Figure of Speech: Paradiastole

My favorite euphemism was born one fine Sunday afternoon when a Jehovah’s Witness came proselytizing at our door. Husband answered, intending to politely explain we were already zealously devoted to the Dark Lord, when the good Witness spotted one of our cats, Bartholomew. When Husband saw the man’s eyes fall onto and then expand at the glorious sight he beheld, he waited, and, after a pause, the good Witness remarked, “My, he is plentiful.”

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Not named after the apostle, but does deserve a feast day.

Paradiastole utilizes euphemisms (you’re welcome for the two-fer FoS, by the way) to transform a negative into a positive, most frequently to recast a bad characteristic as a good one. While all paradiastole is a form of euphemism, all euphemism isn’t paradiastole. With any old euphemism, you’re replacing the offending word with a less harsh word without necessarily modifying the meaning (excusing the fact that all synonyms do carry at least very slight differences in meaning), but with paradiastole specifically, you’re purposely attempting to alter the listener’s perception of a word or concept by stating something is not what they think.

I feel like I probably use paradiastole in casual speech, typically when grasping desperately at some form of comedy.

“Ashley, are you sick? You don’t look so good.”
“Oh no, the red-nosed and eye-bagged look is so in right now. I’m not sick, I’m fashionable.”

or

“It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!” – So sayeth all the developers at work.

But while researching this figure of speech, I realized this sounds remarkably like the exact kind of rhetoric that scares me. It’s the kind typically used to maliciously convince people to do things that are not in their own or others’ best interests, and it’s used to mask hatred and xenophobia, giving people an out for their horrendous beliefs.

It allows people to say things like “Donald Trump isn’t racist or a misogynist, he just tells it like it is, he’s bold, and he speaks his mind.” Intolerance rebranded as a virtue.

Of course this use isn’t new, it’s existed as long as language has for sure, but we can look back to Quintillian and his work in 95 A.D. (yes, 2000 years ago, hang with me) for more explanation. In Institutio Oratoria in response to being questioned in a court of law regarding a thing you cannot possibly deny, he states one should:

restate the facts, but not at all in the same way; you must assign different causes, a different state of mind and a different motive for what was done…you must try to elevate the action as much as possible by the words you use: for example, prodigality must be more leniently redescribed as liberality, avarice as carefulness, negligence as simplicity of mind.

So yeah, one of the greatest rhetoricians in history is suggesting you “play dumb” in court, but beyond that he is admitting that paradiastole is not necessarily a genuine use of a synonym or even a reunderstanding of the concept in question. It goes beyond the basest use of rhetoric–to convince–and acknowledges paradiastole can be used essentially to lie.

This FoS isn’t always used maliciously. Sometimes you must convince someone of something that isn’t necessarily true. Or you think you must. I’m sure there are at least a few politicians who, even though they know they are lying, think they’re doing it for the greater good, and an argument can be made that intent is more meaningful than outcome.

Per Aristotle, “whenever one calls oneself wise rather than cunning, or courageous rather than overconfident, or careful rather than parsimonious” that’s paradiastole. And you could say that’s…fibbing, to “euphemize” it.

So when do we lose the actual meaning of the words used to usurp the truth? Just as Obama’s “change” became horrific to conservatives, making America “great” again has become synonymous with a joke for liberals (though I would argue one was true and one is not).

I love that language is always evolving–when a language stops changing and moving, like a shark, it dies–but like any good English major, I fear change in language a bit. I love certain words, and I hate the potential loss of them, especially when losing them hinges on some fucko wanting to kinda pretend to not be a dick. And like how pervasive truthiness is now (Stephen Colbert really called it, man), paradiastole is rendering a major change in communication as well.

So how can you use paradiastole in your writing? Well, do you have a character with a blaring personality disorder?

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Writing Nest

I’ve heard tell that people who work from home need to cultivate a work-specific space to keep themselves on task. This may not apply to everyone, but in my experience I like to feel “in the zone” in order to do serious writing. When I was in high school, I had a desk in my room and a desktop, no laptop, so my work (including terrible, terrible fiction) was done at that desk. When my butt hit the chair, a switch flipped, and I turned into an author. (I also turned into a monkey because there was a spot on the wall I used to prop my foot up on, equal with my shoulder (I don’t fucking know) and I eventually wore the paint away. Gross.) Over a decade later, I realized this might be exactly what I need now.

So I made myself a writing nest. See, before, I used to go “OK I’m going to do some serious writing today, but first I need to gather all this nonsense and get comfortable!” But now I just have all that nonsense right there in an already comfortable (but not too comfortable) space, so I just need to plant my ass and go.

My writing nest is currently a corner of our living room. Husband and I inhabit an open concept bungalow which, as I’ve mentioned, gives shape to a weird living room, but the desk nook I’ve carved out fits perfectly. I wanted to not face a wall with my back on an open space (always be vigilant!) This allows me to survey the whole house at one time which leads to a simultaneous pro/con: I can see everything. If the house is messy, it’s distracting, but it’s also motivation to keep things clean. But if I can see everything, I’m not concerned with what I’m potentially missing like if I were locked away in a room or even just turned away. That’s only a vague concept, but it works for me. Mostly I just don’t want some ghost sneaking up behind me.

So here’s the set up:

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Cat included.

The desk was a cheap Amazon purchase. I originally wanted white because I got carried away with the aesthetic I see all over YouTube, but the fact is I’m a messy bitch and black matches the color of my soul anyway, so here we are. The side table is one of, if not the first table Husband and I purchased when we moved to Florida. It provides space for animals, stuffed and real. I wanted to forgo a traditional desk chair for a couple reasons. I don’t really care for arms on chairs as I like to sit cross-legged, and since I knew the nook would be in the living room, I thought a living room chair would be more elegant. I was fucking spot on.

I know what you’re thinking: “Is she really so extra that she needs a laptop and a Chromebook at the same time?” The answer is yes, so let’s just move on from that.

The whiteboard came from Costco, and is for to-do lists and plotting. I like to plot with sticky notes so scenes can be moved around, and the whiteboard provides a nice corral for that. Added LED string lights because the internet told me I have to. Thanks, Target! The large calendar is obviously for a desk, but I need it on the wall. It’s staying in this photo, but it keeps falling down, so I’m not utilizing it to its full potential. My life is hard, you guys.

I know I have a lot of stuffed animals. It’s a problem.

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A few details:

And finally my view out over my realm:

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Dining table COVERED in nonsense, thankfully shadowed in the back.

So there you have it. A space where, when my butt hits the chair, I’m in writing mode. Or The Sims mode. Wait…did I…did I do this right?

Figure of Speech: Zeugma

I first heard the term zuegma in a course on Shakespeare. I don’t remember the Shakespearian example given, but the second was from Alanis Morissette’s “Head Over Heels”:

You held your breath / And the door for me

That’s stuck with me because it’s such a perfect illustration of the term. But this post would be too short if I stopped there.

Loosely, zeugma is a figure of speech that defines when a single word is used to convey two separate things. Zeugma come in a variety where the word in question is used once to convey the same meaning twice or to convey a literal and figurative meaning of the same word, usually a verb.

Some of my favorite examples:

“Out teeth and ambitions are bared” – “Be Prepared,” The Lion King

“You are free to execute your laws and your citizens as you see fit.” – Star Trek: TNG

“She came right on time and repeatedly.” – I don’t know if this is from something or I just made it up. I’m sorry and you’re welcome.

I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to zeugma. It’s clever, it’s unexpected, and it’s often used to underscore something more dramatic or sinister than what’s on the surface, so you could call it tricky. It’s almost like a little joke that makes you snicker, but when you fully comprehend the punch line you’re a bit alarmed with yourself for having laughed. In any case, it’s my favorite figure of speech.

I think we often say something is a “figure of speech” when referring to a specific idiom (“kick the bucket,” “six feet under,” “pushing up daisies,” and lots of others that aren’t morose), but FoS are all of the ways to express those idioms and the rhetorical devices we use to turn writing from just words into something worth reading.

I feel pretty strongly that creativity, writing and rhetoric specifically, come from within. You can be taught about certain things and then utilize them once you’re aware of them, but whether you utilize them effectively or cleverly is up to what you’re born with. If you’re a writer-type, you probably naturally utilize zeugma without even knowing what it is, but once you’re aware of the tool and how it functions, you can put it to its best use. And, in the best of cases, you can break all the rules around it.

5 Tips to Keep You Going for NaNoWriMo

Seeing as I’m about 1000 words short of where I should be at this point, I figured what better time for me, the learned, prolific author, to craft a blog post of tips to help you, the struggling writing novice, reach your NaNo goals?

Here are my top five tips on how to keep the momentum going through National Novel Writing Month. You are so very welcome.

 

1. Get Snacks

When you’re in writing mode, or even when you’re not but supposed to be, hunger is a distraction you do not need, especially since walking to and from the fridge is a great procrastination tactic. Before sitting down with your laptop, notebook, chalk and slate, whatever, gather a plethora of writerly snicky-snacks to get you through. And when I say writerly, I mean foods inspired by some of the most prolific authors. Shakespeare was notably remembered for loving poutine and, in fact, credited the gravy, cheese-curdy dish for getting him through Hamlet which, coincidentally, he completed during a NaNo event (it was just called The Word Plague back then, and fell in March). Charles Dickinson, along with being paid by the word, credited his prose fertility to Gushers Sour Triple Berry Shock fruit snacks. Tweet at your favorite author, I’m sure they’ll take time out of their own writing schedule to tell you their favorite, inspiring treat.

 

2. Do Sprints

No, I don’t mean the thing where you set a timer for, say, 15 minutes and do nothing but write nonstop. I mean actual sprints–you’re going to need them after downing Jane Austen’s favorite Taco Bell order anyway. So strap on some running shoes and take off. But how will this help my writing? I can hear your unlearned little brains grinding away at the question. Simple: you will hate running so goddamned much, that if you give yourself two choices–run or write–you’re gonna write a fuckton. Also, running gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don’t kill their husbands because he kept interrupting them.

giphy

 

3. Get in Touch with Your Muse

Or, at least try to. There are only nine of them and they’re notoriously difficult to get a hold of. Mine is Thalia, and she’s shockingly busy for someone mythological. I send her a text and three days later my inspiration comes in the form of:

sorry, thought i already texted back! LOL! how bout adding in a love triangle to spice things up? LOL IDK  🏺🎭💙

She’s also always asking me to sacrifice a goat to her for better ideas, and I’m like, bitch, who do you think you are, the devil?

 

4. Get in Touch with the Devil

Summoning an imp or even a full-fledged demon is easier than you think, it just takes a handful of candles, a bit of human blood (doesn’t have to be yours), and the all-encompassing desire to trade in your soul for a temporary, earth-while gift that is very likely to backfire on you in some poetic way (which, as a writer, you’ll be too appreciative of to be upset about). Imps are quicker and more reliable than demons to show, even when you get the ritual a little wrong (Latin is hard to pronounce), but their suggestions can be a bit cliche. On the plus side, you can often trick them into trading something else rather than your soul for ideas. I don’t even miss my Nintendo 64. Demons, however, are smarter, so they have amazing suggestions, but can’t be tricked as easily. So here’s a bonus #sataniclifehack for this list: sign away your soul to multiple demons, as many as possible. When you die, they’ll be too busy squabbling over who gets you that you’re bound to be able to slip away into another dimension. Science.

 

5. Get Someone Else To Do It For You

If all else fails, pull a Tom Clancy or James Patterson and just get somebody else to write your NaNo novel for you. This shit’s hard work, just churning out word after word, unsure where the plot’s going, how your characters are growing, if the theme is coming through at all, so you may as well leave the grunt work in someone else’s hands and hire a ghostwriter. Then you can sit back and wait til December. Or January. Or whenever. It’s fine guys, it’s all fiiiiine.

 

Good luck on finishing up your first full week of NaNoWriMo, guys! Remember, you should have at least 8,335 words by midnight tomorrow. So what you’re only halfway there, strap on your sports bra, pick up an E.A. Poe Chai Latte, call up Beelzebub, and get to it!

A Simple Character Worksheet

There are a ton of these on the internet, and mine isn’t that special, but I wrote it with fantasy in mind. I consider this just a worksheet, not a total character write up. This is something I start with when I’m fleshing someone out for the first time. Typically, my characters come to me with one or two stark traits, maybe black as night hair and a love of chihuahuas, or densely freckled shoulders and eidetic memory. I usually let characters sort of create themselves as I write based on their reactions to situations, but I find that I need what’s basically a logbook of what I’m saying about them as I go. So I begin by jotting down at least pieces of the following worksheet and fill in what I skip over as the information reveals itself.

I also want to say very quickly that I don’t mean the very popularly touted idea that characters write themselves. Yes, sometimes you find yourself writing So-and-So saying or doing something you’d never imagined her to do, but you are still writing it. You, the writer, have control over what you put down on paper. You’re the god of your world. Wield your powers, Wise One.

Below is a text based version of the worksheet that you can copy and paste into whatever word processing thing you use (Google Docs is my weapon of choice). I wrote in some suggestions to help you as you go if you’re into that which you can delete. A printable can be downloaded here for you too without the suggestions so you can go hog wild.

 

CHARACTER SKETCH

Name: This is how your narrator refers to them. Be consistent here based on who’s narrating, even if you jump from head to head

Full Name: The character’s name given at birth or with any current titles

Nicknames/Aliases: Include who uses these other names (yeah, I basically wrote “name” three times, but I use this because it sparks backstory and relationships)

Birthdate/Circumstances: Knowing the exact date may not be that important, but the season and astronomical timing may matter depending on the world or the character’s culture. I also include here where and how the character was born, like in their parents’ home, mother attended to by local midwife, or in a cloning tube, a year too early and all alone.

Species: For me, this is any group that likely cannot (at least not easily) breed together. So I might have elves and humans which could have children, but conception would be rare. Remember, in our world, species usually don’t cross breed and mostly can’t. This isn’t to say half-elves and quarter-goblins can’t/shouldn’t exist in your world, even in abundance, just take genetics into consideration, and please do NOT confuse species with race.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION – I always include the actual words I use in-book to describe, typically when a character is first introduced. For instance, if I give a character copper hair, I won’t change it to red here, or, more complicatedly, if someone has “piercing” eyes, that goes in this description along with the color.

Race: I feel like I should say this one more time — Species and Race are DIFFERENT. So while different species often cannot breed, races can, and people of mixed racial identity are very common (at least in a world where travel occurs (which yesss that is your fantasy world if anyone has a ship and trades)). We usually just use race to refer to humans, but I’m going to assume in your fantasy world you have other humanoids which may have their own or cross-over races with your humans. Before this becomes its own blogpost, I’m just going to encourage you to do a lot of research into genetics and the actual history of how peoples have traveled in our world and tell you to be creative and informed.

Eyes: color, shape, misc. descriptors

Hair: color, length, style, misc. descriptors

Skin: color, state (burnt from outdoor work? very well cared for?)

Weight/Height/Body Type: Environment should be a big factor here

Distinctive Markings: tattoos, scars, freckles, wings, horns, seventeen eyeballs in a world where eight are the norm

PERSONALITY – Here it is more difficult to use words I use in-book as personality is largely inferred, so I like to use examples instead of just the right descriptors. Like, if So-and-So’s weaknesses include, say, food, I might say “Once, So-and-So ate a whole chocolate birthday cake that her mother baked for her little sister’s third birthday. The morning of Lil Sis’s big party, Mom found So-and-So passed out on the kitchen floor swathed in the clinical light of the fridge, cake crumbs, and shame.”

Strengths: I start with the good stuff, because I like liking my characters (even the baddies).

Weaknesses: A pitfall I always trip into is making these opposites of the strengths. That might be a good place to start (He’s brave! But dumb! He’s logical! But emotionally shielded!) but being one thing doesn’t always make you also the other.

Hobbies/Talents: What a person likes says a lot about them. Include what your character allows other people to know and what they keep hidden.

What Makes Them: (be forewarned I went a little Pixar here)

  • Joyful: Sunshine!
  • Sad: Rain 😦
  • Disgusted: Wet socks! Ew!
  • Afraid: Thunder and lightning!
  • Angry: A ruined beach day >.<

(The above is a great example of that opposites thing being silly but not useful)

BACKGROUND – I try keeping this section light, but once an idea starts, sometimes it flows out. Don’t let any worksheet or other planning device ever stop you (especially mine as it has very little space). If you’re on a roll, even if you’re talking about strengths under their cultural background or something, just go with it You can chop up the pertinent stuff later.

Culture: You may not have come up with your world’s cultures yet, but you can jot some ideas down here. I suggest making this very vague and elaborating on culture in its own worksheet (I’ll write that someday).

Family/Childhood Friends: A list works here, and also your character’s feelings about those listed

Where/How Did They Grow Up: The city/town/farm and the physical house/room, as well as their socioeconomic class

Romantic History: This is a good place to figure out their sexual identity as well

 

You probably noticed there were no questions relating to the character’s motivation or the plot, but as I mentioned, this is just a minor worksheet to get your started. It can also be handy to refer back to as you’re writing if you forget someone’s exact eye color or their father’s name. Since the worksheet prints out on two pages, I like to have those facing each other, on the left and right, in a binder or notebook so all the character info is spread out at one time.

Here’s hoping this is helpful to you.