Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

I have recently been working on finding quotes about a variety of concepts.  I started by looking things up for my wall at work, where my Action for Happiness poster is a little lonely because I have taken down some photos – I need to change things up sometimes!

I have subsequently been looking for quotes for other things, and other people.

I am not sure why they help but they do.  Perhaps it is the knowledge we are not alone in feeling something, or that a positive thought has a positive impact, or even that it gives us a different way of looking at things.

Whatever it is, it’s actually quite fun to look at lists of quotes.  As you may remember I was even inspired by a quote to write my poem Cicero and now I am pulling together a new set list I may well use that technique again.

There is power in words to inspire, delight, agitate and infuriate – and all of these can spur the writing imagination. Plus you might find a comic gem or two along the way!

So quotes are now in my basket of writing tools to draw upon when I need to spur my imagination – or my sense of humour!

Happy writing,



Read Full Post »

Last week I talked about purpose in writing and this week I thought I would expand on the idea and talk about how word choice impacts on perception.

We see examples of this every day – from politicians to journalists and even in the most mundane conversations we might have at work or in a shop.  Word choice can make someone feel good, or leave them deflated, unsure, or scared.

It makes sense, therefore, to think hard about the type of language a character will use.

Maybe you have a cheerful, happy go lucky character who always sees the possibilities of a situation.  In conversation they would be upbeat and positive, and using a phrase like ‘I hate her’ would would be completely out of character.

That’s not to say they can’t say it – it might be a reflection of the extent to which another character should be disliked or distrusted – but that it wouldn’t be a throwaway comment like it might be for a teenager complaining about their classmate.

Of course language is also more subtle: a description of someone as being ‘unlike my friends’ instantly makes them an outsider, something other, and puts up a barrier between the narrator and the person.  A description of a group as ‘infesting’ somewhere makes them a plague or like vermin.  When your narrator says someone is ‘worn at the edges’ it tells you that the person they are describing is a little scruffy and tired looking, and your narrator is making a judgment on that basis.

There are countless examples in every book so it’s worth reading with the word choice in mind.  Change a few words in your head, and see the impact.

Word choice can fundamentally change the perception of the reader and it is incredibly important to get it right. If you want a character to be likeable, don’t make them use mean or unpleasant language.  If you want someone to be mysterious, don’t make them verbose.

The same principle applies to all elements of writing: scenes, descriptions, expositions all need to be approached with a clear view of how to convey your message, your story, through the words you choose.

That is the best way possible to share the world you imagine with your reader.

Happy writing,





Read Full Post »

This week I am sharing a poem that is very special to me – W.H. Auden’s ‘Carry Her Over The Water‘; partly because it’s Valentine’s Day and partly because it’s a poetic example of what I have been learning recently about style, setting and language.

I hope you enjoy it, and for those people who know why it is special, I hope it brings back some happy memories!

Carry Her Over the Water, by W.H. Auden

Carry her over the water,
And set her down under the tree,
Where the culvers white all days and all night,
And the winds from every quarter,
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

Put a gold ring on her finger,
And press her close to your heart,
While the fish in the lake snapshots take,
And the frog, that sanguine singer,
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

The streets shall flock to your marriage,
The houses turn round to look,
The tables and chairs say suitable prayers,
And the horses drawing your carriage
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

(I originally found this in a book of love poetry but it can also be found at allpoetry.com)

Happy Valentine’s Day reading,



Read Full Post »

I finally finished my reading on setting at the poetry stage, and this week’s book is Penguin’s Poems for Life, selected by Laura Barber.

What I wanted to pick up was how feeling and setting interact but what I got was a little wider than that.

What I took was that description is an art.  In much the same way I am studying the importance of the right word, the power of poetry is linked to picking the right language.

For example, Seamus Heaney’s The Railway Children describes ‘shiny pouches of raindrops’ a phrase that describes their appearance, reminds the reader of the industrial nature of trains, gives a sense of something hidden within them (in this case, words) and makes them tiny gifts.  All these ideas are part of the setting of the poem: on the railway cutting.

Another example which caught my eye was Walt Whitman’s poem A Noiseless Patient Spider.  The sense that the web of a small spider could be a metaphor for life, a soul, creation was rather beautiful and unexpected.

This is a good reminder really – you can be both literal and figurative in poetry but sometimes you also need to be bold: follow a thought through its twists and turns and see if the journey is worth recording!

I had a fair number of poems I could share, different examples of poetry I love, but poetry is a particularly personal medium and my passion won’t necessarily match yours.

The best and most important point though is that truly effective writing, in whatever form, is a connection between the writer and the reader. The more you are able to bring them into your world, the more trust they will place in you and the more likely they are to lose themselves in your work.

I forget to think about poetry when concentrating on prose writing but that is very short-sighted because it means I miss opportunities to improve my work.

As a result of this reading exercise I have decided to make sure I read  at least one poem a week, analytically, to understand it and see what lessons I can learn for my own work.

Happy reading,



Read Full Post »

I have found my writing mind wandering rather a lot over the last few days, seeking out the perfect words to start a story.

It comes, of course, from studying the importance of language and the need to find the right word.

I don’t have a story, as such: what I want is an opening line.  A selection of sounds that creates a rhythm, a selection of ideas which form a substance.  A selection that say exactly what I want them to say.

But I am torn, because I know this urge to just write has to be contained in some way: I jump into writing with no plan too often and struggle to build a back story to support my beginning.

So I am going to try a new writing exercise, an experiment in control.  I am going to work at writing a great sentence, honing it and moulding it until it is exactly what I want – and then I will put it aside and start on another one.  And then another, and another and so on. But I will not use them; instead they will sit, ready and waiting, for my planning and shaping to be done.

It feels odd and slightly ridiculous to want to find a perfect sentence and risk never using it, but that isn’t the point of the exercise.

No, the point is that all sentences deserve that level of attention – and still they might never make it into a story.  Meanwhile I will get into the habit of working harder at seeking out the exact word I need, and checking for the sound of my work, in all aspects of my writing.

I am really excited to see what I can produce!

Happy writing,





Read Full Post »

I am keeping this post short as I have a lot going on tonight, and will write more on this subject another time.

This week I started a writing course about style.  A big focus of the teaching is on the effective use of language, and how we use words to convey particular and specific meanings.

I have always believed that good writing is accessible writing.  You can be the cleverest person in the world, with the widest vocabulary and the greatest ideas, but if no-one understands your meaning, you aren’t a good writer.

In fact I find part of the joy of reading those moments when you come across a word that is new to you but you know what it means because of the way it has been used. I accept I may be in the minority on that one!

I sometimes struggle to find the perfect word, that elusive set of letters that will be the crowning glory of my work. I might substitute with an approximation, which is the best way to keep writing, but I know it’s not exactly what I want to say.

And that’s the other lesson I have taken from the course: it is my job, as the writer, to find the right word.  Readers can only respond to what they are given and however good their imagination is, it is being sparked by the words on the page. If we want to take our readers on a journey into our worlds, we need to give them the right directions.

Happy writing,




Read Full Post »

I’ve been all about the poetry again this week, whilst trying to rest up following exposure to some rather unpleasant germs – not what I want when I’m still recovering.

I find it particularly frustrating as a writer, because sluggish body = sluggish mind: I am constantly struggling to find the right word for the scene or emotion I want to convey.  I have some extremely erudite friends and I often feel the need to expand my capabilities, but even for me I’m being pretty basic at the moment.

It’s very problematic when my vocabulary lets me down.   I spend ages not just trying to think of the right word for a particular feeling, but any word that is approximately correct which I can use to hold the space…

So I am going to try to minimise the impact, and get back to reading the word for the day I get tweeted each morning – I have neglected Twitter on the basis it’s really not essential right now, but as a tool it has its uses.   And I’m going to use it!

Hopefully the next couple of week will see me get back some of my writing confidence – or if not confidence, at least ability.

In other news – this week coming is a big project week for me at work, and I will be hard pushed to get any posts written on Tuesday or Thursday; I’ve done very little reading over the last few days anyway so I don’t think you’ll be missing much, but if I get a chance I might just post a positive quote or a happy song.  It’ll be something else to think about when I need a break from project talk!

This is a short and sweet post, but that’s ok, I think.  The important thing for me is being here, and getting back into the groove.

Happy writing,



Read Full Post »

I forgot completely that I would be away this weekend and for part of next week – time has flown this year and I have not kept up with it! Therefore this post is pre-recorded, so to speak, as is Tuesday’s. Still, at least I remembered before I left…

Yesterday was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Enjoy his work or not, it has had a profound and lasting impact on English language and on storytelling. His work is still studied in schools, colleges and universities; his plays are constantly in production on the stage and have been filmed for both cinema and TV release; his phrases are still in everyday use.

I was fortunate enough to get tickets to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform yesterday – I will tell you about that on my return.

I have an interest Shakespeare, even though King Lear remains on my ‘do not revisit’ list.  Not quite a soft spot, but maybe it’s forming!

I did not appreciate him in my youth, to be truthful.  However, as I get older, and se performances of his work by countless skilled performers, with staging that has varied from the beautiful colour and magic of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet film to the sparseness of the Donmar Warehouse’s Coriolanus, I understand the longevity.  There are so many ways to interpret and portray the themes in the plays that every time you can see something new.

He was a poet, too; I had one of his more well-known sonnets – sonnet 116 – read at my wedding, something I would never have anticipated in my schooldays!  There is a truth in the words that I struggled to find in other works: it talks not only of the joy and wonderment of love but of the constancy of it in the face of life’s battles.

In my experience, Shakespeare is more powerful on stage than on screen, but the expansive nature of a film probably encourages a wider audience.  See for yourself…

If you get a chance to see his works, do – the worst case is that you don’t enjoy it all that much, but who knows – like me, you could find a new source of inspiration and entertainment!

Happy writing/play-watching,



Read Full Post »

I got through two this week – I couldn’t settle for a couple of nights, so the challenge has benefitted – I only have another three books to go to reach my target, with about 8 weeks to the end of the year.

So, on we go…

Book 48 – The Man Upstairs and Other Stories, by P.G. Wodehouse. This was a collection of short stories, which was a fun change of pace.  There were repeated visits to the same environments, but the characters were different in each story – I half expected some to crash into others as they cavorted around casinos or popped into galleries.  The tales are all various levels of funny – some raised a gentle smile, some a laugh – and as a whole the book left me feeling quite cheery up to the very last tale which was a bit more nuanced.

The downside of the book is that there is no follow-through: some stories could have been whole books in their own right with the number of loose ends available, but that is the nature of a short story I think.  You have to imagine where the story would go, what the characters choose to do next, if endings are left open.

Because there are multiple stories I can’t give a brief synopsis, but I can say that as my first Wodehouse it was readable, engaging and enjoyable.  Not too shabby, hey?!

Book 49 – Haunted on Bourbon Street, by Deanna Chase, was an entirely different prospect.  My last free download by a modern author for this year, I expect, this one is the first of a series about an empath who exists in a modern world where her abilities leave her very vulnerable, and unwilling to tell people what she can do.

I have to admit I chose this one because the front cover reminded me of Bewitched but as the main character does not self-identify as a witch it was a bit random!  As usual, I will try not to spoil the book, but I will say that the storyline was as much about abilities and sex as it was about forging new relationships and learning to trust people.  The sex scenes were over-used I feel, but again not too cringe-inducing!

I found this a little choppy  in some places, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the setting is New Orleans, but for the vast majority of the tale the events could take place anywhere, and I think that was a wasted opportunity.  Secondly, one key plot point was so obvious it may as well have been written straight away because it just made the main character look naive.  Finally, the main character was frustrating.  She seemed to be collapsing and needing a rescuer every night, totally reliant on the men around her.  Plus her aunt, who was allegedly her whole family, and closer than her own skin, was constantly being forgotten, glossed over and generally ignored.

But it was a nice escapist piece of fiction, generally well-paced, with some fun characters.  The development of friendships through the book is engaging and gratifying, and the idea that you have to always look beneath the surface of people a strong message from start to finish.  There was genuine menace in the scary segments, and it made some of the fears very believable.  Finally, it was fun to explore the world through a form of ‘magic’ that is rarely used, giving the autheor a chance to develop the magical realism in a less overcrowded area.

That’s me done for now – I will catch up after my honeymoon!

Until then – happy reading,



Read Full Post »

This week I haven’t got a whole lot further with the table poems – I have resigned myself to a last-minute rush.

I have, however, been investing time and money in poetry anthologies to give me some inspiration. This has been helpful, and frustrating, in equal measure.

I am very particular about the language of poetry shared in a formal setting – there are some terms and ideas I simply don’t want to parade in front of my extended family and friends. You can call it prudishness, or self-consciousness, if you like; I firmly believe that public, family occasions should be treated as such, and the language used should reflect the audience.

This is a very roundabout way of saying that lots of the love poetry I have read is very sexual, and that is not a road I am planning to travel in my writing for our big day. There are some beautiful poems, with beautiful sentiments, which are rendered unusable because of an explicit reference here, or an unambiguous metaphor there.

Of course I could cut lines out, call it an excerpt – but poems don’t generally improve with having parts of themselves ripped out. So the search continues for poems I love unreservedly or that fill me with the inspiration I seek to finish what I’ve started.

One way or another, poetry will be part of our day.

In other news – I am falling behind a little in checking the 100 novels list so I’ll simply say that I haven’t read book 54 – The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett or book 55 – As I lay dying by William Faulkner and I’m not particularly likely to any time soon.  Maybe when I’m pulling together my reading list for next year I’ll revisit these, specifically As I Lay Dying as the sense of a lost way of life seeping from the pages can be very affecting.

And finally – I wanted to share this article detailing the inspiration behind the 6 shortlisted stories for the Man Booker prize.  As a writer, knowing where and how inspiration grows is important – as is understanding what struggles other writers go through to bring those ideas and concepts to life.  We are all hunting for the right word, the right phrase, the strength of a sentence to put forth the image we want to share.  Whenever you feel disheartened, that’s a great thing to remember.

Until next time – happy writing,



Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: