• Prompt: Your Last 10 Words

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 37 comments
    Oct
    3

    Discussion questions: Not a question, but write a story or poem or *something* using the last five to ten words you’ve looked up on your dictionary app or online or, if you can remember, in your actual dictionary. (If you don’t have such a log, you can use my words.) Also, share with us why you looked up these words, if there’s an interesting reason.

     

    Here’s my story, with the 10 words bolded:

    The first thing she saw was a group of construction workers reinforcing an outer wall with what looked like gunite. The man wielding the hose shuffled back and forth, trampling the creosote bushes underfoot, his face steely as if the situation outside were more exigent than any inside. It didn’t inspire confidence, but what sense of confidence did she deserve, here in the middle of this patently absurd American desert at the bottom of the world? The beauty of the landscape was dulled by the memory of the sound of her bones snapping like cracknels. While one EMT performed his auscultations, the others wheeled her through the ER’s glass doors, which, as they slid apart, showed a patulous crack that reminded her of much of I-15 running from her littoral bungalow to — in theory, though she may never make it — Vegas. With her garbage health insurance, cutting off that semi had been worse than any gamble she might have made there.

     

    Here are my 10:

    littoral: I read some article covering littoral combat ships, and I didn’t recognize the word.

    bottom: Sense 9, something about a fundamental quark. (See below)

    beauty: I looked this up because of a passage in A Swim in A Pond in the Rain. The final entry says, “Bottom, sense 9.” (Something about a fundamental quark.)

    cracknel: A hard brittle biscuit. From a Tolstory story in the Pond book. (I’m leaving that typo because I like it. A Tolstory!)

    gunite: Before starting the Saunders I considered rereading Two-Up, about a gunite worker.

    exigent: Because someone said “exigent circumstances.”

    auscultation: Listening to heart, lungs, etc., through a stethoscope. I do not remember why I looked this up.

    patulous: Spreading, like the branches of a tree. I don’t remember how this came up.

    patently: On a news show the anchor said something was “patently absurd.” I wondered what the actual definition read.

    creosote bush: I went to look up creosote because of something I read, and “creosote bush” was offered as an autofill.

     

    In the comments, write a story using the last five to ten words you’ve looked up in a dictionary. Below that, let us know what made you look those words up.

     

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    WriteByNight writing coach and co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives

     

     

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    Sid Kemp

    I don’t know how to say this without sounding arrogant, but to find ten words I looked up because I did not know their meaning, I would have to go back several years. And I do a lot of reading. However, I did have to look up something yesterday, and it led to more than ten new words. Someone I am close to was talking to a high school friend (that’s nearly 50 years of friendship!) and learned, sadly, that her husband was suffering from a rare, hard-to-diagnose autoimmune condition that can be fatal. This was in a call between… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    My heart goes out to your friend’s friend and her husband. I can relate in that my partner went for decades with various (not to mention troubling) misdiagnoses, then was finally diagnosed correctly with MS (another autoimmune disease). Another friend had died from MG, which had also taken way too long to diagnose. The medical whirlwind in your story is all too real, including all the iatrogenic effects. Thanks for writing it.

    Sid Kemp

    Thank you, Elissa. There are many lifetimes of sadness here, and a deep sense of peace when someone understands and feels understood, as you do here.

    SusanH

    if POEMS means all that I wonder what NOVELS would stand for if it was a disorder. My brother who is otherwise completely healthy and lives a clean life, suddenly came down with leukemia and is now, thankfully, in remission, but it started with a rash, and they suspected everything BUT leukemia at first. but with the pandemic and too many other sad medical stories I’ve heard recently, I wonder sometimes if human immunity itself is in danger.

    Sid Kemp

    Hello Susan, I am so sorry your brother was so ill. I hope he makes a full recovery. The immune system we share with other great apes and primates has been challenged since the birth of civilization. Our biology does not evolve as rapidly as our environment changes, now that we are manipulating it. Chemical causes of cancer get more severe in proportion to how recently our bodies have been introduced to these agents. And viruses move through the world as they do due to ecological stresses and reproductive opportunities (for the viruses) that we create by how we live.… Read more »

    SusanH

    I share your prayer for strength and sanity, and I LOVE the anagram.

    Sid Kemp

    I thought of it reminded by a favorite movie of mine, Easy A. Olive, the lead, played by Emma Stone, says, “My name is an anagram for ‘I LOVE.'” So we have a circle of anagrams – makings of a Greek salad, maybe?

    Elissa Malcohn

    (I don’t recall what I looked up in the dictionary but I often do web searches, either for myself or for my partner, so I am using five of those instead.) We didn’t figure on semi-blindness. “Do they use LASIK on cataracts?” you ask. No, I say, checking; that’s for a different part of the eye. To read aloud is to foray through a house of distortions. We tramp across viscous floors, past bendy walls. I point: Here’s where we make repairs. Here’s where your eyes have become a fixer-upper. In an alternate universe you ping off everything, a chip-scale atomic clock nestled in your brain. Stark… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    Wow! This story catches the feeling of life (US) in 2021 with all that is going on so well for me. Thank you!

    Elissa Malcohn

    Thanks, Sid. Much appreciated!

    SusanH

    That was great, as usual, Elissa. “one magnifying glass after another” pretty much describes my attempt to try to make sense of things, yet all I ever see is specks. Occasionally one of them sprouts a little wing or something. What is a Jelle’s Marble Run?

    Elissa Malcohn

    Thanks, Susan. I love the idea of a speck sprouting a little wing. Jelle’s Marble Runs may be found at https://www.youtube.com/c/JellesMarbleRuns Their events (like the Marblelympics) have terrific production values, complete with personality dramas and cheering sections, and are at least as entertaining as (if not more so than) sports with human competitors. From the Wikipedia page: “These videos treat the cast of marbles as though they were athletes. Acting as though the inanimate marbles use actual tactics, training, and psychology to compete, fans participate in an elaborate kayfabe [i.e., “the portrayal of staged events…as ‘real’ or ‘true,’ specifically the portrayal of competition,… Read more »

    SusanH

    I used to watch Vege Tales because I enjoyed watching a tomato or a cucumber sing an aria, e.g., so I think I will probably really get into the marbles, but I’m sure that as humankind continues to lose its marbles we’ll have many more dramas starring them.

    Bonnie West

    ha. that was just an awful story. hahahahahaha. well, not the story but I tried to imagine this wasn’t an assignment but some story some dude wrote using those words. LOVED it! hahahaha

    Bonnie West

    my comment was to DAVE

    Sid Kemp

    A thought for all. There’s a variation on the “list of words” prompt exercise that might help here, especially given how widely disparate David’s word list is. I’ve done well with exercises that say “pick three of these ten words.” So, perhaps, if ten is too much, give three a try. I for one would love to see your story.

    Barbara Mealer

    I don’t have 10 words, but I do have 8 for this past week. I do a lot of beta reading and critiquing, so I look up things frequently to make sure I haven’t missed a meaning of a word along the way. Here goes my paragraph, I drove through a tule fog, barely able to see the road even with my fog lights and going 10 mph. Considering it had been a fortnight since the last rain, the fog was unexpected. I ran up the steps of the house only to see the smirk on the face of the… Read more »

    SusanH

    At first I thought “wifthing” was the gerund form of whythe. Anyhow, nice play of words in that story. I enjoyed it. Where does tule come from?

    Barbara Mealer

    The tule fog is only in California along the San Joaguin Valley and Sacramento Valleys. It is a very thick fog where you can run off the road easily. You learn to drive by braille which is running along the ripples so you can hear that you are still on the road. It forms during California’s rainy season. It was named after the tule grass wetlands (tulares) in the Central Valley of CA.

    david lemke

    50 years ago I took a course called “Super Literacy”. It’s premise was every time you read past a word you didn’t truly grok, you suffered a just a little bit of boredom, tiredness, or unconsciousness often cause you to not understand what followed and put the book down. If you went back and found that word or words, you would perk right up and be able to understand what you were reading. At first you look up an awful lot of words even “easy’ words and short words like “and”, “the” and too. I developed the habit of always… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    Hi David,

    Long time no see. Glad to know your writing is really flowing.
    Smiling,
    Sid

    david lemke

    It’s been a while. Covid, and since I left the group.

    Sid Kemp

    All true, and I’m here if you want to reconnect.

    david lemke

    Bilbo put it succinctly; “Not ready!”
    Not ready for what?” asked Frodo.
    “For reading.”
    First drafts should not see the light of day. The story needs to be set down as fast and sloppy as needed to get it down. Any criticism, no matter how dead on and well intentioned, puts the breaks on the creative process. That was the reason I kept bouncing from one story to another when they stalled out. When I get a first draft done, I may come seeking advice and critique, but until then…

    Sid Kemp

    Hi David,

    As this is a personal matter, I will reply in email.
    Smiling,
    Sid

    Barbara Mealer

    Welcome back. Missed your comments. I don’t remember all the words I look up, but I do a lot. Glad you are writing. I’m into editing right now and it is SLOW going.

    SusanH

    Finn sat on the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean. The expansive view provided a screen of sorts upon which he played the events of his life.  The agouti sky had a grizzled appearance, dense with dark clouds.  The ocean was steely blue and somewhat choppy.  The view was subdued but brewing. It was somberly, wistfully comforting, by no means spectacular.  Thus was his life. When he contemplated the woof and the warp of it—that which had been already framed and that which he had woven–he was satisfied, more or less.  He had played the hand that he’d been… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    I love this. Wonderful twist at the end.
    Are you familiar with The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe? From Wikipedia: “Several discussions with animals and supernatural beings take place, and the final chapter actually takes place after Munthe has died and includes his discussions with Saint Peter at the gates of Heaven.” That chapter includes conversation with St. Rocco, the patron saint of the dogs. Free download at
    https://archive.org/details/storyofsanmichel005356mbp/mode/2up

    SusanH

    St. Rocco is one of my faves. I’m going to go get that book as soon as I get home from work! Thanks.
    I’m glad you liked the story. I was afraid it was boring.

    Elissa Malcohn

    Not boring at all! Grigio’s/Finn’s physique and the widow’s dementia injected suspense into the meditative tone and I cared for the characters. Loved the humor, too. (“That’s the corpus colluding with old Kronos. Here we don’t pay that god any mind” made me grin, and not just because I recently got a kick out of reading the collected works of Lucian of Samosata.) Also, fabulous foreshadowing in your hints about Finn’s species (“agouti,” “the woof and the warp,” “I hear you, Master”) that I did not catch because your descriptions fit the human species so well. That, and the way Grigio’s lives harken back, both conceptually… Read more »

    SusanH

    Thanks Elissa, I hope by saying I feared it was boring it didn’t sound like I was fishing for compliments, although I was (ha ha). Anyhow, I’m glad you picked up on the agouti, woof and Master. I didn’t even think of Finn as a dog until I realized those three words were going to be in my story. Anyhow, thanks so much. I did check out Jelle’s marble run, and after about five races I was still totally absorbed in it. Why? I think I best stay away from Jelle’s. Seems possibly addictive OR a brainwashing technique from the… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    This story is absolutely wonderful. It works on all levels – the level before each twist, and then again the level after we see each twist and go back for a second read (with a visit to the online dictionary in between). One place Google didn’t help. I couldn’t find a definition of “the thrums” that fit the story. Please clarify if you can. I could heap on much more praise – and I would be happy to – but only if you ask. If you wish, I will share my favorite moments in a new comment beginning SPOILER ALERT:… Read more »

    SusanH

    Hi Sid, Wow. Thanks for those generous comments! No, you don’t have to send more, but it is so nice of you to say you have more. I do need constructive feedback and encouragement all the time. I suppose we all do. Thrums: Unwoven warp left when the last woven piece is cut from the loom. It is called loom waste when planning warps. That is from a weaving glossary I found online, but I also found that thrum is a noun meaning a low, constant, humming sound. So, I think of “the thrums” as something the Irish would say… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    Seriously, I have found more of your fiction. It is in your heart and your imagination. You have phenomenal talent and skill and a spiritual heart. I run an invitation-only writer’s group. We focus on encouragement and nourishment that supports writers in keeping going, and on learning to be better writers. You share your work only if you want to, and control any critique. For example, you can ask for positive feedback only, or no response at all, or to hear just one specific point. If you’re interested, we can explore this with no commitment and no obligation. The group… Read more »

    SusanH

    Well, Sid, I’m a bit flummoxed. I wouldn’t mind trying another writer’s group. Last one fizzled after people just got too busy with other things. However, I am not a big zoom fan right now, and I have a poor internet connection, but I’m trying to work on improving that. I can let you know when/if I feel zoom ready. I did purchase a new camera for starters, because there are a lot of different types of meetings I need to attend on Zoom, but I haven’t tried it out yet. Let me work on that.

    Sid Kemp

    Sure, Susan. No rush, no problem. And Zoom isn’t even required. Some folks work with me just with email and a shared Google Drive.Whenever you feel ready, you can find me in one of two ways: I write a lot on Quora. You can send me a private message from my profile there. https://www.quora.com/profile/Sid-Kemp You can ask David to send us both an email to connect us. Just show him this message thread so he knows you have my permission. I’ve published 9 non-fiction books, but not much fiction yet. If you are into Tolkien fanfic, you can see what… Read more »

    SusanH

    That (really) short story really moves. Tell me, what does littoral mean? And, was she going to Vegas to gamble money or gamble on a quick marriage? I like Tolstory too.. (Another idea for a pen name.)




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