What’s a Wordle?

by Claudette Young

The humble Wordle has made the rounds for years. Poets use them to generate unexpected prompts to release twists of thought and word linkage. But, what about the novelist or short story writer? Or the screenwriter?

Can using just a simple device inspire new plots, twists, characters, etc. that would otherwise have remained deep within the shadows of the writer’s mind?

As a poet, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of a good wordle as much as the next writer. The prose process uses different mental muscles. The process is more convoluted, or so we think. Yet, if the writer takes a cue from the poet, unanticipated storylines can emerge from the shadows.

Definition–Wordle: Seven to ten unrelated words presented for use in writing. All words require use in the resulting project.

Example: heights, develop, blanket, clouds, normal, painting, stacks, energy, love

For the poet, these random words easily tell a story, for each word creates an image in the mind immediately. For the prose writer, the path to storyline needs more thought and vision. The generality of each word doesn’t lend itself to coupling with the others so quickly.

Here’s a fast sample of poetry to fit.

Hanging Ten

Breath whooshes from my lungs,

Again, a deep intake to capture

Energy carried within clouds,

Forming a blanket, rising almost

to the heights of expectation.

A normal person would stand here,

Cliffside ready, contemplating love,

Joy, happiness to fill the whole of me,

Instead of stacks of regrets prone

To develop into depths of depression.

Not a poem worthy of laureate status, perhaps, but good enough for purposes here. All the words were used, an image built, and a mood set. The wordle performed its function.

Yet, what of the fiction writer? How does she perform with wordle inspiration? Let’s see.

A Pleasure to Serve You

“As you can see by this chart,” Rafe said in his most idle tone, “we took time to develop a blanket solution to your overall package. After all, why leave bits of function outside the stacks?”

Rafe’s self-satisfied glance raked the perimeter of the conference table. He caught each pair of eyes before releasing the listener and moving on. Practice made perfect.

Before any could question or object, Rafe continued. “The energy saved in the one section,” his laser pointer indicated a green square box surrounded by red circles, “could save your group a minimum a one month’s expenses the first year of conversion.”

Appreciative grunts escaped the viewers before any could contain their surprise.

“Your normal operation costs, over the next five fiscal years could plummet by a third, while your profit margin could rise to heights you’ve never seen.”

He watched his new clients’ eyes widen. “Of course, those projections are for the entire package of upgrades to your whole system.” He shrugged and chuckled. ‘I know it seems I’m painting a very rosy picture here, but I love taking something mediocre and transforming it into something extraordinary.”

A big man at the end of the table, the CFO of this group, cleared his throat.

Rafe sent a gracious nod the man’s way.

“You do seem inordinately pleased with this solution of yours.” The man’s eyes narrowed as he studied the chart and the man standing in front of it. “You’ve tightened things up. I can see that, but where is the real savings and heightened profits you expect?”

“I’m glad you asked,” Rafe smiled. “Because this blanket approach requires specialized data storage, we inserted pockets of clouds to take all archival data and hold it aside from the active daily databases. That frees up necessary working space.”

He explained how this storage solution could interact as needed with all other databases while freeing up research time and cross-checking capability. By doing this, he assured them, time savings alone on the part of two departments could shorten man-hours on larger projects and effectively pass the savings on to sub-contractors.

“We noticed that one of your biggest outlays was in time-slippage on projects deadlines,” he concluded.

Frowns of concentration slid from many of the clients’ faces. The CFO nodded. “Overages and delays have plagued us for three years.”

Rafe knew when to let a client talk himself into falling in with a presented plan. “If you’d like, I’ll have some coffee brought in and you can talk amongst yourselves. Take all the time you need.” He smiled again and left the room.

Now, this little storyline has used all the words, set the scene, begun the plot, shown the traits of the principal character and set the reader on a path to her/his own conclusions. That’s pretty good for nine little words and a bit of maneuvering.

Did I plan that story? Nope. I had no idea where it was headed when I began. I had no plot in mind. I started with the title and the only thought in my mind was “someone’s going to get taken for a ride.”

This could just as easily work as the beginning of creative non—fiction piece about a business swindle on Wall Street.  Or in the government. Any large institutional structure would’ve worked as the one taking a ride to destruction.

And there you have it. Inspiration in a few words, allowed to foment for a couple of minutes in the mind. Place inspired creative thought onto paper or screen, and you have something new to work with, or you’ve jumped the hurdle labeled “Stuck” or “Blocked”.

To try your own hand at these little gems, go to the following link and grab a free Wordle Generator app.


Shining Light on Your Story

by Marie Martin

A couple of years ago Claudette Young gave a talk to Montana Women Writers about putting light on your writing. “Let your words shine,” she said. I try to remember that with each story I write. The following is the beginning of a new one placed in Montana on a farm in a valley.

Tuesday May 20, 1952

Out across the pasture, a line of western spruce and black cottonwood followed the banks of Trumbull Creek like putting an edge to her land. Stop here, go no farther. Stay on your side and don’t venture onto the grouchy neighbor’s place. Brenda Kay Farley never understood his unfriendliness, but wasn’t overly concerned about it. Folks she liked could come for a spur of the moment visit. Unexpected stopovers by a bad-tempered old man left her frazzled.

Someone walked around the thick trunk of a Ponderosa pine, bushed past ground willows and marched into her field of potatoes. He’d better not flatten any of the young shoots with his big old boots. By now she could tell from the set of the hunched shoulders and arthritic limp, the cranky neighbor headed her way to bitch about something. Wouldn’t do the old geezer any good. Her kids stayed away from his place because she threatened them with dire punishment if she had one more complaint about them playing on his land, chasing his pigs or trying to ride one of his calves.

Before Mr. Ladenburg got as far as the gate on the pasture, two of the farm dogs ran forward barking as if Lucifer himself was crossing their ground. Brenda frowned. Charlie usually led the pack of three black and brown dogs, who guarded the place better than humans could, but he hadn’t come charging with his growl that made most people stop and stand still. 

Just before Mr. Ladenburg reached the first step, Brenda brushed her overlong bangs out of her eyes and stepped out on the front porch, prepared to defend whichever child he came to complaint about.

His strong jaw held a week’s worth of spiky white whiskers, and his watery eyes held a tired look, like he had overslept. “Mrs. Farley, the body of a boy was just pulled from the creek. He was stuck in the culvert on Hodgson Road. His dog was dead too. The boy was still holding onto the leash.”

Brenda just stared at him. Couldn’t have said a word if she wanted to.

“I just thought you should know.” He turned to leave, then turned back. “They’re still cleaning out the culvert. It’s plum full of branches, but they figure something else is plugging it. Creek’s spilling all over its banks and spreading across your pasture.”

Brenda shook her head. “I’m sorry to hear about the boy. Sorry about his dog, too.” Her eyes filled with sudden tears and she blinked them away.

He turned from her emotion. After a few long strides, he turned back. “Something agitating those two dogs.”

You are, she wanted to yell, but held the words inside.

He nodded once as if answering her unspoken thought and walked away.

She shaded her eyes with her right palm, watching him until he disappeared into the foliage along the creek separating their properties. She reached down and rubbed the black ruff behind the brown ears of the dog pushing against her thigh. “What do want, Nancy?”

The farm dog pushed her weight against Brenda again. “What? Where’s Charlie?”

Katty Lou

To Read or Not to Read? That Is the Question

By: Deborah Epperson

Is reading books, especially fiction books, a waste of time? This question seems to be popping up repeatedly lately. As writers and poets of fiction and nonfiction, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say we are all yelling a resounding, “NO!”

     Many of those arguing for abandoning book reading explain that with social media for  communications, and television, movies, and video games for excitement and entertainment, the hours spent reading a book are hours wasted in a sedentary, anti-social, time consuming activity. “Get a life,” one non-reader wrote, “Stop wasting time reading someone else’s figment of imagination.” Another commentor compared reading a book to living in the Stone Age. And many said instead of wasting a day reading a book, they’d wait for the movie to come out.

      Television, movies, and any visual media can entertain us and often move our emotions. But in viewing these media, I find much of the work is done for me. In a book, the author paints a picture of a place or character with words, but then readers must put those word-pieces together and come up with their own vision and their own understanding of who a character is and what he/she represents in the story. Our discernments about each character are unique to us because they come from a merger of our personal beliefs, experiences, fears, and dreams that create our personal truths.

      To demonstrate the difference between written words and visual media, let’s pretend two people each give you a 1000-piece puzzle. One puzzle is completely finished for you, but the other puzzle is still in 1000 pieces and you have to look at each piece, think about it, and try to figure out where and how it fits together to create the completed picture. Which puzzle is going to require more of your time, your creative thinking, and your emotions? Which puzzle are you going to be more invested in? Which puzzle will bring you the most satisfaction and be the most remembered?                                                                

     After years of tragedy and triumphs, Becky, the main character in my novel, Breaking TWIG, concludes that, “We all filter the realities of life through our own personal fears, individual experiences, and the human need to cling to hope despite the circumstances, regardless of the odds. And in doing so, we each determine our own truth.”

Inside the pages of a book is where I find the people, places, words, and ideas that inspire and challenge me to continually seek and reevaluate my own truth. Where does your inspiration come from?

Thanks for stopping by,


What If?

By Claudette Young

Okay, let’s face it. Every story, novel, poem, article begins its birthing process with those two words—what if.

What’s so special about two little words? Well, just say them out loud and then ponder them for a moment. If, when you say them, you have nothing specific in mind, you might find yourself scratching around in the loam of your mind’s depths and answer yourself with a new idea for a piece of writing.

Or, you might stumble onto a question you meant to answer sometime in the past and hadn’t yet done so. Better still, you could trip over a branch of thought leading to an answer never anticipated.

For instance, you want to do an article—say, an investigative piece. Nothing deep or momentous, really. Just something speculative. What if John F. Kennedy had survived the assassination attempt in Dallas? Next question—how would this country have changed? Take one aspect only—the space race, for instance. You could get acres of speculative material because you used two simple words. A book, a movie, who knows what.

Every SF/F writer worth her/his authorship owes a ton of credit to those words. Neither genre would have ever been created without them. Alternative historical fiction is the same way. It wouldn’t exist.

But then, investigative reporting and journalism in general wouldn’t have expanded either. Poets wouldn’t imagine themselves out among the stars. Songwriters would have been left adrift in a sea of perpetual schmaltz in lieu of originality and depth.

This inspiration, however, activates more than a storyline or musical score. It stimulates the writer. What if you took that story idea that just would not work, regardless of your attempts to shove it into compliance and applied it instead to a different time zone. For instance, that story you placed in the present and it just won’t work. What if you turned it around? Made it about the man as the protagonist and the woman as the villain? Or, better yet, do that and place the story’s timeline into WWII and he’s a 4-F non-combatant? Maybe that would give you more grit, more meat and tons of possibilities.

Then again, did you ask yourself “What if …” at the beginning of your war with words. What if I’m no good at writing? What if no one likes what I write?

I doubt seriously if any writer began without asking those same questions. Did you follow them up with “But what if I’m good? What if I have a knack for this thing called writing?”

Questions beginning with “What if” can be negative or positive. They are always worth asking, though. Discovery cannot happen without them.

It’s up to you to determine the question’s answer.  Best-selling author Holly Lisle teaches this major lesson. When you’ve taken your main character to what you believe is her final straw, ask yourself, “what’s the worst possible outcome of this situation for the character?” Think on that answer and then ask, “What if she …” That’s when you run the character into the ground with survival at the end and a lesson learned that leads to the conclusion.

And yes, there is more to that particular lesson, but I’ve given you the kernel. It’s your turn to run with it.

Two words to solve problems, discover unknowns, or to speculate for clarity/investigation. Two words we use all the time, oft times in conjunction wish our personal choices. And yet, that’s all writing is—personal choices strung together to tell a tale, usually about someone/something else. On those rare occasions when a writer tells tales of her own life, the result is the same. The tale revolves around those personal choices made and leads to the person’s final persona.

All creation begins with a “what if?” No matter where you turn or the subject of focus, someone asked the question to begin the hunt for the answer.

I hope you try this, recognize and acknowledge the technique, if you haven’t already. And if you do use it on a regular basis or to get your writer-self out of sticky spots of plotting, share your success with others. Just think what might happen if you spread word of your experience with other writers.

May Book News

From the Bavarian Alps and the coast of Denmark, across the sea to the New World, and into the Mountain West, this book traces 200 years in the lives and struggles of a family learning to make their way in a hostile world.

MFErler @peaksandbeyond.com

My historical fiction book is finally being released, May 15, after 5 years of labor, researching my own ancestry and talking with elderly relatives to glean their stories before it was too late.

From the Cover:

In this historical fiction novel, thirteen-year-old Cinda Parker knows she and her younger brother Ian have a special connection. It’s not until a mysterious stranger named Lexi arrives from the future that they realize they are more than typical mid-twenty-first century children.

Lexi convinces the siblings to travel back 200 years into the minds and lives of their ancestors, in order to help their father, who is dealing with grief over his own father’s death and anger with his brother’s questionable choices. When their family line is disrupted, Cinda and Ian learn the true value of a single life.