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The Wicked Writing Blog

Welcome to the home of great writing ideas. Fun and sheer tomfoolery are never far away! Feel free to add your comments. (To comment on a post, or see the comments there, simply click on its title.)


How To Shape Great Stories With Word Games

July 1, 2016

What's in a word?

A world.

When we use words creatively we shape the universe – at least, our readers' perceptions of it. We replicate the Logos, the primal Word. Our fancies take on flesh.

Please forgive this prologue (lit: prō logus, a word that goes before). I merely wished to point out that as fiction writers we have powers unsuspected by the hoi polloi.

We create worlds!

So why are we so often content to be hand-me-down world shapers, jobbing demi-gods who bodge a story together using other people's words when we might create our own words? And thus make worlds?

True, we must start with familiar words – common tokens of exchange – or lose our readers. Only madmen speak in tongues. Anything whatever that is new - truly - would be incomprehensible to us.

But we can tease and morph those mundane terms in new directions to create perceptions that are wholly new and yet, being grounded in familiar words, are comprehensible.

Shakespeare did it all the time.

He took existing words and, out of them, coined courtship, extract, accommodation, horrid, premeditated, excellent, obscene, lonely, frugal, and a thousand other terms that we take for granted nowadays but had never been used before.

He was a verbal alchemist. From dross, he created new filters by which we now, four centuries later, perceive the world. And shape it.

To put it bluntly, if you have ever been thrilled by a line in Shakespeare, or any poet, or any author whatsoever, your neurology has been physically rewired. You have become  - in a subtle, indeterminable fashion - a different person.

Your world has been reshaped.

Fine literature will do that. And we can do it too, for our readers.

So how do we become the shapers of new worlds, wizards of the logosphere?

Here are three fun – but practical - ways:

1. Look at common words – and call their bluff.

Dictionaries will kid you that words can have a meaning, licitly, that only they specify. Moreover, words must be spelled in certain ways. Rubbish. A dictionary is nothing more than a charnel house of ossified opinion. Your opinion (and mine) on how a word can be used is as good as anyone's.
For fifty years, I innocently pronounced the term 'misled' as 'mizzled'. Nobody had ever corrected me. The dictionary now tells me that 'mizzled' has something to do with rain. Nonsense. It means 'misled'. And there's an end to the matter.
We can use, misuse or mangle a word or expression in any way we wish, provided it works.

A dictionary is merely a camp follower of language, not its tribal chief. If a new word is published a certain number of times, in separate places, it becomes a candidate for inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary. It has 'arrived'.

Look out for a new definition of 'mizzled' in the OED very soon...

2. Use familiar terms as springboards to new expressions.

Don't be afraid to have fun. I enjoyed myself when writing this passage, à propos of nothing:
'I trolled to the pub in quest of ale and fell over a giggle of lolitas with twiddlelinks in their navels. Ear-wig music stained the air. All reason fled. So I did too.'
“What does it mean?” I hear you ask. Whatever you get out of it. But its sub-text is clear: avoid my village pub at lunchtimes.

Of course, if you write all your novel like that you'll win awards but sell few books. So do limit such joies de vivre to one per chapter.

Better still, insert them only in those scenes inhabited by your most pretentious character. There they'll be at home and tacitly enhance the idiot's characterization.

Idiot? The words work, don't they? You'll never see a teenager with a pierced navel in quite the same way again.

I've changed your world.

3. Create words that we don't have yet, but we should have.

Readers of the UK Times newspaper populated its Letters column in June 2016 with some wonderful neologisms from James Joyce – words that we should have in the English language but still don't:
pensible, shuddersome, dredgerous, regretitude, alcoherence, earwitness, intaxication (the love of taking people's money), adulescence (the worship of childish trends), gossipocracy (better than 'Twitterati') and sadisfaction (a home-grown alternative to schadenfreude).
I added my own contribution: the 'nurdle'.

This is the little potato – or any vegetable – that's always left in the pot after the family have taken their share. Nobody dare claim it lest they appear greedy. So a greedy person, in my family's lexicon, would be deemed 'a nurdler'.

Do you think 'nurdle' will catch on?

Why not? If Shakespeare had coined 'nurdle', every greedy politician since his time would have been called 'a nurdling demagogue', to the enrichment of our language.

4. Build a database of useful expressions.

I've been collecting jolly metaphors, synonyms and figures of speech ('tropes') for many years. I now have nearly 3000 of them, most of them my own but a few (I confess it) stolen from other authors. When I tired of feretting among scraps of paper I put them into a card file, organized by topic.

Anal retentive? Moi?

No matter. If I need a fresh way to write eg. 'he frowned' – and don't we all, at times? - I look up the appropriate card. The expression I find might not be quite right but it inspires me to create one that is.

Here's an example of one of the several cards I have for 'frowned':

TROPE: Frowned

Scowled | growled | smirked | sulked | pouted | huffed | gruffed | gloomed | glowered | grouched | grumped | peeved | smouldered | loured | moped |

He stalked away in a dignity of cheekbones

sorrowed | mourned | lamented | carped | crabbed | despaired | brooded | grieved | wept | repined | glummed | puled | whinged

He smiled and icicles formed in the clouds | snow began to fall in Siberia | every rose wilted in the vase/garden

His eyes darkened | narrowed | bulged | grew grim | beady | chilled over | clouded | shut me out | clamped shut

He looked at me like a dog that smells a cat in its basket/garden | as if I'd laid an egg

Clouds formed in his eyes. | A storm was imminent. | A frosty/gloomy stare | His eyes were ice

He pulled in his neck like a snapping turtle | snail

His face froze | stiffened | congealed | curdled

He smiled and the room grew dark | cold | smaller | and the windows frosted over

His nose | Hapsburg/regal chin sneered at me

If looks could kill I'd be meat for a coroner

His fingers curled | stiffened. His body stiffened

He gave me a 'get out of that one, you bastard' / 'what's it to you?' kind of smile

He stepped back sharply | jerked back | drew back his head

Like a man who'd found a slug in his salad

His lips narrowed | stiffened | became razor thin | curled

She gazed at me with a cryptic melancholy, as if she wanted to straighten my tie | Her eyes widened as if I'd suddenly grown horns

His chin | head twitched disdainfully |

A little sneer romped around his lips

The sniff was audible | Pepper-nosed

His hand jerked, as if flapping me away

A muscle twitched in his cheek/throat.

He retreated into some corner of his mind where I did not exist | Her eyes dimmed behind a cloud of unknowing

Much distempered | 'Old rusty guts'

I was clearly as welcome as a ferret in a rabbit/rat hole

His eyes clawed/fleered/snarled at me | He trounced me with a sneer

He crossed his arms and looked at/admired the ceiling

Why not build your own database of handy phrases? Or expressions (tropes) you can expand on inventively? Never again will you write 'he frowned' when you can, more delightfully, write 'his mouth went sideways'.

Dare you invent your own words or expressions?

Why not?

Build them on words already familiar to your readers – so the new terms retain one foothold in sanity – then be as inventive as you wish. You'll not only add to the word-hoard available to writers but also expand your readers' cognitive world.
('Cognitive'? Don't ask. Define it how you wish. Your definition is as good as anybody's. Isn't it?)
Words are the filters we all apply instinctively when interpreting experience.

A new word midwifes us into a new world of sensibility. The thrill of discovering it generates dopamines in our brains. Our neural networks make new links.


As creative writers, we have a heavy responsibility – to reshape our readers' brains. Quite literally. Are you ready for that mission?

Awesome, I agree. But it's our duty to the next generation. Scant will be our rewards but, if we don't do it, who will?

Admen? Politicians? Journalists? Pfui...

Per ardua, ad fabula, mes amis! (If you'll pardon the expression.)

Have you ever coined wholly original words or phrases, terms new to literature? And did they work?  Is my argument in this post absurd? Share your thoughts in a comment below!

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, is a top-rated Amazon novelist and tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. You can find a wealth of ideas for writing stories that succeed and gain a big 10,000 word ebook - 15 Wily Ways to Write Better Stories - in his free 14-part course at Writers' Village:

Eleven Sneaky Ways To Rescue A Failed Story

June 24, 2016

So your story 'doesn't work'. You've worried it to death. You've cut stuff out. You've put it back in again. Now you're wondering for the nth time if that comma in line three should really have been a semi-colon or a full stop.


Isn't it time to junk the whole wretched tale and start again?

No. Your story might still be rescued, faults and all. Here are eleven sneaky ways. ('Sneaky' because they're quick fixes and don't pretend to be complete writing strategies.) 

I'll start with a ...

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6 Surprising Reasons Why Your Story Is Better Than You Think

June 17, 2016

Have you ever tumbled into a trough of writing despair? “My stories are no good,” you say. “I'm a hopeless writer, witless and inept.” Baloney. Everybody is a bad writer – at least, in their first drafts.

More to the point, your self-opinion is wrong.



Your stories – and your writing skills – are probably a lot better than you think. Why? Let me count the reasons, all six of them.

1. You love your story – or something about the story.

If you don't love it, nobody el...

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Ten Clever Ways To Keep Your Reader Enthralled

June 10, 2016

We all know how to inject pace into our stories, don't we? Just drop in a lot of exciting moments and space them with 'scene hangers'. 'Little did I know that my life was about to change forever', and the like.

But hangers are clichés. Sure, they're useful but not right for every story.

So what else can we do to keep the reader enthralled? Turning our every page? And wholly immersed in our story?

Top crime suspense writer Sue Coletta reveals ten tricks of the trade. We can adapt them to an...

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How To Create A Dream World That Writes Your Stories (All By Itself)

June 3, 2016

The simplest way to write a story is to stand back and let it write itself! Have you ever enjoyed that moment when a story possessed you - and you were merely its willing scribe?

Magic, wasn't it? How can you do it again?

Here's a proven device, magic indeed. But first you have to ask yourself a tough question. And the answer might be disturbing...

Ever thought of yourself as a confidence trickster?

Of course, not. You're an ethical person. You recycle your trash. You refrain from kicking ...

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Why Everything You Think You Know About Dialogue Is Wrong

May 20, 2016

'Dialogue' is what happens when two or more people talk to each other. Correct? No. Dialogue is almost any speech act. Consider monologue. The dictionary defines it as a long speech by one person, usually boring. Yet it's still dialogue.

Why? Somebody is listening and responding, if only to tune it out.

But suppose nobody is listening? Maybe it's 'interior monologue' – a person is thinking privately, by themselves, to themselves.

That's still dialogue.

How come? When we think, somebody liste...

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An Honest Letter To The Writer Struggling To Make It

May 13, 2016

How do we keep that spark of inspiration going? Our passion for writing? Our mission to succeed as an author, despite every setback? Every rejection? Every put-down from our writing group and 'friends'?

Writer and blogging expert Eli Seekins shows us how. But
how does he know? Read his moving personal story – and his great advice - here...

What was that? Did you feel it? It was like a flicker of bright light, like the chill of your breathe in early morning. Like fire warming your hands...

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John Yeoman

Dr John Yeoman, MA Oxon, MPhil, PhD Creative Writing, FSRS*  is a UK university tutor in the short story. He has 42 years experience as a successful commercial writer, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy.

He has published innumerable works of humour, some intended to be humorous.

* Founder, the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Semi-colon