Who’s got a great word? I do!

Every now and then I come across a word which stops me in my tracks because it is simply fabulous. Today that happened. The word is:

Honeyfuggle

It’s not from Harry Potter and it’s not a Muppet. In fact it’s a 19th century US word.

President Roosevelt was considered a “prize honey-fugler” by the Syracuse Herald in 1934 . So what does it mean?

Well, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English it means “to hoodwink or entice by flattery”.

I think this could be appropriately applied to many people in the 21st century, so it’s a shame it’s fallen out of fashion. Perhaps, together, we people of the internet might bring it back. I think you’re all good enough to do it. You’re attractive and you’ll get a lot out of it. You’ll feel like a million bucks, so who’s with me? Anyone?

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Are writers more critical readers?

This is a question I’ve often wondered and can really only comment from my own perspective.

As a writer I don’t think I am more critical of average writing, but I do think that perhaps I appreciate great writing more than non-writers might. I think I’m more likely to think “wow, I wish I could write like that” than say, a wig-maker might.

When talking to other writers, I get the feeling that in some circumstances writers may sometimes be even less critical. As someone who works with words all the time, and probably edits their own work, they don’t want to be reading someone else’s work with a mind to editing it. They just want to enjoy it.

Where I think my reading of a book may significantly differ from a non-writer reader is what my mind does with the ideas I read. When I’m reading a novel I will often think I know where it’s going. Sometimes it goes there and sometimes it surprises me. When it surprises me I consider using the concept of where I thought it was going as inspiration for my own writing. Especially if I think that my prediction was better than what eventuated in the novel!

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Rare Book Week and the Printed Word

Celebrating rare booksAs Melbourne celebrates Rare Book Week and the value of the printed word, I start to think about the demise of the traditional (paper) book and wonder what it all means.

Like the demise of the pen before it (replaced by typewriters and then computers) we won’t see a total replacement of the paper book. However, just as we see less and less handwriting in the digital age we are likely to see fewer and fewer books printed.

What does this mean? I don’t think anyone really knows where it’s all going – but if fewer books are produced, does that mean that contemporary printed books will become rarer and hence more valuable?

Like some of the classic publications celebrated in Rare Book Week, perhaps a few hundred or thousand printed books will become a standard print run, or even fewer if they are only printed on demand. This will inevitably lead to extra value being added to those editions at the point of production, and as time goes by.
As a historical document, the medium is just as important as the words themselves. Rarity adds value, but specks of dust between the pages of a centuries old book tell as much of a story as the narrative within. Imagine finding one of Jane Austen’s hairs inside a personal journal? Which is more valuable, the words or the hair – or do they work together to form something unique and immensely valuable?

There are millions of copies of Shakespeare’s works in the world. Many selling for 50 cents or less. So, the words have little monetary value. However, a book by Shakespeare published at the time of Shakespeare, or a rare edition from the 1800s is a very different story, despite the words being the same.

It’s an interesting thought. I don’t believe that digital books will ever hold the sentimental value of their printed ancestors. I’m not sure that an e-book digitally signed by the author will ever fetch a million dollars at auction.

Interesting times we live in, but perhaps not the end of the printed word. Perhaps we have ventured past the glut and maybe its value will grow again as it becomes rarer and saved for special occasions.

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Write convincing characters

People really only have one view of the world, and that is their own. Although as humans we have the rare gift of empathy, giving us an insight into the way others think, we can only truly know the world from our own unique perspective.

So, with this limitation, how can we as writers create believable, meaningful and interesting characters that are different to themselves?

There are a couple of exercises that I like to do to get me thinking about characteristics outside of my own. These can either be done in your head while you’re in the shower or written down.

Exercise 1: The opposite argument

Think of something you believe strongly. This might be climate change science, religion, the fact the sky is blue, communism’s inferiority, or that cats are better than dogs. Once you have done this grab a pen and paper (or keyboard) and:

  1. Begin to write a dialogue-based argument starting with your point of view. Call the characters ‘1’ and ‘2’.
  2. Continue the discussion/argument by arguing both points of view.
  3. Be convincing on both sides of the argument. Genuinely challenge your existing point of view and don’t use cliché arguments as they are too easy.
  4. Bring the argument to its conclusion. There may be a winner, or ‘1’ and ‘2’ may agree to disagree.
  5. Look at the dialogue you have written. Look at the way you have written the opposing argument. Do you have the basis of a new character?

Forcing yourself to consider opposing views can put you into the mindset of other people. This can be a powerful tool when writing characters.

Exercise 2: Write someone you know

Think of a person you know who has a distinctive character or style. It may be a fictitious character from a book or TV. Have a normal conversation with that person:

  1. Write out the dialogue for a regular conversation – about ‘lost keys’, a broken relationship or the new hardware store that’s opened up around the corner.
  2. Capture the voice of the known person or distinctive character in the dialogue. How would that character respond in this mundane conversation?
  3. Add a point of action – make something happen in the scene – someone breaks a glass or a horse jumps in through the window.
  4. How do the characters respond?
  5. Do you have the crux of a scene or character now?

By putting a character known to you into a situation they wouldn’t normally be in you may find yourself with a solid basis for a new character or scene.

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