Month: February 2016
Caught you thinking naughty thoughts, didn’t I?! No, I am not talking about hot sex scenes in some of the soft porn that passes as romantic fiction these days. (Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters must be fairly spinning in their graves!)
I mean the writer’s use of sensory allusions to add dimension to any passage in a work of fiction—and in non-fiction, too, as a matter of fact. My writing group—bless them! bless them!—often catch me up on my “talking heads.” A timely appeal to any of the senses can add hugely, albeit subtly, to a scene and help ground the characters and the reader.
Basically, those sensory touches add mood. Weather is almost a cliché in setting mood—think Snoopy’s “It was a dark and stormy night . . .” which Schultz borrowed from someone else (Edward Bulwer-Lytton?) Colors alone can do it—that fiery red dress on the heroine is meant to communicate passion as opposed to the melancholy of her mother’s mourning gray.
Moviemakers spend jillions on background music for everything from scary horror scenes to sunny sailing excursions. Writers do not have such audio tools, but we can be aware of things like a falling ember in a fireplace, the sounds of cars or carriages from outside, the sounds of footsteps—shuffling? determined? skipping? approaching? receding?—even the clearing of a throat may lend dimension to the message being delivered.
Tactile details help too. Is the seat on that chair smooth leather or cool horsehair or plush velvet? What shade of green is that grass? Has it the softness of spring or is it the straw of late summer? How does such a detail contribute to the overall impression of a room or an environment? How does it contribute to the broader purpose of the passage? Touch is obviously the key element of sensuality in love scenes, but it can be tremendously important in any scene.
Don’t forget the olfactory sense. The reader’s nose is sensitive to more than just the perfume or shaving soap of a character. Describing a kitchen? Mention the smells that might emanate from that place—in real time or not. A stable or a barn? ‘Twould take a real novice to ignore the nose in that description. Sea air just smells different. The forest after or during a storm smells different from when it is dry and the sun is drifting through tree limbs and making shifting patterns on the ground.
Taste? Incorporated with other senses, this one, too, must not be ignored. Want a reminder of the effects of the essential tastes of sweet, salty, bitter? Watch a baby experiencing these sensations and try to describe his or her reactions!
Finally, pay attention to shapes. Take a cue from theatre stagers when creating backgrounds for your characters to act in. Stage directors know, for instance, that harsh, jagged lines will reinforce highly dramatic clashes, while circles and swirls subliminally suggest a smooth, unthreatening mood for another kind of scene.
Do keep reminding me, Lone Mountain Writers!!
THE PLOT THICKENS—OR NOT . . .
Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Oh, dear . . .
Those are the cries of a writer caught in a dilemma of her own making. Plotting is always difficult for me. So the problem is: I’ve got this character—my heroine—a “lady” in Regency England who must spend a good deal of time alone with a man—the hero—without compromising them to the point they have to marry (yet). So far I’ve fiddled with the timing, added and deleted characters, but nothing quite works. And this is the first book of a three-book series and I’ve already signed a contract, and it just ain’t working and if I could just get it firmly started and—and—and—
And life is a bitch.
I know: this, too, will pass; screw your courage to the sticking place—and I’m sure there are dozens of other clichés I could incorporate here, but none comes to mind. Can you imagine that? I am usually the queen of clichés!
I’ve never written a series before. I have to get this first book right! Mind you, it is the plotting, not characters that is frustrating me. So far, I really LIKE my people.
Many of my writer friends write “from the seat of their pants”—that is with little in the way of an outline. That ain’t me, babe, that ain’t me. I must have a detailed outline—I need to know precisely where I am going and how I am going to get there. That is probably the essential problem here. I usually have a 20- to 25-page outline for a full-length novel. This time I tried it with about half that. Back to the drawing board! (I know: yet another cliché.)
One of the best innovations in American politics in the 20th Century was the institution of primary elections to select candidates for public office, especially the greatest of public offices: President of the United States (POTUS).
Heretofore, candidates had been selected in the not-so-proverbial “smoke-filled rooms” by party hacks in their respective party machines. In theory, the primaries were supposed to allow the ordinary citizen a voice in whose names would appear on the final ballot for everything from county dog catcher to POTUS. And in practice, they do—sort of.
Unfortunately, American voters stay home in droves for the spring primaries. (They do so for the main election in the fall, too, but the numbers there are a little better.) Voters who do turn out for the primaries tend to be the “true believers” in both parties, the extremists, if you will. Not quite party hacks, but…
And those who do turn out (for both elections) tend to be older voters, not younger ones—the 18- to 24-year-olds who will actually be affected for a longer period of time! Primary elections are an improvement over the old system, but only just, because so many care so little about exercising a fundamental American right—one that is denied millions of others with whom we share this planet.
Sadly, in the fall, we often hear folks saying that they won’t vote because they don’t like any of the candidates running for office. But if you ask them if they voted in the primary, 60 to 65% will have to say they did not. We simply accept a 35 to 40% turn-out as normal!
Admittedly, registering to vote and then actually voting is sometimes difficult for people who don’t drive or those who must take time off work to fulfill this civic duty—especially if they must wait in interminably long lines to do so! It is nothing short of outrageous that many politicians are not only reluctant to do anything about this issue, but actually offer more impediments to the voting process!
My plea here—regardless of your political affiliation—is simple: IF YOU CAN POSSIBLY DO SO, VOTE! Voting is both a privilege and a right—and a civic duty we owe ourselves and our fellow citizens.
THOUGHTS: TOTALLY RANDOM AND OFF-THE-CUFF
Sometimes even 500 words (+/-) is too much on the same topic . . .
–Where does the term “off-the-cuff” come from anyway? (OK. I just looked it up. Apparently it comes from speakers and actors having prompts written on their cuffs.)
–I’m a political junkie and I’m biased—but despite Hillary’s and Bernie’s shrill sniping at each other, I thought there were more substantive issues discussed in more specific terms in the latest Dem activities than in the Repub dos.
–I have yet to see an example of a math problem in the format being taught these days that I understood at all! Guess I need a third grader to explain it to me.
–P.D. James was one hell of a writer! I have long been a fan of her modern murder mysteries and her police detective, Adam Dalgleish. (What’s not to like in a policeman who writes poetry?!) But two weeks ago I happened on her Death Comes to Pemberley. Pemberley! Jane Austen! Pride and Prejudice! I usually hate when someone presumes to do a take-off on the saintly Jane’s work, but I have to admit that P.D. James did an excellent job—especially in the first section where she is “catching us up” on the story. Suffice it to say that the dastardly Wickham is accused of murder and his idiot wife is as silly as ever and James captures the characters and the times splendidly.
–My cup runneth over! PBS has a three-episode series of Death Comes to Pemberley. (Available on NETFLIX.) A really good production. While it takes a few liberties with James’s text, it does not alter her story greatly. If you like period pieces, you’ll like it.
–Do wish the Repub candidates for POTUS would recognize that, in the REPUBLICAN PRIMARIES, they are running against each other, not Obama–and not Hillary—YET. I want to hear about their plans and policies—in some specifics, please—not merely “I will do it better because . . . uh . . . well . . . uh . . . because I’m better.”
–Didn’t Congress pass a law some years ago that the volume of television commercials should not exceed that of ordinary programming? If not, why not? And if so, why is it not enforced?!
–I do wish Facebookers would stop posting those “Come to Jesus” and “God is Great” messages. Seems to me that those that are gonna come to Jesus already have—or they will do so in their own good time, and that yes, indeed, God is great—in ALL His (or Her) manifestations! Undue repetition becomes mere cliché and cliché loses its effect . . .
–Friends are among the very best gifts of God—and I have the very best of the lot!