Feefle, flindrikin and unbrak; cultural vocabularies to help you write

What do feefle, flindrikin and unbrak have in common? Well, they’re part of a group of over 400 different Scottish words to describe snow and it was reported recently that they’re all being compiled into a new online Scottish Thesaurus (future topics include food, drink and rain). As The Guardian reminds us, the Scots are not alone; Hawaiians have 47 different words for describing bananas, the Inuits have possibly hundreds to describe snow, and the Baniwa tribe in Brazil have 29 ways to describe edible ants.

It seems that it’s very common for cultures to assign a number of different words to describe things that are important to them and is a key indicator of cultural preferences and importance (see Adam Jacot de Boinod’s wonderful article on what vocabularies tell us about culture here). I love how the idea of language defines peoples’ characters and personalities (or is it the other way around?). If you want to blow your mind, watch Tom Scott’s amazing youtube snippet on “Fantastic Features We Don’t Have in the English Language” here. I had never thought about how when we use our verbs, we have to give a time period. The Chinese don’t apparently. Who knew?

This is all really interesting stuff and it has an obvious relation to us as writers. The idea that Eskimos have hundreds of different words for snow is now an obvious cliché (it’s even listed on wikipedia as fact) but it’s worth thinking about in terms of dialect and speech. If you are writing about specific cultures, make sure you’re aware of the differences in language between them. If I was writing about the English for instance, I’d probably mention the rain…


Like this? I occasionally send out newsletters full of useful writing advice and reading titbits. If you want to receive them, click HERE to subscribe.

The Writing Process; when “good enough” is good enough

1

I used to work as a Director in a London-based consultancy firm and my job – amongst other things – was to write a ton of reports for our clients. The process of running environmental projects isn’t too dissimilar from writing a book. Believe it or not they share similar phases: there’s a puzzle that needs solving (a real-life problem or a fictional story); you complete loads of research; map out the narrative; get the first draft down; discuss it with other people; edit like crazy; and complete the final document. The only difference with books is that you get to use your imagination considerably more. And dare I say it. It’s a little more fun…Continue Reading

How to write short stories/novellas

1

short storiesShort stories seem to be making a comeback both from existing writers (see Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher) as well as the unexpected (like the actor Jesse Eisenberg). They are obviously very different to novels, as explained wonderfully by Jane Gardem here:

“A novel is a trek home from the desert, sometimes a journey you wish you had never started. Exhausting and humbling, just occasionally wonderful. But a short story can come from a deeper part of the cave. In a novel you make preparations. You lay in for a siege, carrying a flickering lantern. For a short story you need to carry a blow-lamp for a building site.”

If you want to write short stories and don’t know where to start, here’s a quick guide:Continue Reading

Writing tools; The Colour Thesaurus

http://ingridsundberg.com/2014/02/04/the-color-thesaurus/ 3

I often get stuck on colours; trying to find the right words to describe how red something is, or to find a colour for yellow that isn’t, er, yellow. So it’s amazingly useful that Ingrid Sundberg has created a colour thesaurus for writers everywhere – not only is it eminently practical, but each colour sheet looks wonderful too. I’ve added the colour palettes below, but these are all taken from the original article on her blog here. Go check it out!

Continue Reading

How to write great science fiction/dystopian novels

dystopian 2Two things I’ve read recently got me thinking about how to write great science fiction/dystopian novels (as well as reading through the glut of YA novels in this genre). The first was a great guest post in Writer’s Digest by Roderick Vincent (author of The Cause) on how to write dystopian fiction (and you know how I feel about Writer’s Digest – lots of marketing emails and not much great content…).Continue Reading

How to pitch your self-published book to mainstream agents

wordle my blog sept 14Having found an agent to represent my book and then having lost her again (it’s a long story) and because I’m currently still waiting for other agents to read the full manuscript that they’ve requested, I decided to continue with my plan to self-publish. This isn’t because I think I can do a better job than traditional publishing houses, but more because I wanted feedback on my writing before I started the next book, and because I thought it sounded like a challenge to see if I could singlehandedly make decisions on marketing, advertising, strategy, etc. It also felt like I was making progress (although with the amount involved and how much I’ve had to learn – quickly – I appreciate that the latter reason was completely misguided!)Continue Reading