Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Seasonings

Interrupting this post to let you know it's the anniversary of my becoming an author! Check out my blog post HERE. Thank you all for being such a special part of my published life!

Seasoning is vital. I am a New Mexico gal and I know. Spicy food is my forte - dishes chuck full of paprika, cumin, chili powder, jalapenos peppers, and red pepper. I even like Mexican coffee, just swimming with spicy cinnamon.

For you dear readers all around the world, I'll just explain that we New Mexico people eat dishes called fajitias (chicken or beef highly seasoned with hot spices, mixed with sauteed bell peppers and onions, spooned into a tortilla, and topped with cheese). We also eat enchiladas (my favorite kind is made with browned ground beef; mixed with hot chopped green chili; and layered with cheese and fried corn tortillas in a pan and baked.) We also eat lot of pinto beans and Spanish rice around here.

A word of warning: if you don't like hot food, don't try the above! Hola, fajitas!

Why did I say all that? Because now you know a little bit about the culture I live in. It's very Spanish and Tribal dominated. Think plazas, senoritas, old Catholic churches, tribal lodges, the beautiful Spanish language, rustic guitars, burros, way too many prickly pear and cacti, and ranches.

Now let's apply this to writing. What is your story without cultural spiciness?

Your spices are made up of cultural phrases or lingo. Or the three A's: Accents, Authentic words, and Actions natural to the era.

Here are a few tips on how to apply them.

  • Research words and phrases from the era you are writing about. Some words have very different meanings back then than they do today. For instance, in the Old American West, thoroughbred meant a gentleman. Coffee was called Arbuckles. In the Middle Ages, a form of dagger was a mesericorde.
  • Be careful about which words you insert. :) We have our swear words today - they had theirs then. Research and make sure you aren't inserting a word which had some unpleasant meanings.
  • Don't overdo it on the accents. I've read a book or two that went way too far and I eventually stopped reading the accented dialogue altogether. It was just too much of a pain to sort through. Introduce the fact that your character has an accent one or two times and eventually your reader will naturally start creating the accent in his mind. Don't end with an apostrophe too many times. 
          Example: givin'; takin'; shootin'.
  • Whereas today, someone might finger a cell phone, consider what one would finger in another era. A muzzleloader? A tin mug? A dagger? Maybe a signet ring, the folds of a cape, a belt buckle? You don't always have to give a description of what a character is wearing. Show it instead, by having him/her touch or finger something.
  • Know something about your character's past that you never really explain in words. But it will still come out into your writing and your reader will have some inner consciousness of it. In this case of adding "spice", make it some cultural aspect. 
  • Be natural. While adding spice, don't overdo it or your reader will be overwhelmed. Sprinkle the words, the accents, the actions here and there for a charming effect - not an overwhelming sensation of stepping off a plane into a chaotic jungle.
Special thanks to Caitlin Hedgcock for writing about cooking last time. She inspired me to write about the spices! 

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!


  1. I can definitely vouch for thoroughly researching a particular *ahem* word!

  2. Great post, Alicia! They you for sharing different ideas for adding 'spices' to your writing!

    His Princess,

  3. This was a really enjoyable post, with your ideas to prevent "bland" writing and cautions against over-seasoning. You almost had my mouth watering - I love fajitas! And thank you for the mention :)

    1. You won't believe this, but my Mom had me make chicken fajitas for supper... :) Really, I had no clue you all ate such things in England! Most people cannot even get green chile in most of the USA without going to special stores.

    2. Our family buys fajita "kits" over here, which are probably much more . . . "domesticated" than your lovely-sounding spicy ones (no green chile!). :)

    3. Heehee! That explains it... I was wondering how you managed to get a hold of green chile! :)


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