Words you didn’t know you needed

Kindlifresserbrunnen by Andrew BossiI’m a word nerd.

I love bang up to the elephant articles about weird words to add to my vocabulary, like this list of slang from the Victorian Era, and collections of obscure words. One of my favourites of the latter is The Phrontistery with its Compendium of Lost Words.

Feel free to share your favourites in the comments – I’ll be forever grateful!

I have beguiled many a happy hour reading through the Compendium. I could try and justify it by saying it’s research for writing historical fiction, but that would be entirely disingenuous. I just love words.

It has occurred to me, though that there are no words for things that should have words for them, and other words out there which can hardly come up much in conversation. One of the latter, courtesy of The Phrontistery, is brephophagist. Try and recall, if you’d be so kind as to indulge me for a moment, the last time you needed a word for “someone who eats babies”.

Never, I thought (or, at least, I hoped.)

And now, to prove me wrong, a good friend reminded me of the fascinating collection of online oddities at Atlas Obscura, and whilst taking a circuitous route through its treasures, I stumbled upon the Child-Eater of Bern.  (That’s him caught in the act in the cropped header image, photographed by Andrew Bossi, available in creative commons on Wikipedia. See the full image at the linked sites.)

The good folk of Bern refer to the subject of the horrific sculpture that tops their fountain as a Kindlifresser – a child eater, or brephophagist. He’s been there since 1546 and, for all I know, it may have been all the rage in Europe during the 16th Century to decorate one’s town with such things. Suddenly, I can imagine the word ‘brephophagist’ arising quite naturally in all manner of conversations.

That’s my disturbing thought for the day.

Retrofitting story structure

engineMy current work in progress is something in the way of an experiment. I’ve never tried to write a novel-length anything in a single process. I’ve always written bits and pieces, here and there, put it away for ages, written a bit more, edited what I had, mucked around with it – you get the idea.

I’ve heard of a marvellous kind of storyteller who has an idea, starts writing and writes through (you people know who you are). I gave it a try and at around 35,000 words realised that this particular bunny was never going to fly for me.

No worries. I worked out the broad brushstrokes of what the plot needed to do, wrote the scenes that were clear in my head, and added in hashtag notes like #check delivery time 1834 mail London to York and #Julian needs to talk to Mattie about hares and curses. On the next sweep through the document, I write out more scenes, or maybe add more hashtags as I need to.

It’s a messier process, but it works for me, and I can easily search for # in an edit to find any points where I’ve reminded myself to check a fact.

What I don’t do is consciously plan out the overall three act, or five act, structure. And while I understand that a story doesn’t necessarily need that structure, it’s a reliable touchstone for the reader. I’m a big believer in the writer respecting the hell out of the reader, because that’s what I want when I’m reading.

The reader is doing a lot of stuff , inside their busy brain, bringing the writer’s story to life, and if the writer has used a solid structure it’s like a strong foundation on which you can build anything.

The other great thing about structure is that it reminds me to bolt things together better – that is, to make the connections that I’ve made in my writer head more overt on the page (but remember, respect! – no bludgeoning the reader with it).

I’ve written about four fifths of this current WIP. Soon, I will need to have a look at my document as a whole and identify the turning points (or the pinch points, or the pivotal scenes, or whatever you want to call them) where things shift for the characters, and tension increases.

Ideally, these scenes will mark the transitions between the acts within the classic story structure, and I need to make sure that my main character is being proactive, rather than reactive – that is, that she is making choices that cause things to happen, rather than just having things happen around her. I’m pretty confident she’s doing okay on that front, but retrofitting the structure also makes me think about the overall pacing of the story.

I’m a little worried, after trying the just write the thing from start to finish approach, that my pacing is off, and doing some word count checking of where those turning points happen will help me ensure that the eventual reader will feel invested early in the story, and there will be enough rising tension to keep them turning pages until the entirely satisfying conclusion.

Sounds perfect! Now I just have to make it happen.

A new year revolution


The year has turned so it must be time to spin around, blow a dandelion clock and make a wish.

I’ve always preferred that kind of revolution to the other, and definitely favoured it above resolutions for this time of year. I like me. I’m not perfect, but just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean I need to create a new version of me.

But there’s definitely more than just dandelion seeds in the air.  I’ve spent the last couple of days packing books. We have 30 shelves crammed to overflowing and I’ve never mastered the art of ruthless weeding. If I’m lucky I will whittle it down to 28 shelves worth of books that need to be moved.

Because it is time for a change.

I’m not particularly reliable in my  migratory habits, but it’s been seven and a half years since we came back to Australia from our second Scottish amble, and I’m tired of being this close to the equator.

So, my first change for this lovely leap year of potential and promise is a southerly peregrination – from 28.0167° S to 35.3075° S. That might not sound like much of a difference, but I’ll be going up in the world as well – from around 13 metres to 580 metres above sea level.

The chances of snow improve dramatically, I assure you.

The clarion call to adventure, in this case, does not allow me to stride out of the cottage, sword in hand, to go where the road leads ever onwards. It will take four weeks of planning, packing, and cleaning, and devouring anti-histamines in the hope I can prevent my dust allergy from making my face fall off.

And I want to have my first draft of novel #3 finished by the end of January, too. To achieve that I’ll need to think of some way that neither the villain, nor an important secondary character, are required to do something stupid in the process of reaching their desired, mutually exclusive, outcomes.

Well, packing is just like playing Tetris, right? And plotting is really just puzzle-solving. It’s all the same skills, surely?

Hmm, I’ll let you know how that theory works out.

Tally-ho, and toodle-pip!