Thursday, January 30, 2014

Descriptive Writing

Have you watched the movie, “Charade”? If not, go and watch it. This film keeps you on your toes after each scene takes you in different directions. The movie stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. 
When I taught writing, I showed part of this fast-paced film to my pupils and told them to write down what they saw. This made them pay attention. What often happens is we observe the world without really studying our environment.
Many years ago I took a course titled, “Writing for Children and Teenagers.” In their lessons, they told you to keenly observe the people in your life. Watch them and listen to the way they respond to you. Look for such items as the way they speak, their eye colors - not just green but a grey-green - to how they grasp your hand from strong to weak or what? 
When you “keenly observe,” you notice those hidden things taken for granted. Jot these down. Take a notebook and go outside and just watch life. As I drove Saturday to a writing-group event, I glanced at the sky. It was blue but not just blue it was aqua-blue with pure-white clouds. Notice I used specific words here, and you need to do the same in your writing.
A place becomes “real” in writing when readers see and feel it. This includes the five senses - sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Of course, not every scene allows you, for instance, to have a character sip tea, for example. However, when you can incorporate these, it adds “reality” to your work. Here is a scene from Lockets and Lanterns, which critique readers said made them feel as if they were there:
“Florence pulled her cuffs over her knuckles. Her fingers cool [touch] to the spring breeze, which drifted in from the window behind her. The pot roast smothered in gravy sat on the china platter [taste]. She inhaled [smell] the potent onion aroma and passed the plate to her left.”
Descriptive scenes are important. It lets readers know if the work is an imaginary place, such as in science fiction and fantasy, or something they are familiar with either in today’s world or in the past. In Ruth Ann Nordin and my anthology, Bride by Arrangement, I set the scene for my novella, She Came by Train, included in the anthology as such:
“The train chugged toward the station. Smoke bellowed from the engine’s stack. Standing underneath the roof of the brick-and-mortar depot, Opal gulped as she watched it approach.” 
What words give you clues to the time period? They are the smoke bellowing from the engine’s stack (denoting a steam-engine train no longer in existence) and her standing underneath the roof of the brick-and-mortar depot (giving you the impression of a past railroad station). 
Thus description brings in your audience and helps them experience that period. However, you do not always need a long span of descriptive words to set a scene. In Ruth Ann Nordin’s Return of the Aliens, a few choice words show that the setting is contemporary. 
“‘Thanks for the reminder.’ She walked over to the closed door of the dressing room in the bridal shop.”
How do you learn to make scenes come alive? Write, write, write and learn to add such items as a breeze (touch), a fragrant flower (smell), a food (taste) and a character’s voice breaking as he/she remembers or experiences something tragic. You cannot do this in every scene, but you can, as previously stated, do that in most of them when you make an effort. Lead the reader in and let them truly “live” with your characters, and this can be done by simply watching your surroundings and remembering to choose specific words and include the senses. 
Remember also to use your thesaurus whether it is the old printed copy or online. Take the simple observation test to get you started.

Observation Test 

Ask yourself questions as you watch your everyday life. Do you see the details and/or remember them?
1. What specific colors are the sky and the clouds today?
2. How many doors are there in front of the school nearest you?
3. In a traffic light, is the red or the green on top?

Now, come up with some of your own to stimulate your mind. Have a pleasant day and many of the Lord’s blessings to you. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Scouts motto: Be Prepared

 The Boy and Girl Scouts’ mottos are “be prepared.” However, I failed at that this year. How about you?
After the recent release of Ruth Ann Nordin’s and my anthology, Bride by Arrangement, published by Parchment and Plume, I realized I was not prepared. 
(The anthology includes two novellas - Ruth’s The Purchased Bride and mine She Came by Train. The story is where two women meet on a train traveling from Virginia to Lincoln, Neb., in 1876. They live separate lives but keep in contact. The Purchased Bride is a mail-order bride story. Who is this quiet man, Pete Kelly, whom Ada is to marry? Janet’s character, Opal, becomes a governess of a widower businessman with two children. Her employer and a preacher vie for her affections. She Came by Train but only her heart will determine if she will return that way.)
But writing She Came by Train took many late nights and wee-morning hours to finish. Because of this, I did not update my social-media sites before the anthology was released in e-book last month. I failed. My only salvation is to complete this before the paperback Feb. 1 edition is released. 
So be prepared by not waiting to the last minute to finish your book but also by remembering to update your social-site profiles BEFORE your book is out. Doing this, acquaints people with you, your book and its cover, such as our anthology. 
Ruth taught me to publish excerpts of my work-in-progress on my blog or on social-media sites. In this way, readers get acquainted with your work, which entices people to purchase the product - an excellent marketing tool.
Also, respond to blog comments because this shows them that you value their input, which builds relationships. What else can you do to become more efficient? Setting goals helps. Some people do longterm goals, such as planning when a book will be released in a year. Other people are not as intense. This month I will sit down with realistic expectations in completing my Cameos and Carriages, a prequel novel to Lockets and Lanterns, which was released in 2012. 
However, my short-term list is more valuable to me. I ask myself what I want to accomplish this week. A weekly planner (another great Ruth tip) sits beside my computer to assist me with this. 
The small calendar allows me to see a week at a glance. I jot down my daily entries in pencil. Using a pencil is a great idea since if the day goes haywire I can erase and move that entry to another day. Entries include when to submit stories, join or rejoin organizations, write blogs, post work-in-progress excerpts and re-examine certain e-mails. 
How do I know what e-mails to re-examine? I star them in my e-mail system. There are days I am too busy to digest long or confusing e-mails, thus by starring them I can return to them at a better time. Additionally, I do the same with Facebook birthday notifications. But watch that you do not pass your Facebook friend’s birthdate.
Thus do what you can to be prepared. However, also remind yourself that you will fail at times. Humans always do as you know. Well, start out the new year right and perhaps you will want to incorporate some of these tips, and may the Lord richly bless you in 2014.