Think like a Pro: information

Want to be published?¬† The Think / Pro planner can help. [also in two cover choices, to match the manual ūüėČ ]

Do you start stories but never complete them?  Do you wait on your muse while she hides behind trees and in caves?

Do you know how to write, but the mountainous novel seems insurmountable, with too many words and too few days?

Do you keep telling yourself ‚ÄúCarpe Diem‚ÄĚ, but days speed by before you grab several hours to write?

Time to change ‚ÄúSeize the Day‚ÄĚ into ‚ÄúSeize the Dream.‚Ä̬† For success, you need to Think/Pro.¬† This planner can help.

The Weekly Spread

A two-page week keeps you focused on three tasks, with room to record your day-by-day focus as well as a word count tracker for daily and accumulating totals.  The Progress Meter, divided into writing stages and blocks for each ten percent of that stage, is a visual representation of your growing achievement in reaching your writing goal.

While daily word counts are important, I now advise writers to take one day off each week.  Reserve that day for planning as well as completing a creativity exercise.  On a back page is a list of 13 exercises to choose from.  Reminders of the four basic Healthy Habits (walking, water intake, sunshine, and diet) offer daily fill-ins for those who like habit trackers.

Each week also showcases an inspirational quotation from a famous writer.

Analyze your Progress with Reviews and Previews

In addition to the weekly spread are Monthly Reviews & Previews and Seasonal & Yearly Planning pages.  The planner begins with a brief look at your yearly goals, on the following page.

The Monthly Review has a Productivity Tracker and a Progress Meter as well as places to jot down Business Contacts and Expenses.  Once tax time arrives, you will have compiled the necessary information in one location.  And a Tax Tips for Writers lists on a back page the expenses you can record.

In planning, we sometimes neglect to consider obligations beyond our goals and objectives.  On the Previews is a reminder of those commitments that keep us sane.

Seasonal Previews ask you to polish the nuts and bolts of your projected words per week and sharpen up the time remaining before your deadline.  All the Reviews ask you to record your victories and consider your challenges.

The purpose of any planner is to keep us on track as well as to give us a look ahead.  In this fast-paced world, it helps to have a physical reminder, one that is not dependent on the five and more tap-clicks that it takes to access the electronic calendar on a smartphone.

Grab a pen and this planner, and quickly jot down reminders and notes.  As the Think/Pro planner is undated, you can start at any time of the year.

Available exclusively on Amazon!

Grammar Starters Set 2: 16 Lessons

A Grammar Starter leads into a lesson.

  • What do you know?
  • How do you know if it’s correct?
  • What do you not know?
  • What do you notice about the rule you haven’t learned?

Simple conversation on these four questions strengthen the foundation of knowledge.

Grammar Starters Set 2 continues the same pattern as previously, two lessons per week (Mon. and Wed.) with a review of problems on following days (Tues. and Thurs.).  If no problems were noticed, then no review is necessary.

You will need MS powerpoint to open this link.

Grammar Starters 2nd set

Errors in Grammar Starter 1 will recur in this series of lessons.  Newly noted are errors in pronoun / antecedent, dangling and misplaced modifiers, overuse of commas, finding subjects and verbs and complements, subordinate clauses, and a brief introduction of analogies.

At this point in the year, students should have a good grasp of subjects and verbs (including knowing the difference between action and linking verbs).  They should understand the complement:  action verbs lead to the direct object while linking verbs connect the subject to the predicate noun (nominative) and predicate adjective.

These 16 lessons (eight weeks) should take you through Christmas and into January.

A Word on Analogies

Analogies are not grammar;  they are a critical thinking skill.  They look for similarities and differences based on many different combinations.

An analogy sentence may look like this:

black : white : : night : ____

We read that sentence in this way:  Black is to white as night is to ____.

Black and white are simple opposites.  The opposite of night is day.

Some developers of analogies consider they have created “hard” analogies when the sentence’s “difficulty” is based on a vocabulary lack.¬† How many students know this one:

geese : gaggle : : quail : ____ = covey.

That’s not a hard analogy.¬† It’s only based on vocabulary words.

Hard analogies require students to think in new ways.

Song : poetry : : conversation : ____ = prose.  Students have to realize that poetry is very like songs and talking is basically prose.  This connects real world to the education world.

Can you complete this analogy?

____ : sorrow : : laughing : ____.

Did you say tears and happiness?  Great.

Look for the next Grammar Starter lesson set in early January.

Mistakes So Bright I’ve Got to Wear Shades, part 2 of 3

Communicating ideas is difficult enough without confusing the audience. Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers cause confusion.


Exactly as its name suggests, the MisMod is just out of place.  A simple fix:  move it.

John found a green boy’s sweater.

What’s green?  The boy?  No, we haven’t found a troll.  The sweater?  Yes!

  • simple > the adjective swap >¬†‚Äúboy‚Äôs green sweater‚ÄĚ
  • simple > the prepositional phrase swap >¬†‚ÄúI mopped the garage with my brother.‚Ä̬†No, I didn‚Äôt dip his head in the bucket, turn him upside down, and mop the floor.¬†¬†‚ÄúMy brother and I. . . .‚ÄĚ
  • not so simple > the adverb swap. Be careful with adverbs.¬† While they can move around in the sentence, they can change meaning.

‚ÄúOnly John and Alice went to the cemetery at night.‚Ä̬†:: the only ones to go

‚ÄúJohn and Alice only went . . . .‚Ä̬†:: the only place to go

‚ÄúJ and A went only . . . .‚Ä̬†:: sounds like the previous one, but this position suggests that other options were available.

‚ÄúJ & A . . . the only cemetery at night.‚Ä̬†:: This town has only one cemetery.¬† BTW, this use of¬†only¬†is an adjective, not an adverb.

‚ÄúJ & A . . . at night only.‚Ä̬†:: because they like to hang out with ghouls.


The DangMod is more than out of place.  We have to add / subtract / divide / multiply?

A not-so-simple fix, the DangMod may hide from us.  We know what we intend to say.  As we write, as we edit, as we run through the final proof, we may never see the DangMod.

Only rarely have I noticed a writing software’s grammar/spelling checker spotting the DangMod for your judgment to correct or not.

First Readers may not spot it, either.  However, some readers of published writing will spot it and inform us.  Dang it.  Be nice.  Thank them.  Point out the DangMod is dang hard to spot, and correct it in your document.  Keep a chart of errors.  When you’ve corrected enough to have the original document substantially better, upload the new version.

What do DangMods look like?

Wading moose that escaped the car.

Several moose were seen while traveling by car through New Brunswick, Canada.

How does this dangle?  1] Who saw the moose?  2] Who was traveling?

While traveling by car through NB, CAN, several moose were seen.  This sentence is still NOT correct.

The moose are not seeing themselves.  They still are not driving.  Their antlers aren’t sticking out the car windows.

This extreme example helps point out the very problem with DangMods:  the act-er (subject) of the verbs to see and to travel is missing.

While we were traveling . . .  we saw several moose.

After loading the dishwasher, the video gaming continued.  >> Who loaded it?  Who was gaming?

Upsetting the neighbors, the fireworks were set off early. >> Who upset the neighbors?  Who set off the pyrotechnic display?

Careful reading of exactly what we have written will help us avoid the MisMods and those DangMods.

The Crux of the Argument

Proofreading our work is never fun.  After we’re past the thrill of character and situation, after we’ve paced the plot and twisted the scenes to avoid the humdrum, after we’ve tracked symbolic images and tweaked the archetypes, yet another read of the manuscript offers no excitement.  Checking sentences and word use and punctuation is an especially oh-hum yawn-worthy task.

Yet we want to present the best possible product to our audience.  We paint our portraits with words.  Our words should carry the energy that our story needs.  That last proofread is crucial.

Alfred Smedburg’s 1912 “Bland tomtar och troll”

How do we do it?

  • Most people advise checking for spelling by reading backwards, word by word.
  • Since we‚Äôve been concerned primarily with sentences, I advise reading backwards, sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph. We get the context and can still spot punctuation and spelling.

Awareness alone is often enough to solve the problem. As we become aware of our stumbling blocks, we learn to check for them.

Avoid the dangs.  Proofread.  Troll for the grammar trolls.

Mistakes So Bright I’ve Got to Wear Shades

Glaring Errors that Blind the Reader

Previous blogs have discussed ‚Äúvial trolls‚ÄĚ who aren‚Äôt captured by the machine grammar/spell-checkers.¬† Other errors can also escape the machine.¬† Some of them even escape us. ¬†Here are three identified glaring errors:

1st: Irregular Verbs

2nd: Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers (coming up next)

3rd: Clear Pronoun Reference (coming up after)

Let’s play.

  • Irregular Verbs

Some fossils are interesting.

Some fossils are scary.

Irregular verbs are fossils from Old English, when the language itself was a dialect of German, waiting eagerly to be intermixed with Norse and French.

We often spot other people’s problems with the common irregular verbs.

TAKE >> I take, I took, I have taken: ¬†Not “have tooken”, sweetheart; taken.

BUY >> I buy, I bought, I have bought. ¬†Now I’m broke.

SLEEP >> I sleep, I slept, I have slept.  I am going to sleep again!

SWIM >> I swim, I swam, I have swum in the past and want to do so again on this hot day!  Whew! But not with that scary fossil.

We know the balloon burst (not bursted‚ÄĒor busted)!

We’ve got that the shoes stink and stank and have stunk up the entire house.

Some fossils have altered over time.¬† LEAP once had ‚Äúleapt‚ÄĚ but now is ‚Äúleaped‚ÄĚ.¬† SLEEP, however, is not becoming ‚Äúsleeped‚ÄĚ.

Even with all our knowledge, irregular verbs can trip us up.

Why, oh why, oh why?

It’s the not-so-common irregular verbs that slink into our writing and fling our readers across the room when we use them improperly.

SLAY (Watch out, writers of historical novels and fantasy) >> I slay the trolls.  I slew the trolls.  I have slain the trolls and will do so again.

BID (Here is the perfect verb to use when using dialog to create a sense of history.) >> “I bid you goodbye.” ¬†“Look, Agatha, he bade her goodbye.” ¬†He has bidden her goodbye and left hours ago. ¬†Catch him before he turns into a fossil.

STRIVE >> We strive.¬† We strove.¬† We have striven.¬† (I encounter the error “strived” constantly in books by one author and keep intending to write an email.¬† Maybe it‚Äôs better if I don‚Äôt.)

WEAVE >> She weaves when driving while drunk.  That driver wove over the center line.  Because she has woven off the road, we dialed 911.

English has a lot of fossilized words, some of them no longer in use except in crossword puzzles and idiomatic expressions.¬† ‚ÄúEke‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúwend‚ÄĚ, the ‚Äúkith‚ÄĚ of ‚Äúkith and kin‚ÄĚ, and other words are ones that we often give ‚Äúshort shrift‚ÄĚ ;). ¬†Check them out. ¬†Type “fossils of English language” into a search engine and up they pop (along with images of scary fossils).

Language fossils can be the very thing to give a historical or interesting touch for your setting or one of your characters. ¬†{BUT avoid the Yoda gimmick, discussed in the last blog, “Switch It Up”.}

It’s up to you to determine if language fossils are interesting or scary, help or hindrance.

As it is, if you notice‚ÄĒor someone kindly tells you‚ÄĒthat you have problems with
certain words, it will never hurt to check a dictionary, whether a walking dictionary or an ‚Äúofficial‚ÄĚ one in print.

My walking dictionary never failed to tell me when my use of ‚Äúprove‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúproved‚ÄĚ was invariably wrong. ¬†I miss my walking dictionary.

Dictionaries are your friend.

And online dictionaries are really fast!

So, here’s my tribute to my walking dictionary.


Recommended: Gift from the Sea

W.Ink Recommends > Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea

Recommended: Deep philosophy in simple yet elegant language, AML offers to us the important aspects of life:  not money, not schedules, not harried miscommunication.  Instead, living in the present, loving others more than possessions, taking time for silence and communication:  these are what matters.

Revealed through shells gathered on the beach, AML explores each shell as it represents our lives and reminds us to be grateful for what life offers.

Snippets from the book:

The Beach

Rollers on the beach, wind in the pines, the slow flapping of herons across sand dunes, drown out the hectic schedules of city and suburbs, timetables and schedules.  One falls under their spell, relaxes, stretches out prone.  One becomes, in fact, like the element on which one lies flattened by the sea:  bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today’s tides of all yesterday’s scribblings. (16)

Channeled Whelk

I want first of all . . . to be at peace with myself.  I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry these obligations (husband, family, home, work, friends & community). (page 23)

Grace: an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony.¬† I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, ‚ÄúMay the outward and inward man be at one.‚ÄĚ (page 23)

Moon Shell

Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the spaces with continuous music, matter, and companionship to which we do not even listen.  It is simply there to fill the vacuum.  When the noise stops, there is no inner music to take its place.  We must re-learn to be alone. (page 42)

When one is a stranger to oneself, then one is estranged from others, too. (page 44)

Solitude, says the moon shell.¬† Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day. . . . [T]hese are among the most important times in one‚Äôs life‚ÄĒwhen one is alone. (page 49-50)

Double Sunrise

For the first part of every relationship is pure, whether it be with friend or lover, husband or child.  It is pure, simple, and unencumbered. . . .  And then how swiftly, how inevitably the perfect unity is invaded:  the relationship changes;  it becomes complicated, encumbered by its contact with the world . . . [and] somehow we mistakenly feel that failure to maintain its exact original pattern is tragedy. (65-66)

In a growing relationship, however, the original essence is not lost but merely buried under the impedimentia of life.  The core of reality is still there, and needs only to be uncovered and re-affirmed. (69-70)

Oyster Bed

I am very fond of the oyster’s shell.  It is horrid and awkward and ugly.  It is slate-colored and unsymmetrical.  Its form is not primarily beautiful but functional.  I make fun of its knobbiness.  Sometimes I resent its burdens and excrescences.  But its timeless adaptability and tenacity draw my astonished admiration and sometimes even my tears. (83)

Instead of facing them (difficult seasons of life or work, relationships or health), one runs away;¬† one escapes‚ÄĒinto depressions, nervous breakdowns, drink, love affairs, or frantic, thoughtless, fruitless overwork.¬† Anything, rather than face them.¬† Anything, rather than stand still and learn from them.¬† One tries to cure the signs of growth, to exorcise them, as if they were devils, when really they might be angels of annunciation. (87-88)

Argonauta (Paper Nautilus)

Saint Exup√©ry: ‚ÄúThe life of the spirit, the veritable life, is intermittent and only the life of the mind is constant. . . .¬† The spirit . . . alternates between total vision and absolute blindness. . . .¬† Here is a man who loves music‚ÄĒbut there are moments when it cannot reach him.‚ÄĚ (107-108)

We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity‚ÄĒin freedom. (108)

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping even.  Security in a relationship lies . . . in living in the present and accepting it as it is now. . . .  One must accept the security of the wingéd life, of ebb and flow, of intermittency. (109)

A Few Shells

Here (on this island) there is time:  time to be quiet;  time to work without pressure;  time to think. . . time to look at stars or to study a shell;  time to see friends, to gossip, to laugh, to talk.  Time, even, not to talk. . . .  Then communication becomes communion, and one is nourished as one never is by words.  (116)

The Beach at my Back

If we stop to think about it, are not the real casualties in modern life just these centers:  the here, the now, the individual and his relationships.  The present is passed over in the race for the future;  the here is neglected in favor of the there, and the individual is dwarfed by the enormity of the mass. (126)

Family, now, here:¬† ‚ÄúThe basic substance of life . . . .¬† We may neglect these elements, but we cannot dispense with them.¬† They are the drops that make up the streams.¬† They are the essence of life itself.‚Ä̬† (127-128)

Gift from the Sea Re-Opened

It takes time to find the re-center of gravity. (134)

Much of this exploration and new awareness is uncomfortable and painful for both men and women.  Growth in awareness has always been painful.  But it does lead to greater independence and, eventually, cooperation in action. (138)

Available here.

We recommend a slow read, one chapter a week.  This tiny book is packed with concept that must be mulled over, considered, then applied to our lives.

Grammar Starter: 1st 6 Lessons

Here is a Grammar Starter powerpoint with 6 grammar lessons.  Each lesson contains two sentences filled with several errors.  Answers for each slide are at the end of the powerpoint.

These sentences come from an old textbook adoption handbook that I once used in my teaching.  I usually had to increase the number of errors in each sentence.  9th grade students did not find the errors difficult.

mark errors with red ink if the grammar problems bleed through communication
Red Ink

Each slide usually contains one tricky problem.¬† All of the sentences serve as reminders of the small ticky details that students often overlook in their own writing.¬† These are the same ticky details that often irritate us in the world at large.¬† A perfect example is ladie’s above the ladies’ restroom door.

Two lessons a week work well (Mon. and Wed.), followed by a review of any problems that were spotted (Tues. and Thurs.)

Expect capitalization, end mark and quotation mark problems, usage and verb tense, subject/verb agreement, commas with nonessential phrases, and run-on sentences (fused sentences) among other problems.

Grammar Starters

The next Grammar Starters will be issued on September 19.  That slide series will contain 16 lessons (or 8 weeks of lessons).

Grammar Helps

Has the thought of the Grammar Monster got you screaming in terror?  Are you begging for some grammar helps?

Alfred Smedburg’s 1912 “Bland tomtar och troll”

Here are a few beginning handouts and lessons for home schoolers and others tackling the Grammar Monster.

Speechparts practice

Usage Matters 15 items

Usage Matters 15 practice

Grammar Basics Expletives 3 Cs

Go forth and conquer.

Never forget, communication is possible even if you don’t understand all the words.¬† The position in the sentence is everything.¬† I picked up the following many years ago (it’s definitely not mine.¬† I’m not this clever.)¬† The answers are¬†here.


Corandic is an emurient grof with many fribs; it granks from corite, an olg which cargs like lange. Corite grinkles several other tarances, which garkers excarp by glarcking the corite and starping it in tranker-clarped storbs. The tarances starp a chark, which is expanrged with worters, branking a storp. This storp is garped through several other corusees, finally frasting a pragety, blickant crankle: coranda.

Coranda is a cargurt, grinkling corandic and borigten. The corandic is nacerated from the borigen by means of loracity. This garkers finally thrap a glick, bracht, glupous grapant, corandic, which granks in many starps.

  1. What is corandic?
  2. What does corandic grank from?
  3. How do garkers excarp the tarances from the corite?
  4. What does the slorp finally frast?
  5. What is coranda?

Curiously enough, a Yoast SEO readability says “the copy scores 64 in the¬†Flesch Reading Ease¬†test, which is considered ok to read.”¬† I don’t find “Corandic” ok to read.

Here’s a little more, not necessarily grammar helps, but this shows how the entire year of grammar is tied together with composition and literature, the other two arts in the world of Language Arts.

Communication comes in two opposite forms which are based on opposites.

  1. Visual (sight-based)¬†drawn OR not-drawn (gestures, body language, facial expressions and para-language ‚Äď tone and sounds that give meaning)
  1. Verbal (word-based) spoken OR written

Written Communication comes in two opposite forms which are also based on opposites.

  1. NonFiction = about real events,¬†short memos OR long reports,¬†instruction manuals before you work OR evaluations after you work),¬†essays ‚Äď personal OR public, factual OR opinion
  1. Fiction = about imaginary events, short stories OR long novels, highly fantastical OR a mirror of reality

Fiction written as a PLAY has lines spoken by character.

A poet groups lines together in stanzas.  Any POEM is like an emotional essay.  POETRY can be pure verse (rhyming, etc.) or free verse (free of rhyme).

Just like communication, our world is based on OPPOSITES (in, out; stick, circle; on, off;  hot, cold;  sun, moon;  good, evil;  male, female;  work, play).

We see opposites in VOCABULARY when we understand a word by what it is and is not like (synonyms AND antonyms) as well as in crazy homonyms and connotations.

We see opposites in GRAMMAR when we realize that thoughts >> which become sentences >> are based on idea AND action (subjects AND verbs).  Punctuation has starts (CAPS) and stops (. ! ?) as well as LINKERS which show PROGRESSION.

COMPOSITION combines opposites and progressions in the Introductions vs. Conclusions, achieved through the Body;  the subject explored through the thesis and its progressive topics, themselves progressed through details.

Old Geeky Greeks

Blood tragedies.  Atonement.  Harry Potter.

I, Robot.  Ironman.  Hubris.

The 13th Warrior.  The scariest woman in all literature.  The Hobbit.

Dudley Dooright.  5 Stages of the Hero . . . and the Monster.  Jurassic Park, in all its iterations.

What does this oddly-matched list have in common?  All have origins with the ancient Greeks and Romans.

The first writers developed techniques to influence their audiences.  Through an early look at what worked and what didn’t, they laid the foundation for writers today.  Many techniques of these old geeky Greeks are still in use, re-packaged as glittery infographics and Wham-Pow webinars, three-point seminars and exclusive insights to Buy Now!

Old Geeky Greeks: Write Stories with Ancient Techniques presents techniques such as the Blood Tragedy and dulce et utile in a clear, organized method for writers who want to write rather than invest hours getting three snippets of information.

Chapters in OGG cover understanding characters to the five stages that established the modern protagonist from the ancient hero.

Aristotle’s requirements for plot precede a survey of the oldest plot formula, the Blood (or Revenge) Tragedy.

Concepts such as in medias res and dulce et utile can help writers solve sticky problems and develop new ideas.

Old Geeky Greeks (and Romans) tried to understand the writing sense that emerged from the chaos.  They looked at successful plays and other story-telling methods to determine what influenced the audience.

Which characters were still talked about weeks and months after a performance?¬† Which play structures failed‚ÄĒand which were consistently winners?¬† Which ideas helped writers develop their celebrated writings?

Writers today are still searching for the answers to these questions.

The bright minds of Classical Antiquity first explored these questions, and their answers are applicable in the age of the internet, open-source software, special effects, and infographics.

Aristotle, Seneca, Plato, Horace, and many other ancient geeks have their ideas matched to Harry Potter, Avatar, Last of the Mohicans, and Shakespeare.

Whether we’re writing novels or plays, blogs or non-fiction, poems and songs, Old Geeky Greeks is a seminar in 28,000 words.

Using Color Symbols in Writing

Originally this blog post published July 2016 on the Writers Ink Books website.  As WIS takes a vacation, we repeat three of the WIB blogs in the summer of 2016.  After all, reruns are totally watchable again.

You Can Do Magic:  Paint with Colors

Artists paint with words;  writers paint with images.  The first images are colors.

At the same time that symbolic numbers were developing in primitive cultures, ancient women and men were looking around and associating meaning to the colors they saw in nature and our bodies.

In spring, everything greened up to grow, so green came to represent life and growth.  They bled when they were cut while working or hunting;  red represents what we must sacrifice in order to achieve our goals.

November 29, 2016, blog by Robin Daly
A Color Wheel with images from Nature, found at

Here’s an interesting side trip: ¬†one primitive culture only had 3 color names. ¬†Three! ¬†We have more synonyms than that for all our colors. (red, cardinal, persimmon, crimson, scarlet, ruby, garnet, cherry, carmine, wine, vermilion, florid, ruddy, maroon, brick, and more!) ¬†The Piraha of the Amazon have no words for numbers, and their colors are white (light-time), black (night-time), and red (blood).

Brent Berlin and Paul Kay named 11 basic color categories in their famous 1969 study:

white          black          red           green         yellow       blue

brown         purple        pink        orange       gray.

Back on the main road, we’re after the symbolic meanings associated with colors. ¬†Like the numbers, some will have both positive and negative connotations.

Here’s what I’ve gathered:

The Primaries in Nature
  • Red¬†= blood, sacrifice, the wounds inflicted by trials.
  • Blue¬†= the heavens, truth (true blue). ¬†The sky where the gods oversaw man’s petty achievements was blue; ¬†the heavens are the realm of the gods. ¬†Since gods are a constant eternal form that never change (whereas Earth is all about change, as Heraclitus succinctly put it), truth is associated with a universal constant (whereas facts–the earth is flat–constantly change). ¬†Thus, blue = eternity.
  • Yellow¬†= warning, sometimes the radiance of the sun = warmth. ¬†Contrarily, cowardice (a yellow streak).
  • Green¬†= life, growth, spring, morning, youth. ¬†In a negative connotation, jealousy (green-eyed glare).
  • Black¬†= death, winter, night, the dark of trouble and of ignorance, absence (with a negative connotation). ¬†In modern times, artists create black by adding all the colors, so modern writers have begun to use black as a symbol for “all things added in”, a sort of chaotic plenty.
  • White¬†= winter, light / knowledge, purity / unstained innocence, “pearl”, absence (with a positive connotation). ¬†Again, modern artists leave out all color to have white on their palette, so modern writers have begun to alter the color to create an idea of the vacuum, a sucking hole that deprives of everything.
  • Grey¬†= sorrow, rain / mist.
  • Orange¬†= summer, noon, the ripening to harvest, adult.
  • Brown¬†= autumn, afternoon, maturity, and the color of dried blood > old wounds, old scars, a veteran.
Secondaries, Not so Common in Nature
  • Purple¬†= royalty. ¬†Kings rule by the red Blood Right (either they inherited the crown or won it on the battlefield) + the blue Divine Right (the gods intervened to ensure their victory).
  • Silver¬†= a “mirror” color (mirror backs are “silvered” to reflect). ¬†Mirrors reveal truth; ¬†silver withstands magic. ¬†In the mythic trope, vampires cannot see themselves in mirrors because they are not “true-ly” alive. ¬†Yes, I know modern writers decided not to work with the mythic trope because it didn’t “fit” their world. ¬†Sigh.
  • Gold¬†= “tested” purity. ¬†However, all that glitters is not gold. ¬†It is richness and wealth >> but pure gold can be shaped by the hands, so it has a softness. ¬†Thus, in the King Arthur myths, Arthur is associated from birth with gold because he and his dream will be corrupted.

Symbolic Colors in Art

King Arthur retrieves Excalibur, by N C Wyeth.

Look at the N.C. Wyeth painting of King Arthur.  The fabled hero is receiving Excalibur and its miraculous sheath from the Lady in the Lake.

  • His¬†blue¬†cloak is lined with¬†red¬†and trimmed with¬†gold.
  • Gold¬†appoints his¬†saintly-colored mail and the boat.
  • See the three¬†white¬†swans flying away?
  • And the¬†grey¬†mist?
  • White-bearded¬†Merlin wears a dark cloak: ¬†is that¬†deep blue¬†or¬†black?
  • And the¬†mirror-like¬†quality of the lake itself as the arm of the Faery Queen from an eternal existence offers the magical sword? ¬†Have you ever known lake water to be so mirror-still? ¬†Small pools, yes. ¬†Lakes? ¬†No.

Wyeth has painted the symbols that reveal the deeper elements of the Arthurian legend.

As symbols enrich Wyeth’s painting, so will they enrich your writing. ¬†Play with them as Wyeth has done.

Symbolic Colors in Literature

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s¬†Great Gatsby, a character enters a room with a blood-red floor and a ceiling that is a bridal-cake confection of white plasterwork. ¬†From that early chapter, the reader should know that Daisy and her husband and their wider family have the appearance of beauty and innocence while they have walked on the blood of others to get where they are. ¬†They are corrupted, and all the remaining symbolic colors in the novel prove that over and over.

Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” occurs in a yellow wood: ¬†Caution! ¬†he says. ¬†Don’t lie to yourself, as many teachers have deceived their students into reading this poem and thinking the road they take matters. ¬†Frost says it doesn’t and that we lie when we tell ourselves the road we take is different: ¬†he tells us three times that the “just as fair” roads are “worn . . . about the same” as they “equally lay”. ¬†It’s what we do on those roads that matter, not the choice of the road.

Unless you’re Stephen Crane’s “Wayfarer” who discovers the thick weeds on the roads are actually knife-blades.

Paint with Colors.

Your readers will thank you.

~~ M A Lee

Using Number Symbols in Writing

Originally this blog post published July 2016 on the Writers Ink Books website.  WIS reruns it because, after all, reruns are totally watchable.
For those looking for the Grammar Monster blog series, look for the chart link at the end of the blog.  In that chart you will find the important background lessons that students need before the Grammar Monster comes out of the cave.

You Can Do Magic:  Paint with Numbers

In the last blog, “Let’s Play” (in 2016, remember, on the WIB website, not this one), I mentioned that working in threes is the preferred number for repetition. ¬†Three is that mysterious number in the realm of symbols, and it has great influence on the audience.

3’s are significant, whether spoken or written or visual. ¬†Most will “hear” the first mention of an idea but think nothing of it. ¬†A second mention sounds like coincidence. ¬†The third mention is magic for the readers and audience.

A good comic will set up a joke with an unusual phrase, cycle back to that phrase in a later joke–just in passing, then hit that unusual phrase for the clincher of a closing joke. ¬†¬†Expectation has been created with the second mention and fulfilled with the third. ¬†The humor then has a greater effect on the audience.

Ron White is the master of this extended use of threes. [Don’t click if you don’t like curse words. ;)] Listen for the third different use of “tater”.

So, that’s the effect of the 3 in repetition. ¬†What about the other numbers?

Well, numbers are important in the world of literature (and religion, both so closely tied together in their origins that their devices [tropes] take on mythic gravitas.  Wow, that was a side excursion and a half).

The symbolic meaning of numbers (and colors–coming in the next blog) solidified in¬†primitive cultures. ¬†We can see the influence of the natural world and our own bodies in their development into virtually universal meanings. ¬†Many numbers have both positive and negative connotations.

So, here are the meanings I have gleaned:

First Hand
  • 1 = the Self, of course. ¬†Solitary / lonely ¬†(positive / negative). ¬†Independence, self-reliance. ¬†Rank, descending or ascending (I’m number 1! ¬†or the starting [lowest] point).

    the Three Norns by HLM: the Crone, the Matron, the Maiden or Past / Present / Future
  • 2 = companionship, love. ¬†Deception > two-faced.
  • 3 = mystery > e.g., the Moirae, the three Fates of ancient Greece; the three Erinyes ( the Furies who are Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone); the three Norns; the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; past / present / future; ¬†Plato’s tripartite being: mind / body / soul.
  • 4 = the number representing Earth > e.g., north / south / east / west; the basic elements of earth / air / water / fire; and proteins / carbs / lipids / acids; the luck of a four-leaf clover; the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the four mathematical operations; the four Beatles.
  • 5 = 1/2 of 10 and thus halfway to completion; the limits of aspiration. ¬†The musical staff is on five lines; ¬†it takes both treble and bass staffs to create full harmony. ¬†The five Sikh symbols. ¬†The pentagram.
Second Hand
  • 6 = doubled mystery > secrecy, magic
  • 7 = perfection, absolute.
  • 8 = rebirth (one more than perfection > starting over), renewal OR as 8 is between 5 and 10, on the road to completion.
  • 9 = 3 + 3 + 3 = intensified mystery.
  • 10 = completion, fulfillment.
Three Extras
  • 11 = transition, thresholds, the liminal space. Over time, 11 became associated with death, which is the greatest of thresholds to cross. ¬†BTW, literature pre-supposes that man has an existence after death, whatever form that existence might take; so it’s this existence, crossing the threshold, and the after-existence. ¬†In literature, death is not a stoppage–unless it’s modern literature. ¬†Oh, well.
  • 12 = man’s relationship to the Divine, in whatever form the Divine takes > 12 Tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles of Christ, 12 Signs of the Greek Zodiac, 12 cycles of the Chinese Years, 12 chief gods of Olympus, and more.
  • 13 = considered unlucky because man steps beyond his relationship with the Divine to pursue his own path, and challenging the gods [as Tantalus discovered] is never wise. ¬†Gradually, it became associated with the occult.

How do you work with symbolic numbers in writing poetry and fiction and non-fiction?

Using symbols can add surprise and depth:

  • Instead of a Council of 5 have a Council of 4, representing the four pillars of earth.
  • Instead of four¬†traps, have 6.
  • For a protagonist who never achieves his goal (how sad), have the number 5 constantly pop up: ¬†a meeting at 5 o’clock, 5 friends who give him advice he never takes, the missed train on Platform 5, the fifth missed message from his boss, the 5th time he forgot his anniversary on May 5.
  • Repeat an image three times. ¬†Repeat using synonyms or other variations of a concept six or nine or twelve times.
  • We all see lists of seven or ten. ¬†Be different: ¬†create lists of eight.
  • Categorize into four major areas, each with three subsets (a hidden seven).

When it’s time to flesh out the details of your outlined work, think through the numbers and see if they can magically assist you.

~~M A Lee

Click this link for the Grammar Monsters Opening Lessons Chart.