Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Anticipation

• Fearing that something will happen to screw things up
• Loss of sleep
• Lack of concentration
• Becoming so focused on the upcoming event that other important things are neglected
• Fantasizing/building up the event far beyond its reality
• An inability to sit still, fidgeting
• Becoming self-critical (questioning clothing choices, event preparation), wanting everything to go perfectly
• Covering the face, then peeking
• Asking questions: "How long? When? What is it?"
• Wetting the lips
• Checking and rechecking email
• Grabbing onto another person and saying, "Tell me!"
• Leaning in toward others, showing interest
• Tingling all over
• Begging someone for details, an answer, for a look at something, etc

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 

Er, what did you say?

I was tooling around my favorite blogs a few days ago and ran across an interesting one at Nathan Bransford's on least favorite words . It's not surprising that, as a writer, I love words. But I couldn't think of any specific ones that rub me wrong. There are the instances when words are misused (affect/effect, its/it's anyone?) Right now I'm not super-crazy about the word super, since it's become everyone's favorite hyphenated adjective. But it only annoys me a little, not enough to knock the word into my stomp can.

So then I started thinking: what about made-up words? You know: when there's no existing word for a particular thing so you make one up. Here are some of mine:

cursmudgeon: (n) that teeny little triangle of beard that some men leave dangling under their lower lip. I don't know why.

pappy: (n) my daughter's pacifier

shmoopish: (n?) the state of feeling shmoopie

shmoopie: (n) a term of affection. (I didn't invent this one; it came from the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld--one of the most prolific word-maker-uppers of all time.)

Does anyone else make up words? Let's hear 'em.

A Final Character Cliché...the Mentor

Gandalf. Merlin. Yoda.

All great characters, all mentors that fit the 'wise old man' (er, Yoda) Mentor archetype. In fact, the wise old man is so well known for fantasy, it's almost pointless for me to discuss the cliché when there are literally hundreds of articles out there on it. I'll limit my comment to this: if you have a mentor in your fantasy novel, please don't let it be a kind old man with a pointed hat. Please. Pick a streetwalker, a leper or a talking bushel of apples. Anything but the wise old magic wielder, kay?

Nuff said.

But one thing that isn't discussed much is the role of mentor in the other genres of Children's and YA. Which brings us to, if your story has a mentor who isn't a wizard, can it still be cliché?

Of course it can, Grasshopper. :)

Most frequently, the Mentor archetype for these age groups tend to be parents, grandparents, teachers & school counsellors (and sometimes big sisters/brothers). Why? Because these are the 'people in charge' that kids have the most contact with and would most likely seek out with a problem. With such a small pool of possible Mentor choices, it's easy to see why often the Mentor character ends up feeling like a cliché.

The Mentor can be an interesting character in kids/YA, because what is a no-no for one age group might be okay for another. For example, if 15-year-old Suzy flops down at the kitchen table and pours her heart out to Mom about her boyfriend ditching her at a party to hang with the guys...well, I'm cringing. Especially if Mom trucks out that fresh pan of brownies she just happens to be baking. Call the Cliché police.

However, if little 6-year-old Jimmy stomps in, screeching about how his pal Monty shoved a frog down his shorts and he's never ever going to be his friend again in a bazillion years...well, maybe that's okay. Especially if Mom reminds dear Jimmers about how he talked Monty into eating half his ant farm the week before. (But, she better not offer the kid a brownie and a glass of milk as she does it.)

Anyway, my point is, at some ages, it's okay for kids to seek their parents/adults for help. But it depends on the circumstance, the strength of the need and the availability of others better suited to go to for help.

At an earlier age, adults encourage kids to come to them with problems. Mostly this is because they are too young to have the skills to reason or articulate their feelings to another. So if preschool Brenda snatches away Libby's Barbie convertible (with Ken still inside *gasp*), likely the teacher would rather know about it so she can reinforce a lesson in taking turns. If she doesn't, then Libby might communicate her feelings directly to Brenda through an impromptu hair cut during a game of 'Beauty Salon.'

Then an interesting thing happens as kids enter grade school. A new concept arises...don't be a tattle tale. This is imprinted in kid's brains, and what it really means is, don't bother me with the small stuff. Parents say it. Teachers say it. Principals say it. All those people who used to be available to talk to about beefs are now telling kids to solve their own problems.

But what's small? It's hard for kids to know, but it only takes a few adult eye rolls, a few don't be a tattle tale's and a few, go find something to do's before that grey area gets wider and wider. Pretty soon kids either keep it all inside, or they talk among their peers, because they understand what it's like. They get it.

Sure, it sounds harsh. But really, isn't this what we adults do? This is why in writing for kids, the mentor character needs to be used with specific attention and care. For a chunk of growing up, going to Mom or Dad or a teacher for help is often a last resort. In writing, we need to respect that. For some, the lesson of not bothering them with the small stuff is learned too well. Kids can become afraid of rejection, of not being taken seriously or being told their problems are not big enough to worry about. You know, the whole, go find something to do, kid experience.

Desperation/Need is a key factor in seeking out an adult/older sibling mentor. If the desperation or need isn't strong enough, then the relationship will not feel natural and the reader will be pulled out of the story.

So when is it okay to have an adult mentor?

--if the character is desperate, due to a timeline, other serious repercussion or danger

--if the character has no one their own age (or similar age to turn to)

--if it is in the character's nature to ask for help from a person of authority or in authority (some kids are close to certain adults--just make sure you show that)

--if the need warrants it, like specific common ground. Sometimes kids have interests that other kids can't relate to. Mark is training for shot put, which his dad used to do in college. He needs advice on the upcoming competition. He isn't going to go to his friends who hang out at the arcade all day, right?

A word on avoiding clichéd Mentors:

--Don't be preachy. Think like a kid, not as a parent. What does the kid need to hear?

--Try to stay away from the 'too-busy-for-me older brother or sister.' It's been done, done, done.

--Try to find an unusual dynamic for your mentor, if you can. Is there a way to get out of the typical 'parental' mentor rut? I read a book recently where a girl went to her sister's boyfriend with her problems--it was delightfully unexpected.

--Remember that in many situations, peer mentorship will be the most logical and realistic choice. Most kids go to other kids first when they are troubled.

--Have a zero tolerance policy for snacks during any mentoring sessions. I know food is a comfort, but it is overused and can turn a unique scene into a clichéd one.

--look closely at the need for the mentor. Challenge yourself on whether it is needed or not. Sometimes it is necessary, but sometimes a mentor is used because it makes getting revelations across the the character 'easier'.

What are your thoughts on this type of cliché?

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Panic

• Uncontrolled shaking
• Risking a different or lesser danger in order to escape
• Holding oneself tight (wrapping the arms around oneself to make smaller)
• High tolerance to pain, not feeling/noticing injuries
• Increased stength, stamina
• Grabbing onto someone and refusing to let go
• Claustrophobia
• Anxiety attacks, pain in the chest, lungs or throat
• Clutching at the throat or chest
• Gasping for air
• A harried, wild appearance
• Thoughts that turn to death or the worst possible outcome
• Copious sweating
• Backing away in quick jerky steps
• Passing out from a stress overload, lack of oxygen, or both

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 

Give Us Your Feedback!

I'm putting a column in the sidebar for general feedback on the Bookshelf Muse. If you would like to comment on a critique you have received, have an emotion you'd like to see in the Emotion Thesaurus or just have something general to say about the Bookshelf Muse, feel free to let us know!

Honey, I'm Home...

Hi folks! I'm back from my vacation to Lethbridge, Alberta, where I spent a week hiking, lazing by the pool and visiting relatives. It was a great trip with beautiful scenery, and a much needed time to recharge the ol' batteries and spend time as a family.

We stayed on a beautiful golf resort located in a valley surrounded by coulees. The weather was fantastic all week. My Hubby's aunt and uncle live there, so we were fortunate enough to visit with them. They offered to take us on a hike through the scenic coulees, showing us their jogging route.

Now I should mention that I'm not a hiker, per se. But driving past those rolling green hills each day while we stayed there, it certainly seemed like the hike would be a mere stroll. I could handle it, no problem. Besides, if Hubby's aunt and uncle jogged this route, how bad could it be?

Of course, this would have been a good time to remember the wall of marathon tags I'd noticed in the basement of their home, and how it was plastered with a bazillion registration numbers. I guess my brain, like the rest of me, was on vacation.

I'll sum up the hike for you.

Them: How's everyone doing?

Me: I'm *wheeze gasp* fine.

Them: Great! We're coming up to Heartbreak Hill.

Me: *stops chugging water* Why is it *gasp* called *pant* Heartbreak Hill?

Them: Oh, you'll see.

Me: *gently whimpers and resolves not to cry in front of children*

This is me halfway up Heartbreak Hill, lol. Don't let the camera angle fool you--this was no gentle slope. Think Mount Everest, only grassier. My breathing sounded like a mountain goat's death rattle.

The views were worth it though! You can see a cluster of buildings in the center of the valley--this is our resort and the golf course. To give you an idea of how far we'd come at this point, the tiny houses waaaaay far away on the ridge line are close to where we started.

My kids, the Xbox generation, were troopers and made it back home with virtually no complaint, and I only harbored a tiny bit of resentment toward hubby who managed to carry a conversation throughout most of hike.

The following day I was grateful for the trek. We decided to go to Waterton Provincial Park, which lies in the mountains on the border between Alberta and Montana. There, we climbed up 'Bear's Hump'. I don't know if we could have done it without the previous day's practice.

Yep, we really did climb all the way up there. We picked this hike because it had been advertised as 'the shortest'. Something to add to my list of Things I Learned on this trip: Shortest does not always mean easiest.

Here's a view from the top, looking down on the small town of Waterton.

A nice surprise waited for us up there as well--a family of squirrels so tame they'd eat right out of your hand.

It was a wonderful experience. We all struggled to get to the summit, but reaching it and seeing the magnificent view left us with a huge sense of accomplishment. I was proud of all of us.

In town, we discovered a breathtaking waterfall:

...and deer roamed everywhere, letting people walk right up to them.

Lastly, I'll finish up with a tree. Everywhere I go, I 'collect' trees that interest me. This is a view looking up at a tree from where we picnicked one sunny afternoon.

The time away nourished my spirit and helped me with some personal struggles. I came away with closer ties to my kids and some much needed perspective. I know I have work ahead to get where I need to be, but my approach will likely be a slower one, with more balance.

How was your week?

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Annoyance

• A pinched expression
• An exaggerated sigh
• Taking over a project due to impatience: Here, I’ll do it.
• Narrowing eyes
• Crossing the arms
• Tapping a foot
• A sharpening tone, using short phrases when speaking, clipped answers
• Rigid posture
• Nodding, but with a tightness to it, like one is holding back from saying something
• Throwing the hands up
• Rubbing the brow as if to ward off a headache
• Avoiding looking at the person, staring downward
• Pressing a fist to the mouth
• Fidgeting

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 

Holy Batman...10,000 hits!!

I can't believe how quickly we reached this fantastic landmark. When Becca and I started the Bookshelf Muse back in January, we were hoping to reach out to other writers, share what we knew and in turn, learn from others. Never did we think that our tiny little blog would grow so fast and fabulously!

Our most heartfelt thanks go to all the Musers who stop in at The Bookshelf Muse to read our blog. We appreciate all the comments, insight and encouragement. Together, I think we have all found a place to grow. Both Miz Becca and I are looking forward to the future will hold!

To celebrate this way-cool achievement, I'd like to announce that our Muser Pema has won a free 1st chapter critique for being the last Muser to comment before we hit 10,000!

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Frustration

· Making fists
· Waving a hand, "talking" with the hands
· Interrupted or erratic strides
· A need to ask questions, rehash information
· Tightness in the chest
· Speaking through one's teeth with forced restraint
· Speaking without thought, often leading to regret
· A harried appearance, sweating
· Pleading, bargaining
· Running one's hands through the hair
· Scrunching up one's face and then releasing, trying to regain calm
· Clumsiness (slopping coffee, knocking something over, breaking something due to being rushed)
· Groaning
· Restlessness, an inability to sleep or relax
· Replaying a scene or event over and over in one's mind, obsessing over it
· Kicking at something (a pop can on the sidewalk, a flower, a pebble, a chair)
· Having a tantrum (screaming, body flung down on the floor, kicking, crying)

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 

Monty Python on Clichés...

A writer friend introduced me to this sketch a long time ago and today it is still one of my favs. It's a great example of twisting a cliché into something original, and will give all writers a good laugh...so enjoy!

The Prodigal Son

A Special Character Cliché: Parents

In some children/YA books, parents can be reduced to cardboard clichés in order to be seen 'at the edges' of a story without being in danger of taking it over. Why is this? Simply because to create a realistic environment, we may need a parental presence. Mom or Dad get a scene or two using the walk-on cliché in order to include them in the story. Mom might stroll into her daughter's sleepover to drop off a bowl of popcorn or Dad might drop the gang off at the mall with a be good now, kids speech. Either way, many walk-ons are filler, and have no other purpose than to show that yes, the Main Character does have parents.

I'll just say this on the subject: rarely is filler a good thing.

So, let's look at relevant scenes with parents. Most books have parents taking on a minor role in order to let the plot and the young protagonists flourish. However, this doesn't mean that in characterizing good old Ma and Pa we need to resort to the cliché.

Here are a few scenarios I see much too often:

Dad whips up a batch of his famous pancakes to give Mom a break

Ring a bell? Sure, sometimes it's waffles or omelets, but always it's famous. Any way you stir it, this scene is usually a 'coffee break' in disguise--a chance to hash over story events or discuss a problem.

So does this mean that asking for advice, sharing worries or bouncing around ideas with a DNA donor is a bad idea? No, not at all. Parents are there to guide, to help. However, choosing a mealtime as the circumstance for a discussion draws bright red arrows to the coffee break plot device. If you need to pick a parent's brain, try cornering Dad as he hoses down the driveway or Mom as she jots a quick email to work.

Mom washing the dishes or preparing a meal/baking cookies

Another regular feature, with a familiar setting: the kitchen. I understand that the kitchen is a place where the family interacts on a regular basis, but it's used so often it has become predictable. The sum of Mom's life is not cooking, cleaning and straightening and to portray it as such is to fall into another cliché.

There are lots of places where your character can get Mom's attention, and it doesn't have to include her in the kitchen slaving over a pie. Maybe she's attacking dandelions in the flowerbeds like a deranged lunatic or spying on a neighbor. What if she's checking little Bobby's head for lice again because another notice came home from school? Stretch your imagination and give us a setting and circumstance that reveals something about Mom, which in turn sheds light on the MC's home life. Does Mom deal with life's moments with humor? Is she a control freak?

Bottom line...unless the mom in your story is baking a poisoned cake or flinging plates at the walls, try to avoid a kitchen scene. Chances are you can find a stronger setting and more original circumstance with a bit of thought.

Mom and Dad act clueless over a slight or unfair treatment toward a sibling

Now, while sibling rivalry and feeling slighted are common themes, showing it through clueless parents shouldn't be. Parents aren't clueless. They do pick their battles, they do sometimes choose the easy route rather than adhering to a stringent on-the-line fair, but our brains in la-la land clueless? No.

I have no issue with a MC feeling they are being treated unfairly--by all means, this is something that all young readers can identify with. But please, show those parents acknowledge they're being unfair "I know it's your brother's turn to do the recycling, but he has to get this science project done by tomorrow" etc, etc.

Other parental clichés to avoid:

--Dad reading the paper (don't most people read it online these days?)
--Mom doing mountains of laundry (yawn)
--Going out to a pizza restaurant or getting pizza delivery for dinner (Thai, anyone?)
Mom and Dad distracted or too busy for the character's concerns Often this is used because it's an easy way to force the child character to work on their own. If you use it, make sure you back it up. Make it a last resort, not the first.
--Using a child's mistake to preach (ACK! Die moral police, die!) Never preach. The strongest discoveries and best lessons come from within, not having a parent tell you why your actions were wrong. Save that for when your dog pees on the rug.

Care to add to the list? What parental clichés do you see happen frequently in books? Which ones bother you the most?

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Humility/Meekness

· Hesitantly offering an opinion or answering questions
· Anxiety at praise or attention (blushing, stuttering out a response)
· Small displays of emotion (a small smile instead of an energetic grin)
· Feeling cornered when approached
· Shrugging, shaking the head or nodding an answer instead of speaking
· Holding/hugging something like a shield when interacting with others
· Hiding out in a bathroom or little-used area
· Sitting or standing with one's back to something--a wall, a chair, a corner
· Using a quiet activity to avoid others (reading a book, listening to music through earbuds)
· Small movements that keep one from being noticed
· Wearing muted colors or unassuming clothes to avoid being singled out
· Making decisions that will keep one out of the limelight
· A secret desire for praise, having fantasies about being accepted and joining in

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 


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