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.

https://monkeylearn.com/blog/wordle/

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.

The Great Faulkner Sentence Challenge

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By Claudette Young

 

In today’s world of instant communication and books that roll across a phone’s screen, the art of using words, phrases and clauses seems to have fallen by the wayside. Readers want something they can zip through in less than a few hours, with sentences rarely over fifteen words in length. We’ve lost the ability to think and write in complex, nuance-heavy sentences, like those of William Faulkner and others of his era.

In case you didn’t know or haven’t read him, a perfect description of his technique expressed it this way.  ‘ … The Faulknerian sentence is an irresistible labyrinth.” His lengthiest sentence ran for 1,288 words in Absalom, Absalom. This was later surpassed by Jonathan Coe in 2001 with a sentence that took 33 pages to print.

Faulkner wasn’t alone. The greats of yesteryear all wrote involuted, complex sentences meant to mesmerize the reader, pulling them into the story and refusing to let them go.

Now’s your chance to test your skills against the greats. For the month of March, The Great Faulkner Sentence Challenge will accept entries by any writer brave enough to tackle the challenge of writing the perfect (or not) lengthy sentence.

NOTE: While I, as organizer, will throw in my own sentences on occasion, I am not competing. I’m just playing along for fun. 

We will have a judge (as yet to be announced).

Rules:

  1. Any sentence, any subject: must be minimum of fifty (50) words
  2. All sentences must be grammatically correct and not simply run-ons
  3. No maximum word count to sentences
  4. Have fun and play with your words. The sentences can be as fanciful as the writer wishes, or as outrageous, etc. so long as they are coherent and grammatically correct.

Be prepared to up your game, but the most important aspect of this challenge is to express your thoughts, use plenty of phrases and clauses, and challenge others to do their best.

There will be small prizes for top placers. Grand Prize: Writer’s journal Book: First Prize: Book on Grammar; Second and Third Prizes: Decorative Bookmarks

The Challenge will run until April 1st, and prizes will be announced by Tax Day in April and sent out immediately thereafter.

To play, send your entries beginning March 1st to the Facebook page Great Faulkner Sentence Challenge. All writers are welcome and encouraged to participate. Win or lose, everyone will get the chance to stretch their use of words and their understanding of language.

Here’s hoping many will enter, for both the experience of playing with long sentences and to see how others approach the challenge.

Good luck to all who play.

 

Ghostly Writing—Why Do It?

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By Claudette Young

For many years I was a ghost. Yes, I was. I slipped in and out of the writing scene, leaving behind few traces of myself. And now, when others learn of this potentially lurid/sordid past, questions get fired my way.

It’s time to reveal how some ghosts begin and end writing careers by describing my own sortie into this profession.

A profession it is. Some ghost writers never write under their own name. They prefer anonymity. Hiding in the darkness, the mouse can be a lion—or a dragon. Fear of personal exposure keeps them tethered to contracts requiring them to never reveal what they’ve written or for whom.

Mine isn’t that tale, however. I wrote under my own name for many years. Academic, corporate project/press work, journalistic work, advertising, children’s literature, articles for writers, etc. I never kept to one form or interest. Then, one day, another writer came to me and asked a favor.

The writer needed help. She was overloaded with writing obligations and not enough time to fulfill them. She asked if I could write a coursework handbook for her if she gave me her notes. There was a time crunch involved, but she’d pay me for the haste.

Since she was one of my favorite people, I agreed. I didn’t have anything in contractual works right then and had the time. That handbook became my first ghost job. I still look back on it fondly. Other than the money, the best payment was when she told me she couldn’t tell my writing from her own. Still makes me smile.

It wasn’t long until the next job appeared—another writer. A mutual acquaintance of mine and the one I’d just worked for. Satisfaction comes in many guises and so do jobs. Writing in a new style, new syntax, was both a challenge and a pleasure. And there was the pitfall for me.

I’d worked as an ARC reviewer for a couple of specialized publishers for about a year when I was approached by one of them to take on another kind of project. I accepted that commission and went on to do others for them over the next  year or two before moving on to other types of writing.

I’d learned something critical about myself by that time. When I tried to go back to my own style, I couldn’t. It was no  longer there. It had been buried or obliterated by the overlays of so many other people’s styles through the years.

It’s cool to have my writing style compared to Andre Norton or Douglas Adams. Or even to have my poetry sound like Whitman. Unfortunately, the compliment falls far short after a while. I still don’t sound like me. I’ve lost a part of myself in other people’s voices.

When I recognized what had happened, I ceased all contracted ghosting. It was time to be myself and come out into the light again.

It’s taken me several years, much angst, many trials and false starts to get back a semblance of my true writing style. I still find myself slipping back into Douglas Adams occasionally. (His Universe is pervasive sometimes.)

As for perks of ghosting, there are some. But hassles arise too. Perks mean decent checks in the mail for work done. It means the possibility of never going without work, especially if you can hook up with a decent publisher.

The cons, though, can be many. Fighting deadlines, last-minute turn-around edits that should take days but are needed in hours, cranky editors, and lost sleep over insignificant details. All this and more comes with the territory. And never forget, your name does not appear as a by-line or on a cover.

Like I said, it’s taken years to come back to myself. I still do small projects, work on large ones, like novels and screenplays. I still publish, though I don’t market myself. I just don’t feel the need.

But, rebuilding the boldness and self-assuredness that were my hallmarks at the very beginning of my writing experience is more difficult than finding my true voice. That takes more work than anything else. 

I never wrote for fame or fortune. I wrote for me and any pleasure others gained from my words. I forgot how to do that along the way. Now, I must rediscover that path.

It’s my hope that any who choose to allow their words to paint pictures for others to explore can find and adhere to the writing path that best suits their needs. And, of course, enjoy each moment of their journey.

Meet Ed Cal—The Writer’s Best Friend

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By Claudette Young

Who’s Ed? Why, your Editorial Calendar, that’s who.

Okay, so you write. Remember those “w’s” followed by the “h”? You know, Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.

The answers to all of those questions resides on the pages of the writer’s editorial calendar. And if you’ve never used one or established a habit of formulating one at the end of the year for the next twelve months, stay put and I’ll explain why you might want to tackle this necessary writerly habit.

Who needs an editorial calendar?

  • Any writer who wants to keep a ready market to hand for their work
  • Any writer who freelances in any category
  • Any writer who works both as creator and editor
  • Any writer who works in multiple genres
  • Any writer

Why is a calendar necessary?

  • It allows a writer to anticipate possible markets months in advance
  • It allows a writer to track their progress on a daily, weekly, monthly basis
  • It provides guidance when the writer gets stuck on one project and needs to shift gears
  • It motivates the creative mind to keep creating
  • It stimulates the submission process by allowing for multiple markets for each project

How difficult is it to develop and maintain such a calendar?

  • Difficulty depends on the format used by the writer
  • Electronic (cloud-driven) editorial calendar systems are available for free online
  • MS Excel can be used for spreadsheet format planning and tracking
  • The writer decides on what is included (how detailed) on the calendar used
  • Some believe the more detail included on the calendar allows for less overall maintenance time needed by the user

What information goes onto the calendar?

Again, this depends entirely on the whim of the writer. For me, I’ve been excessively detailed and barely detailed. But then I use two different calendars. It’s every writer’s option as to how many calendars they need.

Let me explain. I write long and short. Short projects such as poetry, flash fiction, short stories, essays, etc. go on a specifically detailed calendar. Why?

I began my first calendars in cheap hardcopy ledger tablets. They had plenty of rows and columns for tilling with potential moneymakers. Now, I use Excel most of the time for my calendars. I have lots of boxes to play with for each project. That means whether I’ve begun a project or am just thinking about one. Here’s how it goes.

  1. Line one: Project name>Max length>Deadline due>Freelance/Assigned>Publication>DOS/Date of Submission>EDOR/Estimated Date of Response>Accepted/Rejected
  2. Line Two: Second Publication Choice>LDOSD/Latest Date of Submission Deadline>Rewrite from Different Angle Y/N>DOS>EDOR>Accepted/Rejected
  3. Line Three: Repeat of Line Two

As I said, this calendar style is for my freelance, short project side of things. I do hours of market research before beginning a calendar for the next year. I include contests, competitions of all sorts, anthologies, articles and as many diverse markets as possible. If I choose not to use some of them, no harm no foul.

My calendar is categorized by type of project, genre, audience, publication as indie or mass market.

For long projects, such as screenplays or novels, etc. I use a similar calendar style but without the same type of excess detail. For instance, if I want to begin a rapid-release series of novelettes/novellas on Kindle with a month/two-month release cycle, my calendar would look totally different and stand indecently of all others.

Why all emphasis on calendars?

The answer is simple. It’s how publication/publishers set up their coming year. Every publication, from major newsletters to international magazines, glossies or recycled paper, establish editorial calendars months in advance of a new year.

Themes for issues, special event issues, etc. are decided upon and carved in stone for the next twelve months. Guidelines are rewritten if necessary, whether agented-only submissions are allowed, and everything in-between is placed on the calendar used by that publication’s editors. It’s their publishing bible for those coming months.

If you freelance or simply work long projects, it’s always to your advantage to know what an editor is looking for as far in advance as possible. It allows you to plan, lets ideas percolate and put you in the driver’s seat.

So, how does a writer learn an editor’s expectations?

Simple, ask them. Go to the publications website or contact them directly. Introduce yourself and ask them if it’s possible to get a copy of their editorial calendar. Usually, the website has one ready for downloading or copying. Remember themes are established really early. You might as well get used to thinking ahead and plan accordingly.

If you have questions, ask them. You don’t have to go to the top for the answers. Find the name of an associate editor. They have much the same information. And they don’t always get lots of credit. It makes them feel good to have writers come to them as the expert. It could easily help later down the line, too, when you submit a piece for review. You have already established a minor relationship with one of the editors.

Takeaways

If you prepare even the most basic of editorial calendars, you’ll stay on track better, complete projects more often, and submit more often than without one. Think of it as your daily planner. Whether you freelance with small personal essays or big articles, poems or photos, Ed Cal can be the friend who smiles and says “Go for It” every week.

Editormial Calendars Available Online