Posts Tagged writers

#AuthorToolbox 04: the art of landscaping in fiction writing

Via: Daily Prompt – Soil

The cold was bitter, different from New England’s. Outside the city the wind spilled across the sweeping, open land dotted with abandoned farm machinery and old houses buckling in on themselves. You wouldn’t think such houses were habitable, but once in a while there would be a tacked-up sheet in the doorway, or plastic nailed over the windows, and the trace of smoke from a chimney.”

~ Brown, Karen. “The Clairvoyants.” Henry Holt and Co., 2017

51htld99dbl-_sx328_bo1204203200_I finished reading this book over the weekend. And like most well-written (or poorly written, for that matter) novels throughout my reading experience, it left me with a heightened sense of awareness of that “something-something” to consciously add to in my own work. After all, authors learn by reading the works of other authors. I thought, for this month’s blog hop, I would review some of this novel’s more beautifully written passages to summarize how fiction can be enhanced by adding descriptive imageries that are carefully composed and artfully woven to match the subject of the story [I’ll try my best to titillate without giving away any irrevocable spoilers]:

Relevance. Without a doubt, the prose was the strongest suit in The Clairvoyants. Brown approached its various outdoor and indoor sceneries to set the mood for this novel with poetic gusto, addressing both the mental state of the story’s protagonist, Martha, and the themes that adhered to the overall plot, i.e. an observant and slightly self-absorbed young woman with the ability to “see dead people” and a sense of victimhood towards her entire life, who stumbles upon a potential murder mystery when she is abandoned in a new environment. In fact, the landscape mirrors the one prevailing ethos of every character in the novel, who make a motley group of disturbingly selfish individuals, gravitating towards one another in search of companionship one moment and then forsaking each other the next.

Now, beyond my mother’s profile at the wheel of the car, Route 79 wound alongside green swaths of hills still damp from the recent rain. This was an isolated valley with a poor yearly sunlight allotment and haphazard cell phone reception—another version of a sanatorium, a place my mother could tuck me away, the way you pressed a photograph into the back of a drawer—and be free of me. But I might be free of her, too, and I might find someone else to love me.”

Precision. A bit of mastery in the medium of your writing can go a long way – and, of course, shorten the sentences. Words hold connotations that pose parity even among synonyms. Instead of depending on generic nouns and verbs to describe each action, character, object, or surrounding, knowing specific words to allocate to them will not only contribute to their appropriate portrayal but also provide the reader with a richer sensory experience. Obviously, this means having a strong vocabulary is important but does it also mean you need to swallow the dictionary? If you can, kudos to you; otherwise, do a little extra research on each subject matter you introduce in the story, as Brown has in this novel when labeling architectural attributes.

The house stood on a street of similarly grand old places, each shaded by a tree, their roots disrupting the cement sidewalks in front. Mine was a brick Italianate house with a wide cornice and elaborately carved brackets and window caps. The apartment was up a staircase that once might have been glamorous when the house was still a single-family residence. The place had been advertised as a “studio.” I would be living in one room with a twelve-foot ceiling, a decorative fireplace, and an efficiency-sized stove, sink, and refrigerator—so small they seemed like playhouse furnishings.”

Economy. We all know about the taboo on overusing adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives and adverbs are to be preserved for blurbs, and yet, funnily, that is where authors tend to scrimp thanks to a misguided sense of modesty – but that is a topic for another day. Furthering the argument for precision, knowing specific nouns and verbs is particularly useful when editing redundant descriptors that only serve to weaken and obscure the image you are trying to depict.  Consequently, you may also reveal more information about the plot and characters when relinquishing modifiers.

I had thought he wanted me. But when I touched him he took my hands away, like a correcting parent. I was resigned to kissing him, and even that he interrupted with a story about his motorcycle, a Triumph he was eager to ride again in the spring.”

POV. At every turn, it is crucial to ask oneself if the character whose POV is being used to narrate a scene, would actually experience the situation in that manner. For example, cold is a recurring premise in the novel, of which Martha is constantly aware. Other than simply using it to describe the winter that persists throughout the plot or the relationship fostered among the characters (and the wide range of dead people, in retrospect), Brown also associates it with how Martha undergoes the changes in her life or encounters new phenomena, e.g. when she tries martini for the first time.

I admitted I’d never had one, and she insisted I sample hers. She held her glass toward me by its stem, and I took a cautious sip. I said it was like drinking partially melted snow, and she laughed and poured me one, too.”

Pace. While the vivid narration is what I enjoyed most about the novel, the accompanied tangential style also led to its biggest holdback. I could fully understand why, given that the novel was written in first-person and people tend to digress when relating their experiences, Martha would oscillate between her past and present, actions and expositions. In fact, it even added to the mystery. But at one point, this became monotonous when the tempo should have picked up. The mystery began to chase its own tail and Martha’s continued attention to the mundane details of her surrounding seemed unnatural, relatability yielding before consistency, such as while escaping the scene of a supposed murder.

We drove through farmland spread for miles in either direction. Del fiddled with the radio, her hand shaking, and found a station playing Dixieland jazz, and we passed through a landscape distorted by the windshield ice—the wide open space, the few remaining outbuildings of an old farm, their gray, splintery wood darkened by the sleet, jutting like carcasses. “There are bones of families out there,” I said. Spread under layers of soil, compacted in their separateness. The Dixieland band played its tinny hopefulness. We drove this way for a long time until we could see nothing of the land we passed through save an occasional kitchen light in a house set off the road. Then we reached an intersection, a small town, like Milton, with a gas station and a diner, and Del pulled into the diner’s parking lot. After David Pinney died we’d gone on, pretending he hadn’t. I could say we were murderers now. This didn’t happen to other people twice.”

To wit, this novel made me sit up and take notes. My own stories tend to consist more of dialogues and actions than discussions on the setting but I could certainly appreciate the patience with which Brown weighed in the haunting atmosphere in her narrative. It reminded me of something I learned a few months back while attending an online course on writing fiction. There was a lot of emphasis on note taking and journal keeping throughout the syllabus. Until I took the course, I always wondered how writers sit in public places such as cafes and parks while composing tales without becoming distracted by their environments. Turns out they don’t become distracted at all because they are too busy recounting what they witness on their pages and screens.

 

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Finally, a word on the Author Toolbox Blog Hop:
#AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event, hosted by the gracious Raimey Gallant, featuring various resources and learnings for authors written by authors. It is open to writers at all stages of their careers and the rules of sign-up are available in the overhead link. Also, if you are just interested in connecting with actual authors and see what they have got to say, the sign-up page has a list of participants to direct you to their pages. Happy reading and writing, fellow authors!

 

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#AuthorToolboxBlogHop 02: First Impressions

Last week, in the 17th installation of my Writing Chronicles, I discussed the various ways to “Punish Your Protagonist“. I thought this week, I would make up for it by talking about how to Save the First Chapter.

Wherever you look, literary agents and editors impart a few golden rules: research the agent/editor before you submit your query, provide an economic-yet-comprehensive synopsis of your story in the cover letter, and make sure your manuscript is ready when you send in those first three chapters. In other words, try not to waste this rare opportunity to be read by a professional. Your book’s opening will decide if your story gets picked or tossed.

Getting the first chapter wrong is a piece of cake. We’re writers – an absentminded-yet-observant breed riddled with insecurities throughout our creative process and beyond. Even when we get the story right, we know it could have been better. It can always be better. But with a few simple precautions, that first chapter can be GOOD. What is better than good?

Here’s my two-cents’ worth to a workable first chapter:  Read the rest of this entry »

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WRITING CHRONICLE #15: Contest! & #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Via: Daily Prompt – Climbing & Jolt

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I have been very erratic about posting on the blog recently. It’s because I’m preparing for a writing contest! Amazon UK has launched a writing competition, the Kindle Storyteller literary prize, and I’ve decided to give it a go. Aside from the £20,000 cash award, it also offers the opportunity of being recognized in a well-publicized platform and a book marketing contract by the sponsors. The money is tempting but the glory would be nicer. That’s one way up the ladder, right?

Now, here’s the thing. No way am I delusional enough to believe that I’m winning. But it will ensure that the judges will read my story and who knows, I may pick up a contract anyway. The award program was announced last February but for some reason, I only received the reminder e-mail, which was sent last week. And the entry closes on May 19! It has to be a previously unpublished story of minimum 5,000 words (which is manageable). I had thought of putting in one of my short stories (we fiction writers always have a few completed works lying around) but decided I was to write a fresh one.  Read the rest of this entry »

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WRITING CHRONICLES #13: Quantity Vs Quality

Via: Daily Blog – Pause & Prudent

 

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Image: Pixabay

 

My weeklong departure from writing gave me time to stop and reflect my goals for producing fictions. While visiting my Grandma’s, I took with me books and TV movies as a fallback plan if village-trotting no longer suited me. It suited me fine but I still found time to finish one novel and two sets of TV movies. They provided good points of activity and discussion with my cousin-sisters.

Living amid rural grace, I felt watching the BBC adaptation of Flora Thompson’s trilogy Lark Rise to Candleford and Hallmark Channel’s adaptation of Jannette Oke’s Love Comes Softly series would be fitting. Both were good choices but I think I was more swept away by Thompson’s work. I had read Love Comes Softly as a kid and, coming by the movies was a nostalgic experience. However, as my cousins and I worked our way through Lark Rise to Candleford, it dawned on me that writers whose work I have come to most revere all have produced so few books. Of course, I have contemporary authors on top of my list who have produced over two dozen novels each in nearly half as many years, but the works I believe to be truly timeless were written by authors who had very few books to pen. It got me thinking, was it the age-old trade-off between quantity and quality?  Read the rest of this entry »

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WRITING CHRONICLES #09: Five

Via: Daily Prompt – Arid

Some five years ago, an interview with a college consultant motivated me to start blogging. A brief meeting with him informed me of the budding world of independent publication when he questioned me why I’m letting a delay in studying creative writing keep me from becoming a novelist. He showed me his friend’s WordPress blog and how this friend had set up an enterprise for himself online, already with a few novels published beyond the traditional channel. This consultant had practically chastised me for not taking the initiative on my own and I am so grateful to him. I don’t remember his name or his friend’s blog site, and I wasn’t yet convinced about self-publishing a “book”, but I was ready to start focusing on building a career as a novelist.

So I opened this blog on February 25, 2012, with the hope that having a live audience would shame me into finally finish writing a full novel. In the end, I did sort of self-publish a novel on this site with serialized posts of the chapters. And even though procrastination ensued now and again, and for long periods at a stretch, I so appreciate the habit working on this blog instilled in me. I started the blog with the objective “It’s a site to make sure I write” and it made sure I wrote.

The career path I was on, tough I enjoyed, did not harbor an everlasting appeal for me. Life seemed barren, my dreams left to dry without nourishment. Now? I live, I thrive.

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Image: Vinegar and Brown Paper

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INSTRUMENTAL LOVE (04 min read)

Via: Daily Prompt – Seriousness

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Image: Zaireen Lupa

I’ve been using my laptop since January 2011. Upon becoming a corporate lady, it was the first piece of machinery I had bought by saving up paycheck by paycheck. I had put in almost a year’s wait while searching for the ideal laptop and, once I found it, for it to receive its tech reviews. I had a friend bring it in from Singapore and it has been my companion these six years.

Oh, Dell Studio XPS 1647, how I love you!

It hasn’t been the smoothest of relationships. Immediately, it started showing speed adjustment issues. If I would even turn on Google Chrome while running my media player, it would throttle for a few seconds. Of course, I was not tech-savvy or laptop-savvy enough at the time to get what was happening. I would hear the sound break, get stuck, and panic until it went away. I looked it up online but not knowing what keywords to search for, I didn’t find any solution. I comforted myself that it was just a temporary break in time so it should be fine. It wasn’t.  Read the rest of this entry »

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WRITING CHRONICLES #04: My introduction to the world of free online courses (05 min read)

 

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Image: Wikimedia

 

One moment, please… I’m online with MOOC

So I have been taking a fiction writing course online. Seems a bit after the fact, yeah… But once I finished writing my novel, I realized I need to learn to be organized in my novel-writing. So, MOOC.  Read the rest of this entry »

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