how to write

Reverse Lookup for Words

…she stumbled and he caught her as she fell, sweeping her up in his – in his – what is that word? Darn it. You know the word. It means big, tough guy arms but not strong arms. Stereotype alert. What is that word? I had it a minute ago.

Happen to you?

It happens to everyone, especially writers. Sometimes I think our heads are so filled up with words, it’s like plunging your hand into an aquarium of tetras and hoping to catch just that one, you know, that one! The words slip right out of your brain.

The OneLook Reverse Dictionary and Thesaurus is here to help. It provides a free thesaurus and reverse dictionary look-up feature to help you overcome your brain farts, as we tend to call them.

I typed in the words “strong arms” and hit enter.

OneLook Reverse Dictionary - Stong Arms.

My choices were divided into All, Verbs, Adverbs, Nouns, and Adjectives, each with multiple pages of suggestions. “Strong arms” matched with the definition of “enforce,” which made me realize that the web page service concluded I meant “strong-armed” rather than the description of a pair of strong arms. Still, there were words I could use. In Adjectives I found muscular, heavy-armed, solid, colossal, substantial, gigantic, healthy, great, heavy, heft, savage, and smothered. My favorite was bionic but it didn’t work in this instance. There were many other words that weren’t appropriate, but they did trigger more descriptive ideas such as blockading, huddled, swarming, and pressed.

Clicking the “More Definitions” button opened a new web page with variations on the word “enforce,” which wasn’t going in the right direction, but did show the capabilities of the service to help you track down the right word. It listed links to definitions on over 30 different alternative sources, giving me the opportunity to really dig into the meaning of a word.

OneLook isn’t the only reverse word lookup service on the web. Experiment with The Reverse Dictionary and Reverse Word Search-Lookup by Wordsmyth.

And good luck with those word slippages.

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Tips for World Building in Fiction

I was surprised during our weekly Writers in the Grove free Monday workshop meeting that some of my fellow members didn’t know about the concept of world building in writing.

When you write fiction, you create a world, literally. It may represent the real world or a fantasy world. It consists of scenes, places where events occur in your story.

Your fictional world is made up of places, people, cultures, traditions, habits and routines, weather, geology, current events, and politics.

I’m working on a story that takes place in 1979. I begin my world building by researching historical events in 1979, then branch into newsworthy stories and topics, and even some trivia. If my story is concentrated solely in the United States, and specifically a location, say Seattle, then most of my research would focus on what happened in Seattle in and around 1979. Here are some of the results of my web search.

Sony Walkman - OriginalIn my research, I discover that the average income that year in the United States was $17,500, and the average monthly rent was $280, a far cry from today’s prices. A gallon of gas cost 86 cents, oil was $24 a barrel, and the Toyota Corolla was one of the most popular cars on the road and the $200 Sony Walkman was in demand by most teenagers and college students. Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” album won awards and played out of boomboxes everywhere, blasting “Y.M.C.A.” by The Village People off the charts. The daily news included updates on Voyager 1 as it made its closest pass by Jupiter, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Moral Majority religious movement by Jerry Falwell, 63 American hostages taken in Iran, and Saddam Hussein becoming president of Iraq. John McEnroe, Tracy Austin, Bjorn Borg, and Martinia Navratilova became household names as tennis champions. We watched MASH, The Jeffersons, The Dukes of Hazzard, One Day at a Time, and Three’s Company on television. The big screen played Alien, All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, Start Trek: The Motion Picture, Norma Rae, The China Syndrome, Being There, Life of Brian, Mad Max, and the Muppet Movie.

If you are writing about 1979, this is the world your characters lived in. They listened to that music, watched that news, those movies, and said funny things like quotes from movies and television such as “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins” (Brooke Shields ad for Calvin Klein), “Reach out and touch someone” (AT&T ad), “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” (Apocalypse Now), and “You need this for your rent, boy” (Richard Pryor).

Cultural stories might filter into conversations or even the thoughts of your characters such as when then-President Jimmy Carter explained how he almost tipped when an enraged swamp rabbit swam toward his fishing boat, or comment on the first time a milk carton featured a picture of a missing child. Or the fears that swept the globe as NASA’s Skylab fell to Earth, landing in Australia, made fun of afterwards by many when the Shire of Esperance in Western Australia fined NASA $400 for littering. Or maybe how Charles Manson sent a Monopoly “Get Out of Jail Free” card in a humorous attempt to be released by the parole board. Or maybe the dinner table discussion that night might be about the work of Mother Teresa after she won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Starbucks Coffee Store downtown SeattleThe world your characters live in influences their personalities, behaviors, even habits. A worker in 1979 living and/or working in downtown Seattle would have made sure they made a swing by Starbucks at 1912 Pike Place for a cup of their soon-to-be-famous coffee.

Now think about your characters and their relationship to this place and this time. Are all of your characters from here? Or maybe one or more of them are from different places, creating conflict when their worlds come together such as a white woman from Seattle falling in love with a black man from Mississippi in 1958, or the reverse. What about a new immigrant from Europe or Africa landing on the shores of the United States or Canada in the 1800s? Or maybe you have a person from Germany finding their way in Alabama in 1943 at the height of World War II? When we travel, we bring our worlds with us no matter where we go.

Your story may begin in any time and place. The world existed for your characters before the start of your story, and they might survive your story. Reveal the world they live in, as well as the world of history and experiences they carry with them through your story, to your readers as they shake hands and get to know your characters.

Here are a list of questions to help you define the world in which your characters live.

  • Why are your characters here?
  • How did your characters get here?
  • Why here now?
  • What makes this place special to the character(s)?
  • What makes this time necessary to the character(s)?
  • What’s important in this place and time?
  • What is it about this place that welcomes your characters?
  • What is about this place that challenges your characters?
  • What is about this place that creates conflict in or between your characters?
  • How is this place different from other places, and how does it matter to your characters?
  • What’s the weather like? Now and seasonally?
  • What’s the landscape, geology, terrain?
  • Is it crowded with buildings, people, or things? Or wide open and spacious, distance between buildings, people, and things?
  • What does it sound like here?
  • What does it feel like here?
  • What does it smell like here?
  • Who comes here? Who stays away from here?
  • How many people live here?
  • What do they do?
  • How do they do it?
  • What are their rituals, habits, routines, traditions?
  • How do people live here?
  • Where do people live here?
  • What do they eat and drink? How is it grown? Where do they get their food?
  • Are there races, ethnic groups, or other signs of diversity?
  • Is there a class system? Social, justice, gender, ethnic, cultural, or economic? How do they interact and react to the world around them?
  • Who are the leaders?
  • What’s hot in the news and gossip columns here? What are people worried or talking about?
  • How do the people interact here? In the streets, cafes, plazas, town squares, virtually, meetings, social hours?
  • What are the laws? How do the laws impact the characters?
  • What happens when a law is broken?
  • Is this a stable society or one on the edge or dropped into chaos?
  • How was this place made? Immigration, governance, wars, etc.?
  • What’s the health of the place? Epidemics? Do the people have an active or inactive lifestyles?
  • How safe is the place?
  • What makes people feel safe or unsafe here? Why?
  • What are the philosophies that guide this society and community?
  • Is this community/society religious? How? Why?
  • How does this society’s infrastructure function? Are there roads? Who builds them? Garbage? Power? Housing?
  • What did it take to build this world?
  • If this world would come to an end, what would it take?

This is just a few of the questions to consider. Go through these, and the questions and suggestions offered in the resources below, then ask yourself: Could this scene happen anywhere else? How would it change? How would it change the characters? How would it change the story? See what happens.

Resources on World Building

One last bit of advice.

If you introduce something new to the world in which your characters live, ask yourself if this change their world. How does it? If it is magic or technology, does it impact only your characters or everyone in society? How? Why? Is it good, bad, or indifferent? How do they adapt to the change? is it good for everyone or just a few?

Remember, your characters live in the test tube of your imagination. Every twist or turn in the story may create a tsunami of change beyond the bubble that is your main characters. Let your readers see and feel the change.

Writing Tips: Raise or Rise Up!

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Gretchen Keefer.

Raise or rise up? While both of these verbs indicate upwards motion, the difference is in “what” is going up.

Rise, rose, risen: No objects go up. The subject of the sentence is the only thing moving towards the ceiling or sky. The action stays with the subject only.

Gary rose slowly from the recliner and left the room.

Heat rises.

The sun and moon rise daily.

Joe has risen through the ranks to make CFO at a young age.

Raise, raised, raised: Now, something is going up! “Raise” needs an object to lift or nurture, as in the case of children, crops, and animals. Ask the question “Raise what?” and fill in the blank.

  • Raise your hand.
  • Bettina raised her eyes toward the heavens and shouted in hallelujah!
  • Allison raises horses.
  • Mark’s construction crew raised the new building in record time. (Not to be confused with “raze,” which means taking the building down.)

Writing Tips: Will Everyone Please Sit/Set Down!

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Gretchen Keefer.

Which do you do?

Set, set, set: This verb is so busy placing objects in various locations, it has no time to alter its tenses.

“Set” wants something to do. There is always a “what” after “set” such as set the table, set your hair, set goals.

After setting her purse on the table, Joan read the mail.

Have you set a date with that cute guy yet?

Set down the knife and raise your hands.

Sit, sat, sat, not standing. Actually, not doing anything. There is no “what” after sit, just a rest from working. No motion, nothing is going anywhere or doing anything. There could be another verb in “-ing” form, and you may use adjectives to describe the length, location, or style of the sit, but no objects follow “sit.”

Gary did not sit long on Janice’s couch. He preferred sitting in the recliner. While sitting there, he fell asleep. Janice sat thinking about Gary. How often has he sat on her recliner sleeping? He never would set a wedding date. Obviously this relationship is going nowhere–

Writing Tips: Is There Dessert in the Desert?

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Gretchen Keefer.

Dessert is luscious, and often “sickeningly sweet” — hence the two “ss” in dessert.

The desert is too dry to support more than one “s.”

Shift the accent on desert – the place – and you have desert, the action.

The legionnaire de-SER-ted his post in the DES-ert.

Scrivener Basics Workshop Starts September 21, 2017

Writers in the Grove, a Forest Grove community creative writing group, presents a 4-week workshop for writers called “Scrivener Basics Workshop.” It runs for 4 week and begins on Thursday, September 21, 2017, from 6:30 – 9:00 PM at the Forest Grove Community and Senior Center in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Dream of writing your memoirs? A novel? That story that’s been nagging you for years?

Scrivener example from Autostraddle

Scrivener is a “complete writing studio” to help you from idea to final draft. It holds all your ideas, research, and writing in one place, keeping you focused and on track to publishing. It is the affordable writer’s tool that inspires and helps you write that book.

This 4-week workshop covers the basics of Scrivener including imports, organization and layout of your writing, keeping on task, research, and the basics you need to know.

Scrivener offers a free trial version. You will need to download and install the program prior to the first night of class. Prior publishing experience not required. Familiarity with computers is essential.

Normally these courses are well over $200. As a fundraiser for the Forest Grove Community and Senior Center, the instructor is making this 4-week course available for only $100 with the proceeds benefiting the center.

Lorelle VanFossen of Lorelle on WordPress has been using and teaching workshops and classes on Scrivener for over seven years. Her workshops are educational as well as entertaining. Lorelle has published several books prior to using Scrivener, and many since discovering the writing software program, and it changed her life and her writing. Lorelle has been teaching web publishing, social media, WordPress, and blogging for almost thirty years. Lorelle has also published many tutorials on Scrivener on this site for members and fans of Writers in the Grove and NaNoWriMo.

Bring a copy of a story or collection of stories you’ve written in a word processing program like Microsoft Word on your computer or a flash drive. We will be learning how to import into Scrivener.

You will need to bring your laptop, power cord, mouse (with extra batteries), and something to write on and take notes. You will log into the free WIFI at the Center so ensure you know how to do this before you arrive, or arrive early to get help getting online. It is highly recommended that you bring a water bottle, too. There is plenty of free parking at the center.

There is limited space for this special event so register now to guarantee a seat.

More information, contact the Forest Grove Community and Senior Center.

Register in person or by check or phone with the Forest Grove Community Center: 503-357-2021.

Image Credit: Autostraddle

Jessica Morrell to Speak at Writers Forum in Hillsboro

The fairly new Washington County Writers Forum in Hillsboro, Oregon, will be hosting a Writers Forum event on June 1, 2017, at Insomnia Coffee from 7-8pm. Insomnia Coffe is at 317 E. Main Street in downtown Hillsboro. Suggested admission is $5.

Jessica Morrell is a fabulous author, speaker, and instructor from the Portland area. She offers regular educational workshops for fiction and memoir writers around the area, and speaks at many conferences. She will be covering the writing process from “flash to finish” in this program titled “From Idea to Story.”

Writers in the Grove welcomes the Washington County Writers Forum to our writing community and look forward to some excellent workshops and programs.

Get Ready Now: NaNoWriMo is Six Months Away

NaNoWriMo is in November, barely six months away. For some, that’s a long time. For others, it comes too soon. Either way, it’s time to start thinking about how you will spend your November churning out 50,000 words, or an hour a day, of writing.

We’ve featured many articles and tips for NaNoWriMo on this site over the past few years, so your first task should be to dive into that great content to warm up your creative juices.

Do you have a topic to write about, a plot for a novel, your memoir, a technical how-to book? Maybe you want to finish that book you’ve barely started, or rewrite one that went no where the first time. It is never too early to start planning what you will be writing.

There are three times of writers in NaNoWriMo. There are the plotters, those who plot and outline everything out before the event begins. The pantsers write by the seat of their pants, trusting their muse to find the words daily. The plotsters or plantsers are the ones who did a little of both, plot out a rough outline, have a sense of where they are going, then let the muse take them where their fingers and imagination goes.

We also recommend you take time to get Scrivener, the writing studio software, to hold your outline, notes, research, and to write in and keep track of your writing during the month-long event. New to Scrivener? Check out our tips on using Scrivener, especially during NaNoWriMo, and watch this site for an announcement soon on a 4-week workshop on Scrivener Basics at the Forest Grove Community and Senior Center in Forest Grove, Oregon, in September, just in time for NaNoWriMo.

Here are some more tips to help you get ready for NaNoWriMo, and for writing any time.

  • Make an appointment with yourself – and keep it. Protect your writing time. Your muse works best when you show up at the same time every day, or train it to work for spontaneous 10 or 15 minute segments through the day. Either way, set writing time on your schedule and don’t miss an appointment.
  • Write what you know. It is true that it is best to write about what you know, but lean into this even more. Use characters you know, inside and out, from your own life, compilations of a variety of people, or a specific person from your childhood or present. Put your characters in a place familiar to you, your childhood community, or where you lived for many years and know all the back streets. Give your characters jobs you’ve held. Play with the rest, but use what you know. There is something special about reading a book where you just know the author loves the characters and places where the events take place.
  • Trust yourself. Trust yourself to write a great story. Trust yourself to know what to write. Trust yourself to let your characters lead you. Trust that you know how to do this, because you do. You wouldn’t be doing this unless you knew you could. Trust yourself to do it.
  • The first draft of everything is shit. Hemingway is supposed to have said that often, and it is true. First drafts don’t sell. They aren’t published. The magic comes in the second, third, possibly even the twentieth draft. Just write. Get it all down and fix it later.
  • Writing is about storytelling. Never forget, you are telling a story. You are taking the reader on an adventure, a journey, teaching them about how your characters see the world around them, and how they behave within it. The best stories are written not with the best grammar, but the best storytelling techniques.
  • Journal and note your ideas now. As you make your way toward November, jot down the ideas that come to you in the oddest of moments. You never know where one might lead, or if you may need it later when the well starts to run dry. Some people take a while to let their imagination simmer, so be ready to catch whatever floats to the top and preserve it.
  • Show don’t tell. Pay attention to everything around you over the next few months. See a beautiful sunrise, or the sun bursting forth through storm clouds? Write down what it looked like, but focus on how you felt in the moment. Look at people around you. How are they walking? Talking? Sitting? Moving in and out of the crowd. Takes notes on what you see and how they moved emotionally, with determination, courage, faith, pain, misery, depression, joy…show us how they moved. The next few months have two seasons, possibly three, in them, and you have an opportunity to view people in cold, wet, and rain, and bright sunshine, possibly even extreme heat conditions. How are their bodies responding to the environment?
  • Listen. Over the next few months, listen deeply to the voices all around you. At the store, at work, at meetings, social events, listen and take notes. How do they speak? What are they saying? Would your characters say that? How would they say the same things? The best characters are like real people, so pay attention to all the ways real people talk, to themselves and to each other, and take notes.
  • Put conflict in every sentence, paragraph, page. There are seven types of conflict in storytelling and writing. There is man vs. self, man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, etc. These struggles, elements of conflict, are the core in any good story. We need heroes. We need anti-heroes. We need villains. We need to have our characters tortured by their circumstances. Think about all the ways you could bring your characters to their knees and test their spirits, and put that in your story plans.
  • Pay attention to the news. Right now, the United States, and the world, are in teetering on the edge. The edge shifts from day-to-day, or could be all of everything, global warming, politics, pollution, economy, fake news, malware attacks, prejudice, even war. How does it feel? How do others feel? How are they responding? Are they hoarding food or money, just in case? Protesting? Apathetic? Terrified? An ostrich, head in the sand, disconnected from the world around them? Take note of all these attitudes, behaviors, and responses to the world around you and them. It’s all good fodder for the characters in your book.
  • Look for stories, and stories within stories. A well-written book doesn’t have one plot. It often has several plots, sub-plots, stories within stories with the same or different characters. Maeve Binchy specialized in writing about characters, each with their own plot lines, weaving them in and out, until they merged together at the end, surprising the reader. Look at all the stories around you, little stories like the man who forgot his wallet and realized it at the grocery checkout, and breaks down in tears not because he forgot his money but because he wife died a week ago and this is the first time in 30 years he’s shopped for himself. Or big stories of a cheerleader a month from graduation at the top of her class, who finds out she has cancer, two weeks after her mother died of cancer, and her father dies of a heart attack two days later, and she has to go on. Every moment is a moment for story, and within every story is another story, maybe three or four.

Writers in the Grove features more writing tips and advice on writing for all your writing challenges as well as NaNoWriMo. Subscribe to our site by email or add us to your feed reader to keep us close as you tackle your next writing project.

If you are in the Portland, Oregon, area, please join us at our Monday morning workshops from 9-11:30 AM at the Forest Grove Community and Senior Center, and on the second Saturday of the month at the Forest Grove Library.

Writing Tips for Organizing and Planning Your Writing

There are two aspects to the concept of organization for writers. There is the organization of your writing environment, be it your working space or virtual space you write in such as the type of computer, software, even the way your writing is backed up. Then there is the organization of the actual writing, keeping track of characters, plots, story lines, names, places, etc., and structuring the end result into something readable as well as publishable.

Discussing this with a few Writers in the Grove members, we realized that while the two concepts were separate, they were actually inseparable. As one pointed out, the spark of an idea can happen anywhere and you must have a system in place to jot it down and ensure it isn’t lost between the grocery store moment of inspiration and the moment you can finally lean into your computer and start writing. Throughout the writing process of a project, the project is with you, wherever you are, whenever your imagination catches fire. A well-structured habit system combined with well-maintained tools and access points for preserving those thoughts help you through the entire process, right through to the point of publishing.

So we decided to offer this short collection of writing tips by others for organizing and planning your writing to embrace both aspects, helping you be organized within your writing environment, physical and virtual, and in the writing process.

Writing Organization Tools and Environments

One tool that our group embraced that changed more than a few writing lives is Scrivener by Literature and Latte. Available for both Windows and Mac, Scrivener is what you use to write your story before you move it to publishing programs and tools, though Scrivener will publish directly to various ebook and print formats. Scrivener is your idea holder, notebook, character development tool, and story line planner. It helps you write your book or whatever is on your writing list. We highly recommend it and have an ongoing series to help you learn Scrivener better.

Some helpful articles on using Scrivener to organize your writing include:

How To Organize Your Non-fiction Book – The Future of Ink: This article offers six core tools and methods for organizing your book: piles, folders, cards, Evernote, and binders. The author also mentions Scrivener as it is highly capable of embracing piles, folders, cards, etc. The article offers tips for organizing your writing in general, time and space for writing, and more tips to help you keep on track of the writing. These apply to fiction as well as non-fiction. (more…)

NaNoWriMo Tips: Move Once an Hour

I’ve set a digital clock on my computer and phone to ping at the top of every hour. This reminds me to stand up and move.

While I will work through it if I’m in the middle of a writing burst, when the idea is complete, and it is safe to walk away, I will do so for at least five minutes.

Scientific research as shown that sitting for long periods of time is just about as unhealthy as smoking. Writing for 60-90 minutes without moving for only 30 days won’t be the death of you if you are regularly active, but consider a little movement to keep the juices flowing inside your body as well as your mind.

Go make a cup of tea, go drink a glass of water, walk around the room, or to another room and back. Don’t let yourself be distracted by walking into the kitchen or laundry room and seeing something that needs doing. Just move around.

Some writers stand up and do jumping jacks or squats for a few minutes. Many will stretch. Do something upright for just a few minutes once an hour.

You will return to your writing with more energy, a better ability to focus, and possibly a new idea for your story.

You are in the final stretch, so keep stretching.

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