do these names have in common?
Hagrid’s Dragon, Thor’s Helmet, The Yin-Yang, The Oyster, Cleopatra’s
Eye, The Helix, The Sliced Onion, The Fiddlehead, The Ghost, The Turtle, The
Baby Eskimo, The Hockey Stick, The White-eyed Pea, The Little Gem, The Snake,
The Captain Hook, The Heart, The Coal Car, The Raspberry, The Double Bubble,
The Silver Streak, The Cat’s Paw, The Cheerio, The Little Beehive, The
Starfish, The Ink spot, The Emerald, The Phantom Streak, The Frigate Bird, The
Magic Carpet, and The Chandelier.
They’re all imaginative names astronomers have given to star clusters,
galaxies, nebulae, and other celestial objects.
Of course, these names are not necessarily what other creatures out there in the Universe call the same objects. They might call our magnificent spiral Milky
Way something like The Dishwater Going Down the Drain Galaxy.
A friend sent me the link to this wheel which is supposed to help
writers with their fiction:
The wheel has a certain logic to it, but
if any writer starts resorting to this stuff she or he really misses the whole
There are all kinds of writing advice
books. Most are junk, written by folks who have not actually accomplished
much in writing. Some talk about constructing elaborate story lines using
index cards that you can shuffle around to build a structure, or charts that
purport to lay out a proper story flow, or certain arcane formulas.
Problem is, life doesn't follow charts. How would we set out to chart the dark and bizarre
thinking of ISIS, for example, or hope to predict its future using some fiction
The best writers work from habitual
in-depth scrutiny of surroundings and people and experiences, much like the
best photographers and painters and sculptors. Of course you have to work
within a certain recognized genre, and for good reasons. Nicholas Sparks
writes romances, for example, and has worked to nail that genre. His
readers come to his books with certain expectations (some kind of spotlighted
human relationship that is troubled or in jeopardy, with some kind of
believable resolution that has romantic resonance). He satisfies those
expectations and thus makes lots of money.
And writers who can additionally imbue
their work with enough power and wisdom and beauty and empathy can rise above
all the rest and help change the world. Steinbeck did it with The
Grapes of Wrath, for example. There
are many, many more examples.
Our language is almost endlessly expressive,
but it must be used correctly to preserve its integrity and to be most
effective. Many times words are misused,
so the language suffers. Here are a few
Unique: The original meaning was
one of a kind. As such, it could have no
modifiers. You cannot have something
that is very unique (very one of a kind).
The proper word you want if you’re going to use a modifier is
unusual. Often something can be very
Enormity: The original meaning
was an horrific abomination on a vast scale.
The Holocaust was an enormity. An
elephant is not, therefore, an enormity.
An elephant is enormous, or unusually large.
Bemused: It originally meant
confused or perplexed. If you appreciate
some humorous comment or incident, you are amused, not bemused.
And a phrase that particularly lights my fuse is “center around.” The center of a circle or sphere is fixed and
unmoving in relation to that circle or sphere.
Therefore the phrase is impossible.
You can center on something
or revolve around it, as the planets
revolve around the sun, which is at the center of our solar system. But the earth cannot center around the sun.
Here’s a list of commonly misused words:
Of course, if enough people
continue to misuse a certain word or phrase, the folks who write the
dictionaries will eventually cave in and add the misuse definition, sadly to
the detriment of our language.