Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Last things first

"But what in the world do they want a trumpet for?"

It's the last line of a movie. But use it as your first line (of a story, poem, play, movie, dialogue ...)

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Hippocrates believed moods and behaviors were caused by the balance of four bodily fluids (called humors): blood, yellow bile, black bile, phlegm. During the Renaissance, Shakespeare and other authors based characters on the four humors or temperaments. It's good to have a balance in real life, but for characters it's good to be unbalanced :-)

Come up with some characters based on the four humors. Set them in a situation together and see what happens.

Sanguine (blood, cheerful)
A sanguine person is generally light-hearted, fun-loving, a people person, loves to entertain, spontaneous, leadership abilities, and confident. However they can be arrogant, cocky, and indulgent. They can be day-dreamy and off-task to the point of not accomplishing anything and can be impulsive, possibly acting on whims in an unpredictable fashion.

The temperament is associated with the season of spring, the qualities of warm and moist, the element of air. Various modern equivalents are: artisan, improvisor, artistic, innovative, changeable.

Synonyms: cheerful, confident, optimistic, assured, hopeful, buoyant, in good heart

Choleric (yellow bile, enthusiastic)
A choleric person is a doer. They have a lot of ambition, energy, and passion, and try to instill it in others. They can dominate people of other temperaments, especially phlegmatic types. Many great charismatic military and political figures were cholerics. On the negative side, they are easily angered, bad-tempered, mean-spirited, suspicious and angry.

The temperament is associated with the season of summer, the qualities of warm and dry, and the element of fire. Various modern equivalents are: idealist, catalyst, religious, doctrinaire, inspired.

Synonyms: irate, testy, hot-tempered, fiery, irritable, quarrelsome

Melancholic (black bile, somber)
A melancholic person is a thoughtful ponderer. Often very kind and considerate, melancholics can be highly creative – as in poetry and art - but can become overly pre-occupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world, thus becoming depressed. A melancholic is also often a perfectionist. This often results in being unsatisfied with one's own artistic or creative works and always pointing out to themselves what could and should be improved.

The temperament is associated with the season of autumn, the qualities of cold and dry, and the element of earth. Various modern equivalents are: guardian, stabilizer, economic, traditional, industrious.

Synonyms: languid, spiritless, gloomy

Phlegmatic (phlegm, calm)
A phlegmatic person is calm and unemotional. While phlegmatics are generally self-content and kind, their shy personality can often inhibit enthusiasm in others and make themselves lazy and resistant to change. They are very consistent, relaxed, rational, curious, and observant, making them good administrators and diplomats. Like the sanguine personality, the phlegmatic has many friends. However the phlegmatic is more reliable and compassionate; these characteristics typically make the phlegmatic a more dependable friend.

The temperament is associated with the season of winter, the qualities of cold and moist, and the element of water. Various modern equivalents are: rational, theorist, theoretic, skeptical, curious.

Synonyms: unemotional, indifferent, cold, heavy, dull, sluggish, matter-of-fact, placid, stoical, lethargic, bovine, apathetic, frigid, lymphatic, listless, impassive, stolid, unfeeling, undemonstrative

There's a chart that categorizes the traits and strengths and weaknesses of each:

If you'd like to see the mixture of humors in your character (or yourself) there's a personality test.

The Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson is about a world where people are isolated into quarters by personality type. I'm seeing some inherent conflict there in a land filled with leaders but no followers and thinkers but no doers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The growler

Anu Garg of Wordsmith.org sent out a week of words that have multiple and varied meanings. Growler had 5 definitions:
  1. One that growls.
  2. A container brought by a customer to fetch beer.
  3. Small iceberg pieces less than 5 meters at the waterline get their name from the sound they make when they plunge down into the water when oscillating in sea swells.
  4. A four-wheeled cab.
  5. An electromagnetic device for testing short-circuited coils.
Use all the meanings in a single writing piece.

If five isn't enough for you, here are some informal definitions sent by readers of the Word A Day newsletter:
  • A student who can't sing in tune.
  • The sound box put inside "talking bears."
  • A Victorian-era slang word for a sausage (at least so says James P. Blaylock in his novel Homonculus)
  • A slang term for a pork pie (in Yorkshire, in the North of England).
  • A very large clam (at least it is in Phillip Craig's mystery series set on Martha's Vineyard (an island off the coast of Massachusetts)).
  • A station to station telephone that employs a small hand crank to produce a growling noise at the called station (US Navy).
  • A large-mouthed black bass.
  • A diesel locomotive.
  • Translucent messages and icons that appear on a computer screen for a short time.
  • Pre-fabricated burgers once served at the student cafeteria at Memorial University of Newfoundland; for their obvious effect once ingested.
  • A heavy, fast food meat pie in Northern England that can cause quite severe indigestion.
  • Portable electric toilets used by wilderness guides in areas such as the Grand Canyon.
  • A slang meaning I've often heard for this word is 'outhouse'. Also portable toilets.
  • A bathroom.
When you're done "Dave from Maryland" illustrated the five meanings at Word A Day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

WHAT did you say?

What are these guys thinking? Write a caption or a bit of dialogue.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Phasma symphonizing

A friend passed on some spam with words that caught my eye.

phasma symphonizing
vertebration riddled

I like the sounds of phasma and vertebration. Each sounds like it is several concepts bundled up snugly together.

Play with those. Let the sounds of phasma and vertebration and the combinations take you where where they will in free form writing for 10 minutes or so.

When you feel the ideas fading, check out the real definitions (and I thought they were made up words!) for a recharge for a few more minutes.

When you're done, go back and circle your favorite phrases. See if you can arrange them into a poemish creation.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fear and loathing

What does your character ...

... fear?
... dread?
... want?
... want to avoid losing?
... want to avoid gaining?
... love?
... desire?
... need?
... crave?
... hate?
... loathe?
... have a passion for?

If your character doesn't want something badly, there isn't much reason to read about them.

"As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again." -- Scarlett O'Hara

While in real life happiness is a great thing, it's boring in a character ;-) Their desire needn't be a huge thing like saving the world. It can be simple personal quest like recreating Mom's lost recipe for cherry pie or a war on the invading bedbugs.

This can work for a current character, a dropped character you were fond of but couldn't make work, a brand new character.

(The above words are intentionally similar to need. Some words may feel the same to you. That's okay. We each have slightly different connotations for words and words you feel are the same may spark very different ideas in someone else.)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Ace of spades

Come up with a new deck of cards for current times, a fantasy world, a future world, for your own or someone else's world. J.K. Rowling showed us wizarding chess. What do their cards look like? Who or what is on them? What do Goth cards look like? Klingon? Robot? (They all probably exist! ;-)

You can stick with the standard 52+Joker deck of 4 suits or not. (Not to be practical on you or anything ;-), but I suspect a number close to 52 is easy to shuffle. The 65 cards in Five Crowns is tough! So maybe your characters have larger hands if you decide to have more cards or they have some technique to get around that.)

So, what suits have meaning for your world? Will you use something other than numbers? Do you have a set corresponding to the royals?

From Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 Exercises to Wake Up Your Brain by Stefan Mumaw and Wendy Lee Oldfield

Did you know?

The kings in the French decks represent actual kings? King David (spades), Charlemagne or Charles IV (hearts), Julius Ceasar (diamonds), Alexander the Great (clubs). So do the queens and jacks (knaves).

The Ace of Spades picture is usually much larger for a reason? The cards in Europe were taxed and that's the card chosen for the tax stamp.

That the ace, which used to be the lowest card, trumps the king probably came about during the French Revolution when the peasants revolted against the king?

There's way more than you thought to question about playing cards :-)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Little Red Zombiehood

Turn Little Red Riding Hood into a zombie story. Is she the zombie? Is she a zombie fighter? Who represents the wolf? And who the grandma?

An old prompt to turn Jack and the Beanstalk into a vampire story inspired this and I wasn't even thinking of the mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! but it looks very cool!