descriptions

Are You Using A Lot A Lot?

Recently I was chastised “a lot” for using “a lot” in my writing. While the vague measurement is now over-used and abused, I was reprimanded to not use a lot a lot. I pass this writing wisdom and grammar greatness onto you.

“A lot” is a piece of property, typically land. It is also used to represent multiple items in a collection at an auction or any collection of items or people. Lot was also the nephew of Abraham whose wife turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back after being specifically instructed against such treachery, which has nothing to do with casting your lot, taking a chance or making a decision based upon the random generation of a number of objects such as pebbles, coins, straw, or dice.

Today’s dictionaries include the definition of “a large number or amount; a great deal; much,” but old English professors still claim that this is an atrocious use of the words, and demand alternatives, as well as removal of the various twisted forms of “a lot” such as alot, lotsa, and lotta, which send spell checkers into a lot of fits.

So what are a lot of alternatives to “a lot?”

Impertinent Remarks by Laura Hale Brockway offered 32 alternatives to help us a lot. They include:

a good deal
a great deal
a large number
ample
bunches
enormous amount
heaps
infinite
loads
many
masses
much
plenty
reams
scads
several
slew
surplus

She also offers example sentences:

“Our style guide does not appear to be used by many people.”
“I try not to ask for any help from the IT Department.”

Thesaurus.com offers these alternatives:

enough
full
abundant
adequate
considerable
copious
countless
endless
everywhere
extravagant
galore
generous
immeasurable
jam-packed
lavish
mega
oodles
profuse
satisfying
sizable
slathers
substantial
sufficient
voluminous

I decided to test out a few more sentences of my own and play around with the various synonyms.

  • He uses the phone a good deal.
  • He uses the phone a great deal.
  • He uses the phone a large number.
  • He uses the phone ample.
  • He uses the phone bunches.
  • He uses the phone an enormous amount.
  • He uses the phone heaps.
  • He uses the phone infinite.
  • He uses the phone loads.
  • He uses the phone many.
  • He uses the phone masses.
  • He uses the phone much.
  • He uses the phone plenty.
  • He uses the phone reams.
  • He uses the phone scads.
  • He uses the phone several.
  • He uses the phone a slew.
  • He uses the phone surplus.
  • He uses the phone enough.
  • He uses the phone full.
  • He uses the phone endless.
  • He uses the phone everywhere.
  • He uses the phone extravagant.
  • He uses the phone jam-packed.
  • He uses the phone lavish.
  • He uses the phone mega.
  • He uses the phone oodles.
  • He uses the phone slathers.
  • He uses the phone substantially.
  • He uses the phone voluminously.

Some worked in this sentence structure, some clearly didn’t. Some are actually very funny.

Let’s try again and incorporate the alternative for “a lot” in a preposition.

  • I avoid asking for a good deal of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for a great deal of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for a large number of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for ample of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for bunches of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for enormous amount of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for heaps of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for infinite of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for loads of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for reams of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for scads of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for several of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for slew of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for surplus of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for copious of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for countless of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for endless of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for everywhere of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for extravagant of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for galore of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for generous of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for immeasurable of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for jam-packed of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for lavish of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for mega of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for oodles of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for slathers of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for voluminously of help with my computer.

Clearly, these synonyms for “a lot” don’t slip right into place as replacements. They take a lot of fuss to make sense out of I avoid asking for jam-packed of help with my computer.. It’s a lot to ask to for every replacement to replace well.

However you search and replace your lots, you shouldn’t have a lot of excuses for using a lot a lot.

Prompt: Missed Connections

There is a series called “Missed Connections” that features description of personal encounters, where someone saw somebody and it made an impression on them. “I saw you standing in line at Starbucks with red hair and I thought you were so beautiful.” The idea is to figure out if you are or know the person described.

Did someone write about you, or say something about you, that doesn’t match your perception of yourself? Describe the experience.

NaNoWriMo Tips: The Thing in the Room

At a Willamette Writers Conference one year, Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, was a keynote. She spoke about how she will start writing a scene based upon elements found in the location she is writing about. While she might not use the item, this technique often helps her get her writing juices flowing through a series of questions and answers to describe the place, the moment, and the characters.

She spoke about how she collects auction house catalogs associated with the time period and cultural elements of her books. She will pull one out and flip through it, looking for things that could be in the room with her character. In her example, she chose an amber crystal vase.

In her mind, she put it in the room, but had to debate with herself where in the room it should go. On the window sill? On a shelf? On the desk? She chose the desk.

What color amber was it? Was it deep or light colored? Where was the light coming from that illuminated it, or was it in the shadows? She chose the light coming from the window shining on it.

If the light was coming from the window, then what time of day was it? Where was the light positioned? What color was the light? Was it strong or filtered? What was outside that would block the light, or be clear for the light to pass through?

Returning to the vase, she looked at it in her mind. Why would it be on the desk? Did it have historical significance? Personal significance? Who put it there? Was it the main character, the spouse, housekeeper, or possibly a decorator and it had no significance at all to the character? If it had significance, what is its story?

What is it made of? Is it truly crystal from stone or cut from glass? Who made it? Does it matter who made it to the character or the story?

Is it on a pedestal or plate or just sitting on the desk? What is the desk made of? Why? Was that a good material to choose? Where is there light on the desk? From outside or is there a lamp? What kind of lamp? Where is it? What fuels it? What does it look like…

Where is the character? Is he sitting at the desk? Standing next to it? Is he looking at the object? Why? What does he see when he looks at it? What does it remind him of? What is he thinking as he looks at it?

You get the picture, and that is what she does, she creates the picture from an object and keeps going, testing it out on the character, fleshing out the scene in and around the object. It isn’t about the object but the object helps to define the scene and the character, making the scene come alive through this brainstorming series of questions, each one building upon the other.

Think of a thing in the scene with your character and go through the same process. Keep asking questions, building the scene piece by piece, including light, sound, texture, pattern, smells, all the elements around the character, then paint that picture with your words.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

So the saying goes. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then you have no excuses for writing those thousand words during NaNoWriMo.

Before or during NaNoWriMo, look for pictures to represent your character, places, scenes, things, or events and add them to your research collection. When you run out of steam, turn to them for inspiration.

Look for what is in the picture to inspire you, but also look outside the frame. What is the person wearing? Why? What does that outfit do for them? Is it a uniform? Does it work with their recreational activity, or possibly work for their best-dressed work uniform in a corporate office?

Where are they? Do their clothes match the environment they are in? Why are they there?

If it is a place, go inside the picture to see what it beyond the bushes or trees, through the doors, around the edges in your mind so you see the whole picture.

Visual inspiration may come from a variety of forms. A picture in a magazine might trigger memories or concepts while having nothing directly to do with them. Add those to your collection to stimulate your imagination.

Also take advantage of Image Search on Google and other search engines. Type in a word or phrase and switch to the image view and scroll to find an image that catches your imagination. View the image alone and print it to add it to your collection if necessary.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Unleash Your Descriptive Inner Voice

As you work your way through NaNoWriMo and your novel, memoir, or whatever writing you choose during the November writing sprint, unleash your inner descriptive voice and make your sentences more interesting by adding more descriptors. Look for words or phrases that paint a picture.

The ball hit the window.

The black and white soccer ball Bob kicked with all his might hit the Peterson’s large front picture window with a dull thud.

Close your eyes and picture the scene. Pay attention to all your senses. Can you hear the sound Bob might make as he kicked the ball? Can you hear the thud of the window rebounding from the collision? Can you see Bob? Is he dripping with sweat or have glowing red cheeks from the exertion?

Let your imagination become a paint brush with strokes that put us in the middle of the action, feeling everything you do in the moment.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: My Favorite Things

Do you remember the song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music?

Raindrops on roses
And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles
And warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

Cream colored ponies
And crisp apple strudels
Door bells and sleigh bells
And schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Try this writing experiment:

  1. Number a piece of paper from 1 – 25.
  2. Set the timer for 6 minutes.
  3. Now, make a list of your favorite things – exclude spouse and children.

When done with the list, look at which of the five senses are predominant. Taste of food? Smell of weather?

Be aware of how you remember things, and incorporate those descriptions into your writing, remembering to expand your favorite things to include all the senses, too.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

Writer’s Toolbox: Geometric Shapes

It went “Zip” when it moved
And “Bop” when it stopped
And “Whirrr” when it stood still
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.

Chart of Geometric Shapes from Playbuzz.The Tom Paxton song made famous by Peter, Paul, and Mary, as well as John Denver, describes a thing that defines description, a child’s toy that was amusing all the same.

When it comes to describing the physical shape of an object, we can’t get away with just the sound effects. We need the words.

The basic geometric shapes are:

  • lines
  • curves
  • angles
  • triangles
  • square
  • rectangle
  • pentagon
  • pentagram
  • hexagon
  • octagon
  • polygon
  • circle
  • arc
  • ellipse

Then we add variations on the above. These are geometric shapes based upon lines and planes, but what about solid figures or 3-dimensional shapes?

  • cube
  • cylinder
  • rectangular prism
  • pyramid
  • tetrahedron
  • octahedron
  • polygon
  • sphere
  • cone

What shape is a carrot? Do you know? Is it a triangle? No, it’s an inverted cone. Is the sun a ball? Yes, it is a ball, more specifically, the sun is a sphere.

The words you use to describe a shape may be technical or playful, finding similes to represent their shapes, such as “he was as thin and lanky as a much-used toothbrush.”

Did you know that there are some personality tests that use geometric shapes to represent a person or personality?

From “Geometric Shapes: Simple and Unusual Personality Test,” if the triangle is your preferred shape:

This form symbolizes leadership. Main ability of triangles is to focus on goals and deeply and quickly analyze situations. A Triangle is a very confident person who wants to be right in everything. Triangles find it difficult to admit their mistakes, are easy to train, and absorb information like a sponge. Their career gives their life meaning.

Here are some charts and web pages to add to your writer’s toolbox to help you define the geometric shape of the objects, and possibly the characters, in your writing. We’ve also included some lists of words to describe the shape of objects.