WRITER RESOURCES: Forty-One Sounds of Laughter?!?

I’m absolutely chortling over a website I just discovered. It’s called Written Sound (www.writtensound.com). This website for writers provides an onomatopoeia dictionary, complete with nuanced definitions of the individual sounds and, where available, actual sound-bites.

Writing gurus are always reminding us to use all five senses, including hearing. But how do you put into words the strange sounds you hear around you?

laughing girlsWritten Sound has 41 different ways to talk about laughing. Yes, really. Let me give you some examples.

  • ha.    The period (instead of an exclamation mark) makes this expression of laughter sound unenthusiastic, bored, in a hurry, or not really amused.
  • ha-ha-ha-Ha-ha    Emphasis is on the fourth Ha (louder and higher pitch) and the first three ha’s gradually go up in pitch. Signature laugh of cartoon character Woody Woodpecker. Youtube
  • har-har!    Laughter, sarcastic, as if sarcastically saying “very funny.” Or old-fashioned hick laugh.
  • heh-heh!    Laughter, sometimes perverted, or meaning “that’s not really funny.” Usually, “heh” is a quiet laughing sound, not laughing out loud. Heh-heh may also be a good transcription of the signature laugh of Beavis, from the cartoon Beavis and Butthead. Sometimes simply a more faint, private laugh.

Maybe you don’t need 41 ways to indicate a laugh, but you’d really like to know how to spell the sound a fox makes. Here are some examples of what you get when you search for “animal.”

  • ack-ack-ack-ackawoooo-ack-ack-ack    Fox vocalization. Rarely heard guttural chattering with occasional yelps and howls, mostly heard when animals are in close proximity to one another.
  • brahnk    Bullfrog vocalization.
  • chirr    The short vibrant or trilled sound, characteristic of an insect (as a grasshopper or cicada).
  • cat screaming cat-2847420_1280Kaaahhkkk    The sound of a cat coughing up a hairball.
  • rrrruuuurrrr    This is one of several suggestions in response to the question of how to write the sound of a bull, on wiki-answers. Also: moo, low, hrrooonnh, huuuooohar, muuhhhrrr. If you need a verb: bulls “bellow” (not directly imitative).

BTW, did you know? When you’re hungry, borborygmus is the official word for that rumbling sound produced by the movement of gas through the intestines. Stomach growling.

And, just so you know, the famous radio show CartTalk is responsible for this gem:

  • bllgh blllgggh blllllgggghh    The (automotive) sound of boiling coolant.


Have a little fun with your words today!

self smaller Donna Maloy crop back 12-18Donna Maloy writes historical fiction and romantic suspense, as well as fantasy for teens and plays for children. Her historical fantasy for middle grade, CELIA AND THE WOLF, won the Lyra Award for best juvenile fiction in 2014. Donna’s historical work-in-progress (the title is in flux but will have something to do with an Earl and a scandal) won second place in this year’s RWA Hearts Through History chapter contest and is entered in the West Houston chapter’s Emily Contest.

Website: www.donnamaloy.com)

Blog: www.TangledWords.com 


Posted in Resources, Sounds, Words and Phrases, Words for sounds, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teen Tuesday: the Art.Write.Now.Tour

scholastic_awards_logo_rgb_DSThe 2016 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards reported a record-breaking 320,000 works submitted for judging at the regional level. From the award winners, the Art.Write.Now.Tour was curated by Johanna Burton, Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Engagement at the New Museum in New York City. The exhibition is produced by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the nonprofit organization that presents the national awards. With its nearly 100 regional affiliates, the Alliance provides creative teens with opportunities for recognition, exhibition, publication, and scholarships.

The 2016 Art.Write.Now.Tour is here

best-teen-writing-2016-51iokreghsl-_sx326_bo1204203200_This traveling “Art.Write.Now.Tour” showcases work from teen writers and artists across America who have exceptional creative talent. The show just arrived in my hometown of Houston, Texas. It travelled from Grand Rapids, Michigan and will visit Bozeman, Montana and Jackson, Mississippi later in the tour. The exhibition can be seen at  the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) from Nov. 1 through Jan. 8, 2017. For dates of future shows, see HERE.
In addition to approximately 50 visual art works selected from the Art.Write.Now.2016 National Exhibition, the Art.Write.Now.Tour will feature The Best Teen Writing of 2016, our annual anthology of selected Gold Medal writing, displayed on iPads. For a paperback copy of the anthology, click HERE.

For more on the Houston teens whose work is featured in the show, check out the article HERE. For information about MFAH hours and admission fees, visit: www.mfah.org/visit/hours-and-admissions.

The 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

Regional art and writing entries are currently being accepted for the 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

For regional guidelines and deadlines, go to http://www.artandwriting.org/what-we-do/the-awards/guidelines-deadlines/.

The Awards program was created in 1923 by Maurice R. “Robbie” Robinson, founder of Scholastic Corporation, and has been administered by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers since 1994. Its past winners include Andy Warhol, Frances Farmer, Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, and Joyce Carol Oates among many others.

Although the program began as a small writing contest, today it offers recognition in 29 categories including architecture, sculpture, painting, photography, poetry, dramatic script, fashion, animation, and even video games. The Awards are open to all students in grades 7 through 12 from public, private, and home schools throughout the U.S. (and its territories), as well as American-run schools abroad and community programs serving eligible student populations.

The Alliance has a great blog at http://blog.artandwriting.org/. Check it out!

Posted in Awards, Contest, Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, Teen Authors, Teen writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Backstory: Putting your world in context

Context = Clue

Context gives us clues to the meaning of an unfamiliar word, the emotion behind a friend’s reaction, the point of a political slogan.

  • The word “flag” can call several images to mind. But even if we’ve never used it this way ourselves, we can sense the meaning through context of a sentence like, “My energy level flags at the end of the day.”
  • When everyone else cheers for your child’s successful stage debut, you completely understand the context of your friend’s tears –her budding actress daughter just died of leukemia.
  • Without context, you might be confused by a cartoon I saw recently that put a Stephen King byline on “The Path to Prosperity” (the congressional budget).

earth-in-hand-1030565_1920World-building, or context, makes a plot richer, characters more complex, and setting more accessible.

It makes the fictional story world believable.


Common sources for story context

  • Your characters’ backgrounds (backstory that often explains motivations and desires)
  • Their social setting (friends or the lack of them, marriage, courtship, and the activities associated with sustaining relationships)
  • The work/school part of their lives (jobs, classes, employers, coworkers, competitors, worry/anxiety)
  • The sociopolitical milieu (what’s happening in the world, near and far, that impacts your characters)

How to use these sources

Look around you, this very minute. Is there a photo of a family member or friend visible? ID-10070010 Frustrated TeenDo you love or hate the room you’re in? Do you enjoy/fear/anticipate/loathe the activity you are supposed to be doing right now? Are you comfortable, hot, or cold? Is the lighting too bright or too dim? Have you just learned that people you know are in danger somewhere in the world? Are you ill or in pain? Have you just won the lottery or learned you’re pregnant?

This is your immediate context, the background that gives meaning to the next thing you do or say. Now you absolutely don’t want to write a scene in which the reader knows the answer to every one of those questions, but you do want the reader to know enough to understand the emotional and physical state you are in when you say or do that next thing.

A main character who gets surly after a couple of drinks and pours a beer on another man at a bar, may be assumed to be uncouth, a drunk, or a bully. But a main character who is fearful and anxious about being sent off to fight a war is understandably unsympathetic to a bar patron who complains his beer isn’t cold enough. How do you “show” the character’s fear and anxiety so the reader isn’t turned off by the character’s scorn? You reveal the context of the immediate situation. Look around the character; look around his world. Is he wearing fatigues? Does he fidget with dogtags? Is he glued to a TV in the bar showing scenes of the war? Does he have three empty bottles in front of him already? Does he fail to notice someone bump into him, or call his name? Does he drum on the table incessantly?

Take this same care to reveal context whenever you want your reader to understand a character’s actions. You don’t always have to use description, though. Conversation and interior thoughts can be just as revealing. Does the guy at the bar mutter curses at what he sees on the TV? Does he answer abruptly, or with a grunt, when someone asks if he’s in the army? While he watches the screen, is he thinking about his fiancée? Is he remembering a friend who returned home with only one leg?

Many writers who are just learning the craft will create detailed biographies of their characters, and then write a story that doesn’t use any of that material. Others cram pages of backstory into their early chapters, slowing the story down to a crawl. Character backgrounds are invaluable sources of context, helping readers understand the actions/reactions of characters. But an info-dump isn’t entertaining. Ease into context by leaving clues. Not too many, just enough.

How to ease into context

Mentioning, once, that a character’s bedroom is lined with shelves of shabby, second-hand books speaks volumes (no pun intended) about the character’s intellectual life and economic status. You don’t have to beat the subject to death by having the character wish they could afford new bestsellers, and gaze longingly in the window of a bookstore, and sigh about the lack of money for luxuries… dribbling the context into chapter after chapter. If you provide the context, and then always have the character act consistently within that context, your reader will understand the motivations that arise from it.

knightHistorical context requires a bit more frequent maintenance. The reader needs to stay firmly in the period, so most scenes will need to have some reminder of the milieu. This could be as simple as a phrase that period-specific, a description of a hairdo or ornament, a reference to a familiar person living during that time, or a social custom. But you don’t want to slow the pace of the story with lengthy descriptions of room contents, architecture, or obscure language. If the hero is fighting the villain, a quick sentence about ripping off a cravat might do to remind the reader he shouldn’t expect a modern forensics team to clean up the scene.

Fantasy and science fiction share a common perception that their worlds are “made up.” But within the context of both, the world needs to have consistency and familiarity. Fantasy eyeCreating worlds in which nothing is familiar will slow down the reader who has to adapt to every single new thing. Again, look around your “made up” world and really see it, feel it, taste and smell it. What is the same? What is almost the same? What has the same function but a different name, and what has the same name but an enhanced function? You can ground (pun intended this time) a weightless or flying scene by having a familiar stationary landscape, or characters who are as clumsy in the air as they are on the ground, or a feeling of nausea that is similar to what a character experienced after eating bad fish. The reader who can identify with part of the scene can be carried along to the unfamiliar parts.

Donna Maloy is a published author of fiction and plays for adults, teens, tweens and young adults. Her first book for middle grade, Celia and the Wolf, won the Lyra Award for best juvenile fiction in 2014. She has been teaching writing at the college and community level for more than ten years. Visit her at www.donnamaloy.com and www.tangledwords.com, a blog for new writers.

Posted in Advice, Backstory, Backstory, Craft of Writing, Description, Differentiating Characters, Editing, Interaction with Setting, Interior life; interiority, Words and Phrases, world-building, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Teen Tuesday: Are you funny?

“I know one 18-year-old high school senior in Attleboro, Massachusetts,  who is so funny!”

“How funny is she?”

“She’s so funny, she got a free-lance gig writing jokes for Saturday Night Live!”


Ally Beard (The Sun Chronicle)

It may sound like a joke but it’s real life. Ally Beard has been writing jokes for years. She’s done improv classes, talent shows, and open mic standup comedy.

In early September, she applied for a position as a freelance writer for the Weekend Update segment of Saturday Night Live. The application included 10 jokes she had to write based on current news headlines.Then two weeks later, in class, she got a call telling her SNL would pay for any of her jokes they used on air.

To read more about Ally’s life as a very funny writer, read this article.



Posted in Fun Facts, Humor, Teen writers, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Monday Advice from Editors and Agents: A Pleasure Principle

Mashable is a global, multi-platform online media and entertainment “magazine” with tech, digital culture and entertainment content. If you have unlimited time to browse its ginormous daily content, you’ll find articles on everything from new gadgets to Hollywood scandals to human interest articles – like a story and video about the cool 92-year-old woman who wrote a song for Willie Nelson’s upcoming album. But I digress.

Mashable interviews experts in lots of fields for its articles. When they wanted to write an advice piece about How to Write a Great Novel, they went to editor Cheryl Klein, executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic and the continuity editor for the last two Harry Potter books. Klein offered six tips that are dead-on for any fiction writer in any genre. But I’m only going to talk about one of them. I’m not going to steal the whole article; you can read it HERE.

All six of Klein’s points are great, but her last one really resonated with me.

“Aim for Pleasure” – Cheryl Klein

writer-man-1454744It’s true you need passion for your writing. You have to be able to love the heroes you create and hate your villains, as well as cry and laugh with those characters while they deal with the events in your story. In other words, if the novel you’re writing doesn’t hook you and keep you enthralled, page after page, you probably aren’t going to give it your best. So yes, write for your pleasure.

But only the first draft.

Because the Most Important Person to Please Is Not Yourself

reading-girl-1721392After you’ve written a draft of the story that makes your heart soar and your pulse pound, you’re ready to edit. Klein’s sixth point is to focus that edit on the reader – “paying particular attention to the element you like least.” (If you hate grammar and syntax, make a special attempt to concentrate on those. They make it easy for your reader to follow the story without distraction.)

Klein’s actual advice here is pretty general: to balance all the elements of storytelling into a whole that serves your purpose (including how you want your readers to feel while they’re reading it) and make certain your reader has all the information they need to react the way you want to your plot twists and character insights.

What does that mean in practical terms? Here are some questions to ask.

  • How quickly does the reader discover your hero’s driving need? How quickly is the central conflict introduced? (Readers like to get into the story as fast as possible.)
  • Do you have enough details for the reader to visualize each setting? (Readers like to immerse themselves in the story world.)
  • When events happen to them, are characters’ emotional responses clearly revealed? (Readers enjoy identifying with and experiencing the emotions of your characters.)
  • Have you laid adequate groundwork for your plot twists? (Readers love that aha moment when everything that has led up to a twist is suddenly clear.)
  • Is each conflict and obstacle big enough to create real must-turn-the-page suspense? (Readers get bored with conflicts that are easily resolved or have no serious penalty for failure.)
  • Is there at least one big moment in the story when the reader is convinced things can’t possibly turn out well? (Even though readers all know your book will have an HEA ending, they relish that delicious fear that maybe this time it won’t. They want that final victory to be such a big relief they can experience a major, memorable moment of catharsis.)


cherylkleinCheryl B. Klein is the author of The ‘Magic Words:’ Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults. Visit her at www.cherylklein.com and her podcast, www.narrativebreakdown.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @chavelaque. 


Donna Maloy cropped darkDonna Maloy is a published author of fiction and plays for adults, teens, tweens and young adults. Her first book for middle grade, Celia and the Wolf, won the Lyra Award for best juvenile fiction in 2014. Her current work-in-progress was nominated last week for the Joan Lowery Nixon award from the Houston chapter of SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). She has been teaching writing at the college and community level for more than ten years. Visit her at www.donnamaloy.com .

Posted in Action, Advice, Aha! moments, Character, Conflict, Craft of Writing, Editing, High Stakes, Opening scene, Openings, Plotting, Resolutions, Stakes, Story Elements, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments