Abbey I thought that the Gothic novel referenced in the book, Mysteries of Udolpho, was made up.

Then, a couple of years later, I decided to see if it was real. Lo and behold, it was! I downloaded it for free off Project Gutenberg (link to the book here) and began to read it.

Emily St. Aubert is a young lady who lives with her parents in a villa in Gascony. Having a father who quit "society" to live a secluded life in the country, her daily activities consist in taking long walks in the woods, playing the lute and singing, reading and writing romantic poetry, reading romantic authors, and fainting in random spots.

No, just kidding about that last one. Fainting is more of a weekly occurrence for Emily than a daily one.

Then, after living their happy peaceful lives, tragedy strikes. Emily's mother becomes ill and dies (for reasons of which I'm still not sure) and, after some fainting, weeping, and sighing, she and her father decide to go on a vacation to help her father's ailing health.

After wandering around the Pyrenees for a while, admiring the views, painting, sketching, writing and reciting romantic poetry, and sighing over the beauty of the mountains, they run into a hitchhiker traveler named Valancourt, who is also wandering around the Pyrenees admiring the views.

Obviously, they get on well together, and they wander around and sigh over beauty (with Emily and Valancourt exchanging a few shy looks) until Valancourt decides to go his own way.

Then Emily and her father wander and sigh at the beautiful mountains some more (with a little bit of sighing over how Valancourt would love to look at these mountains) when their carriage is pursued by a lone horseman.

Monsieur St. Aubert is frightened - he thinks perhaps they are being chased by banditti - so he whips out his pistol and shoots the rider, who just happens to be... Valancourt!

The gun shot only broke his arm, however, and he is forced to stay with them a little longer and alas, has to be taken care of by Emily. What a tragedy.

Of course, they fall deeply in love, before Valancourt, after being healed, must rejoin his regiment, from which he was on leave.

Emily and her father are making their way home when Monsieur St. Aubert worsens, and they must stay in a villa (which holds a mysterious secret), until Monsieur St. Aubert dies. There is much weeping and sighing, and Emily almost decides to join a convent, but decides to go home instead.

Now that you've read this far you may skip book one and start directly with book two.

No, I'm serious. The novel is divided into four "books," and what I just described all takes place in the first book, accompanied by page after page after page of description and detail.

The second book is where the action really starts to happen. In fact, the entire novel could have started with the second book, instead of providing us with the immense backstory of the first.

In the second book, Emily goes to live with her aunt (who enjoys "society!" Oh the horror.) Emily's undiscerning aunt marries a rich man named Montoni. Surprise, surprise, Montoni is an evil Italian banditti lord who lives in the secluded Castle Udolpho, where he takes his new wife and niece.

This is where the book starts to get exciting. A great portion of the scenes inside Castle Udolpho had me holding my breath as Emily escaped danger after danger, discovered a mysterious secret, was held captive, was threatened, sighed, fainted, and wept.

Through it all, the only thing that keeps her going is that somewhere Valancourt is waiting for her, and her hope that someday they will be reunited.

For all I've made fun of it, Mysteries of Udolpho was a fun book to read, if a little tiring at times.

Emily is a strong heroine (despite all the fainting) and is intelligent, opinionated, and brave. Valancourt is a little more flawed - a little sappy and foolish - but he's all right as a character. Montoni is a truly good villain - I mean he's really good at being bad. He's frightening by being cool and calm and in control.

There is some really good suspense, but it's often disrupted by Anne Radcliffe's pageful of description of details that we don't really need, or interrupted by one of Emily's long poems that she recites for the reader's sake, poetry that has nothing whatsoever to do with the story.

I need to read Northanger Abbey again, because I can appreciate it more now that I've read the book it makes fun of.

It seems to me that Mysteries of Udolpho was the Twilight of its time, spawning a whole genre of copycat Gothic novels (none of which I'm planning to read!)

Someday I would really like to edit or abridge(or read an edited or abridged) Mysteries of Udolpho. It's got great potential, but to our modern ear for sparse, to-the-point prose, it just doesn't work.

However, don't let that deter you from reading it. If you can get past or ignore the descriptions, the poetry, and the long, unnecessary dialogue, it's a really fun and thrilling book.

Have you read Mysteries of Udolpho or any other Gothic novel? Have you read Northanger Abbey? Let me know by commenting!

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Labelling

You don't have to look very hard to see what my major theme is on this blog. 

Of the posts I've written, fifteen have been labelled "Writing."

On my sidebar, where I have the label cloud, Writing and A-to-Z Challenge have become so big that they overshadow all the other labels. They're like monsters, glutted on the gore from all the posts they've been tagged in, while all the other little labels starve.

Actually, I try not to let my labels starve. I love labeling posts, but I try to only use labels that I think I'll use more than once.

I find it very annoying when I'm reading a blog where the author tags almost everything he's mentioned in the post. So you see labels like "peanut butter cookies," or "Rolling in the Deep by Adele," or "ICAN'TBELIEVEIFINALLYGOTTHEJOBI'MSOHAPPY."

Now, I like to click on the labels after the posts to see more of what the author's written on that subject. So when I click on "peanut butter cookies" and there's only one post for that category... it makes me a little frustrated.

If you only ever did one post about peanut butter cookies, then what was the point of labeling it??

Not that I'm especially interested in peanut butter cookies.  It's more the principle of the thing.

Also, blogs that don't use labels at all frustrate me a little.

It means that I will most likely leave your blog faster because I don't see anything to hold my interest. But if you'd labelled a post "blogging" and I clicked the label and found ten other posts in that category, I'd stay longer and read them. And if I liked them, and I liked your writing style, I might follow your blog or leave a comment.

Use labels, my dear followers and readers. They will make your life easier.

There's also the related posts plugin which I'm debating whether to add. The only problem I can see is that sometimes when scrolling down the home page (on other blogs) it takes a while to load. I don't know if it's worth it. Any ideas?

Oh yes, and L is also for Lauren. My name has a few different interpretations, but the one I like best is "of the laurel or bay tree; symbolic of honor or victory."

In Other News:

You can now follow Word Art on Google+!

How about it? Do you use labels on your blog? Why or why not?

Should I get the related posts plugin? What do you like or dislike about the related posts plugin?

Does your name start with "L"?

Let me know by commenting!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Kittens

“A catless writer is almost inconceivable. It’s a perverse taste, really, since it would be easier to write with a herd of buffalo in the room than even one cat; they make nests in the notes and bite the end of the pen and walk on the typewriter keys.” 
-Barbara Holland
If you've come looking for a post in which I gush endlessly about my cats and post tons and tons of pictures, well then...., actually, you've come to the right place.

If you dislike these types of posts, feel free to skip it and come back tomorrow, when I return to normal and blog about an interesting subject that starts with the letter "L."

For anyone who's still left...

This is Buster Keaton. He's a long haired tabby, seven months old, and we call him "Baby."

Sitting in the box (on the pink fluffy tutu) is Sherlock. He's a short haired eight month old tabby cat.

Fun (and odd) fact: his birthday is the day after mine.

Sherlock is the patient one. Baby - well, he sleeps a lot. 

See what I mean?

Sherlock patiently endures being brushed. I love the look on his face.

Okay, so I realize that all the pictures I have of Buster are of him asleep.

Look at those creepily intense eyes. We believe that Sherlock is actually a reincarnated soul. We haven't figured out who, yet.

Do you have or have you ever had cats? Are you more of a dog person?
Let me know by commenting!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Jotting Things Down (In Journals)

You've had a 3'o'clock at night experience, right?

You know, when you come up with an idea so brilliant that you can't possibly wait until morning to write it down so you get up and search for a piece of paper in the dark and if you can't find the paper you write on your hand and then when you wake up you have to try to decipher your handwriting?

Yeah, that one.

This stunning picture on the left is the product of one of my middle of the night scribblings.

As you can see, it's got all of the typical characteristics of muse-inspired jottings. It's cryptic, messy, and can only be understood by me.

Hey, kind of like my journal (which is actually where I wrote this scribbled story idea.)

I use a journal for writing down poems, snatches of conversation, descriptions of interesting people, midnight story ideas, opening lines, sermon notes, favorite names, lists (I love lists. Can you tell?), or anything else that comes to mind.

This is the journal I currently use. It was a gift from Hadley.

I used to use my journals (I have about eight that I've filled) for writing down my daily activities. But ever since I started seriously writing, I've found that more and more I only jot down things related to writing.

Today's date last year. 
You're technically not supposed to know about the character mentioned in the above picture. Just pretend he doesn't exist.

Oh wait. He's fictional. He doesn't exist.

Moving on....

Now, I'd like to be specific here. I didn't choose the word "journal" because it fits with the letter J (okay, well maybe I did, but...)

I want to distinguish it from a diary.

A diary is not a journal.

A diary is not a writing journal.

A diary is a notebook in which you write down all your problems and angsty stuff.

A journal is... well, to repeat the common definition, a chronicle of a journey.

(Bonus "J" word of the day!)

So my writing journal is the chronicle of my journey through writing. I can look back at the things I've written, at the random descriptions, the thoughts, the poems and see how far (or not) I've come.

If you don't have a journal or a place to jot things down, I highly recommend you get one.

Download a notes app on your phone.

Buy a pocket sized notebook and a key chain sized pen.

Be ready to record whenever your muse inspires you.

Of course, it will always be in the most inconvenient places - I always find it happens in the car, or in church, or at parties.

But hey! You're a writer. Nobody will mind if you suddenly dive for your purse (or pocket) to write something down.

(It just reinforces the cliche of the mad artist.)

"Not keep a journal! How are your absent cousins to understand the tenour of your life in Bath without one? How are the civilities and compliments of every day to be related as they ought to be, unless noted down every evening in a journal? How are your various dresses to be remembered, and the particular state of your complexion, and curl of your hair to be described in all their diversities, without having constant recourse to a journal? "

- Henry Tilney, from Northanger Abbey

Pictured below: my eight filled-to-the-last-page journals.

In Other News:

Rissi from the lovely blog Scribbles, Scripts, and Such (which I've mentioned before and I highly recommend you visit) has awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award.

Hmm, I guess that means I'm

"Capable of or adapted for turning easily from one to another of various tasks, fields of endeavor, etc.: a versatile writer."

Thanks, Rissi!

The award dictates that you must state seven things about yourself and then give the award to fifteen other bloggers.

For this post, I'll skip the seven facts (there's more than seven on my about me page if you're dying to know). And as for fifteen other bloggers... well, that's a lot. Off the top of my head, here are a few I can think of that fit the description:

Do you keep a journal? What kinds of things do you jot down? Do you use an app for that? 
Do you collect journals? Do you get that thrill when you open a blank journal? When does inspiration strike you?

Let me know by commenting!
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