Sunday, August 27, 2017

You Blockhead: The Psychology of Writer's Block by L. A. Kelley

You stare at the computer monitor willing the story to come, filled with sinking desolation. Where are the words? They were there yesterday, flowing with easy abandon from head through fingers on the keyboard. Now, the only writing you can bring to mind is a grocery list and you can't remember whether you need a bottle of ketchup or already have three of them in the pantry.

Welcome to writer’s block, but be of good cheer. It’s all in your head. As a matter of fact, it isn’t a real psychological condition at all. Up until the nineteenth century, the idea of writer’s block didn’t exist. Before then, writers had a romantic belief in a muse. Poetry magically arrived from a different spiritual plane. If words failed to come, the writer must have ticked off the gods and better sacrifice that chicken and get back in their favor ASAP. One of the first mentions of writer’s block was by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who described an indefinite terror at his inability to produce noteworthy poetry, and yet, he could write. He was not only a journalist producing articles, but also literary criticism. Coleridge still saw himself as a failure, because poetry eluded him after his twenties. Poor Sam never got back his mojo and ended life as an opium addict.

French writers of the later nineteenth century rejected the idea of a muse, but expanded on the idea that a writer needed to suffer for art. A true writer was a tortured soul, and if the words stuck in your head, you were on the right track. The only way to shake them free was be more miserable. Move into an unheated garret. Catch an upper respiratory disease. Mon Dieu, you can’t write without anguish.

In modern times, the idea of writer’s block is seen more as a function of a lack of discipline than a psychological condition. Psychologist Steven Pritzker, co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Creativity asserts what's known as writer's block is an “artificial construct that basically justifies a discipline problem. A commitment to a regular work schedule will help you overcome barriers like perfectionism, procrastination and unrealistic expectations.” Susan Reynolds, author of Fire up your Brain agrees and lists five ways writing can stall; the author got off track and lost the plot’s direction, passion waned, unrealistic expectations, burnout, and distractions. A study from the 1980’s by Yale psychologists Michael Barrios and Jerome Singer had blocked writers doing imagery exercises and found even when people didn’t think they can be creative, they were. The ability to write doesn't go away, but may lie dormant as stress in our lives takes center stage. It's difficult to write when thoughts are consumed by something else. So how do you get past that and give your own mental juices a psychological kick in the pants?

Thinking hurts my brain
Writing is hard work. It requires constant creative thought and that can be tiring. Psychologists who study creativity suggest a move forward needs an action completely outside the box. So reject those mundane suggestions to take a walk and clear your head. Your head is fine. Instead, try one of these unusual methods

Change your writing schedule. A study conducted by the
University of Michigan concluded self-proclaimed “morning people,” who feel more productive in daytime hours, are actually more adept at creative problem-solving in the evening. The opposite held true for those who claimed they were more focused at night.

Write for fifteen minutes, but turn off or cover the computer monitor. Don’t be distracted by the words on the screen. Just put down what comes into your head.

Do a visualization experiment. Listen to music in a new genre, preferably without lyrics. Try to “visualize” the music. What images come to mind? What do you see people doing? Saying?

Step out of your head. Imagine your ideal reader. Spend ten minutes writing for her or him.

Start another creative project; paint, plant flowers, tweak a recipe, write a song (even a lousy one.) Experts on creativity say that using the brain for one project can spark inventiveness in another.

Get your brain out of the rut by changing the font and/or color on the computer monitor to wacky-looking. On every page increase or decrease the font size. When something normal and routine suddenly looks different, your brain works harder to process new information.


Finally, psychologists have noted a hand/brain connection. Doing something with your hands can spur creativity, so take a few minutes to write old school with pen and paper.


L. A. Kelley writes fantasy and syfy adventures with humor, romance, and a touch of sass. Her solution for writer's block is to eat more chocolate. It has never failed her. For information on her books check out her Amazon Author Page.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Cinderella Story

As a romance writer and reader, I find that many of our books are Cinderella stories. I love the story where the handsome wealthy man falls in love with a girl from the middle class. She’s always strong, and she’s always beautiful. We are taken on an adventure, and watch the characters’ love affair unfold.

Even in other genres you will find a Cinderella story.  In a mystery, or suspense, a hard-working law enforcement officer tries to prove the guilt of a wealthy handsome tycoon. Eventually the two of them get together to find the real killer. The handsome rich man and the beautiful strong woman fall in love. Everyone cheers.

We love shape shifters who are the leader of their pack, Vampires that are Kings of their cult, and wizards with ultimate power, come to the rescue of a woman that needs saving.

In my book, Immortal Love, the impoverished daughter of an Earl, Elenore, is rescued by Dominick, the handsome, strong, and very rich general. Despite her lack of trust for men, Dominick proves that he is worthy of her love. It’s a Cinderella story.

In Powers of the Heart, Erik is the handsome strong Lord, that falls in love with Kiera, who is a beautiful woman trained in the art of war. They come together to fight Murdock, a man who tries to use Kiera’s healing power, believing it will give him immortality. Erik is handsome, strong, and rich, falling for a woman that is merely a soldier.

In Destiny’s Promise, Randolf uses his Merlin-like powers to protect Carina, a brilliant commoner, educated by her uncle, Anadar. Randolf fights to save Carina from the villain, Disa, a sorcerous wanting to destroy Carina’s soul, and keep the lovers from reuniting in other lives. Again, it’s the handsome rich Lord that falls in love with a woman of common means.

There is a theme here.

We also love Cinderella stories on film. Of course, there is the Disney animated classic, Cinderella, who marries the handsome prince.

The 1960 film, Cinderfella, starring Jerry Lewis, was his answer to the Cinderella story. When his father dies, poor Fella is left at the mercy of his snobbish stepmother and her two no-good sons, Maximilian and Rupert. As he slaves away for his nasty step-family, Maximilian and Rupert attempt to find a treasure Fella's father has supposedly hidden on the estate. Meanwhile, hoping to restore her dwindling fortunes, the stepmother plans a fancy ball in honor of the visiting Princess Charmein whom she hopes will marry Rupert. Eventually, Fella's Fairy Godfather shows up to convince him that he has a shot at winning the Princess himself.

And another one of my favorites is, How to Marry a Millionaire. It came out in 1953. Three women are determined to marry a millionaire. Eventually they find true love with the average Joe. In the end Lauren Becall, falls in love with whom she believes is just an ordinary hard-working man. Then while sitting at the counter of a local diner, he pulls an enormous wad of cash out of his pocket. She passes out and falls to the floor. I cheer every time

Then there‘s the animated movie, Trolls, where the troll princess and a survivalist, fall in love on their adventure into Bergin town to save their friends. They help a scullery maid who is in love with the king. They transform her into a beautiful lady for a day. She even leaves a roller skate behind after their date at the roller rink. The king falls in love with her even after he sees her for who she really was. He realizes he found true happiness. A funny spin on the classic Cinderella story.

Let’s face it, you love them too.

What’s your Cinderella story? 

Friday, August 25, 2017

So Hard to Say Good-bye . . . to Your Characters by Nancy Gideon


Breaking up is hard to do. It's painful. It's not anyone's fault. It's just time to step away, and start over with someone else who is new and exciting. But it won't be the same. Even if you don't want to let go, you know it's for the best. The affair has run its course and you've run out of excuses to drag it out. So, you take a breath, dry your eyes, and steel your heart to write the end to another chapter in your love life . . . by turning off the computer.


Finishing a book is like ending a relationship. After all, you've been sharing your emotions with the same person for months. Even when you weren't with him, you were thinking about him, fantasizing about him, and about what you could be doing together if you didn't have to go to your 8-to-5. At work, you write little notes to him on Post-Its so you can share them with him later . . . when you're alone. The things the two of you have been through together . . . the awkward getting-to-know-you phase, the drama, the danger, the Dark Moment, the passion. You tell yourself it's a series. You'll see each other again. But you'll be with someone new and he'll be with . . . her. The new guy's okay. I mean, he's hot and all, has that rough edge of unpredictability that I like, that dry humor, and unwavering loyalty. And . . . Holy moley, look at those abs! Bringing up a new document, and hurriedly type Chapter One, eager to get to know my new Book Boyfriend. It’s the start of something big.

I just sent PRINCE OF FOOLS, the 3rd book in my "HOUSE OF TERRIOT" dark shapeshifter series off to be edited. Rico . . . sigh. A delay in the inevitable separation that comes with the release date of October 23, 2017. So far, each of my dark, deadly and delicious princes have consumed my thoughts to the exclusion of all others. PRINCE OF DREAMS is just a sketchy outline so far, but I've been having . . . scenes with him.

PRINCE OF FOOLS is now up for preorder for Kindle (and soon in other formats!). If this cover doesn't spark the imagination, here's the blurb to fuel the flame:


A dark prince to her Cinderella barmaid . . .

Rico . . . Prince in the shapeshifter House of Terriot

Reckless, hotheaded Rico Terriot seeks purpose and a sense of pride training the resentful guardians of New Orleans to defend a city besieged by a deadly outside force. Torn between his desire for his brother’s mate and the woman tied to the child of another, protecting their future happiness means denying his own on a dangerous path to redemption.

One night of stolen pleasure he didn’t remember and she couldn’t forget…

Amber . . . a single mother hiding a terrible past

Rico Terriot was the stuff of dreams . . . lately all of hers. But there’s no happily-ever-after for someone living in the shadows, protecting dangerous secrets that threaten her and her daughter. Dare she believe in a fairytale prince when he comes to her rescue, not knowing the price he’ll pay for making her troubles his own? From world’s so far apart, is love strong enough to hold them together . . . and keep them alive?

Is it just me, or do all writers (and readers!) have separation difficulties when the final pages draw near?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Nancy Gideon on the Web



Thursday, August 24, 2017

Magical Islands of Scotland

By Sandy Wright

We concluded our Scotland trip last month by visiting two western islands, each magical in its own way. 

The Isle of Skye is probably the most famous of all the islands in Scotland, and a popular place for the locals to vacation.  And then there was Iona, a tiny jewel in the crown of the Inner Hebrides, known as the seat of all religions worshiped in this country.

Skye has the greatest concentration of peaks in Britain, and the most challenging to climbers.
In fact, a common past time is called “Munro Bagging,” which consists of hillwalking/hiking to the top of all 282 Scottish summits over 3,000 feet. When you summit, you’ve bagged a Munro.

The beauty of wanting to bag all 282 is that in committing to do so, you open up the opportunity to see an incredible breadth of Scotland’s dramatic landscape, most of it away from the populated areas. Many of the Munros are located in Skye, so it’s a popular place for mountaineers.

Once you’ve bagged all the Munros, you’re considered a Munroist, and you start getting a lot of knowing nods, kudos and respect. Our laird friend, John McKenzie, told us he’d bagged the Munros when we visited him at the beginning of our trip, but I didn’t know just what an accomplishment that was until I saw the rugged landscape at Isle of Skye!

We took a relaxing hike to the magical Fairy Pools at the foot of the Black Cuillins, complete with stepping stone water crossings, and crystal clear, icy cold water for those who wanted to swim. 
 I put my feet in, and they were tingling with cold in less than 30 seconds, but two women in our party were much braver and actually swam!
 We traveled next to sacred Iona. This little island is so small (only three miles long and one-and-a-half wide) that its ferry doesn’t transport cars and none are allowed on the island.  When we disembarked we had to haul ourselves and our luggage from the ferry to our hotel in a light drizzle. No worries, the village was enchanting and our cottage, the Finlay Ross, was warm, dry and welcoming.

One of several small islands off the western coast of Scotland, Iona can seem remote from mainland life. But in the old days when most people traveled by sea, Iona was central to life on the entire west coast.

It’s known as a ‘sacred isle’ because of its pagan and then Christian spiritual activity through the ages.  Persecuted druid priests came here for sanctuary to escape the persecution of Rome. Iona’s Gaelic name, Innis-nam Druidbneach  means ‘Island of the Druids. Unlike so many of the other western islands, however, Iona shows no trace of megalithic structures. This may indicate that the island was indeed considered sacred.

Iona feels old. The air, the ground, the contours of the land seem saturated with ancient memories. It’s said the island is made of quartz and marble, formed under vast heat and pressure when the first oceans were condensing on the blistering hot surface of the earth.  The land contains no fossils, for, as far as is known, no living creatures yet existed in the waters of this primeval land.

There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. The veil is definitely thin on Iona, and this ‘otherworld’ has a soft doorway, so everyone treads lightly.

The mystical druids were said to have founded a library here. But the displaced Irish priest, St. Columba, fought off the powerful druid elders in 563 AD to claim Iona as his own, and converted most of Scotland and northern England to Christianity.

Not much is left of St. Columba’s original compound, but there is part of a 13th century Nunnery and a beautiful abbey.

 A lintel over one arched window on the Nunnery has a worn ancient carving of Sheela-na-Gig, a fertility Mother Goddess. 

These ancient and crude fertility carvings used to be quite common around the world, but most of them have disintegrated over time. This is the first preserved one I've seen. 

I found it interesting that it was mounted on the wall of a nunnery.  





I spent an hour leafing through the bibles displayed inside the Abbey, collected from at least 80 different countries. 

The Abbey Museum houses impressive remains from the early Celtic period, include 14-foot-tall crosses dating from the middle or late 8th century. 

 When Columba first settled in Iona, he and his followers created a scriptorium. Imagine hooded monks sitting in rows copying ancient manuscripts and creating new sacred texts. The best surviving example is the famed Book of Kells.

The island became a place of pilgrimage and royal burial as its fame as a center of learning spread.
When the Vikings invaded Iona in the eighth century, the Book of Kells was secreted off the island to Ireland. It’s now housed at Trinity College Library in Dublin.

Known graves here include 48 Scottish kings including Macbeth, 8 Norwegian, 1 French and 4 Irish, as well as numerous clan chiefs. Templar knight gravestones reveal their presence on the island. Megalithic remains suggest it was a prehistoric burial site too. But why? Why did so many royal people come here, to this tiny island, to prepare for their final journey? Some say it’s because Iona is a borderland between life and death.

There is no denying that Iona is mysterious. The light is more translucent, more heavenly and less earthy, often filled with swirling mist. The water is blue, unlike the black waters in most of Scotland.

 
And the beaches are littered with beautiful green stones, Iona green marble. The island is famous for it, and the crystals have been collected as talismans for centuries. 

Legend tells of a lonely monk who fell in love with a mermaid. When she was banished, she shed tears that can be found today, the small green tear-shaped crystals along Iona’s beaches.

There are also legends about magical “green eggs,” called Druid’s Eggs or Serpent’s Eggs. Which brings me around to that other tantalizing legend – the Druid’s library.
Could it be that Columba’s monks copied not only old Christian manuscripts, but the Druid writings they found on Iona as well? What happened to all that work?

It’s never been found, although modern historian Ashley Cowie, host of the TV series Legend Quest, swears he’s found the entrance to the lost library in a secret chamber under Iona Abbey.

Yes, Iona is chock-full of intriguing questions and mystery. And you can be sure I’ll be following Cowie’s investigation with interest. Wouldn’t an ancient Druid Chamber of Secrets would be an exciting way to conclude my Ancient Magic series?

--------------------------------
Hi. I’m Sandy Wright. I live in Arizona with my husband, a super-smart Border Collie/Aussie mix named Teak, and two huge black panther cats (18 pounds each), named Salem and Shadow Moon. Their daddy, Magick, was even bigger! He's featured in my debut novel, Song of the Ancients, the first book in my paranormal suspense series, Ancient Magic.
They say write what you know, and I'm Wiccan, so my debut novel involves witchcraft and Native American medicine magic. It's set in the energy-laden town of Sedona, Arizona.  It was interesting to introduce the concept of witchcraft, seen through the eyes of an ordinary, non-magical woman, and go through her reactions and disbelief along with her. While I did a lot of research for this book, most of the magical stuff I drew from my own Wiccan background and practice.
    Sedona is but one earth "power site" in the world. The Ancient Magic series will take Samantha and Nicholas, as well as a few secondary characters, to adventures at other sacred sites. The second book, tentatively titled Stones of the Ancients, will take us to the ancient standing stones of Scotland, where I get to trace my own heritage while researching the book. The series continues to Hawaii to learn about Pele, the Goddess of fire and volcanos. The series will conclude somewhere along the ancient icy land bridge of the First People, maybe Alaska or Siberia.
Book One – Song of the Ancients is available now on Amazon, in both print and ebook.
Book Two, Stones of the Ancients, will be available in early 2018.




Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How To Share An Eclipse Without Posting It On Social Media Sites

by Francesca Quarto
If my long-time companion, Oliver were still occupying his favorite rug in my house, I would have sat on the floor with him to describe the awesome beauty of the 2017 Solar Eclipse.
Sadly, on so many levels, Ollie is no longer with me, but here's how our conversation would have gone:
"Oliver...it was breathtaking!  I was totally mesmerized by the incremental changes as the moon stepped between our earth and our sun."
Oliver looks up at me with his droopy eyes, their black lashes stick straight out like thick paint brush bristols. The excitement of my news overwhelms him and his fury head drops onto his paws.
I continue to rhapsodize.
"I used those great Eclipse Binoculars that daddy got from Amazon.  I thought he paid too much, but Lordy...it was worth every dollar!"
I stop long enough for Oliver to absorb some of the enthusiasm pouring off me like sweat in a sauna and probably just as annoying.
"I had to press the binoculars really snugly against my face, so my eyes would be completely covered.  Didn't want to risk any burns to my retinas."
Oliver looks over his black nose at me and stares into my eyes.  I think he is just checking to be sure I came away unscathed from this dare-devil feat.
"I just washed my hair and ran outside, curlers and all, so I wouldn't miss a minute of the Galactic show.  I was concentrating on the shadow as it crept across the face of the sun when I thought I heard a voice. For a heartbeat I thought my curlers might be picking up radio waves like Patrick always warns.  I didn't want to stop looking, but then that voice came again.  I turned around to see the Green Acres Lawn man treating our neighbors backyard.
We both laughed at my being wired for space chatter and he left to spray more chemicals.
I tell you, I must have really been determined to see the eclipse...I'd never be caught dead with curlers outside the house!"
Oliver rolls over on his side with a deep sigh of contentment as I rub his rather portly stomach.  His ginger colored fur is thick and long, it feels like silk under my fingers.
"Oliver, I've read that animals can be seen to act in peculiar ways during a full eclipse.  The birds around our bird bath just sort of disappeared as it got darker.  They'd just been drinking like a bunch of kids on spring break, when all of a sudden... zap!  They were gone.  
The air seemed to slow around me and everything went still. It was so quiet while we watched.  I felt like the world was holding its breath for the sun to return to us...to come back into our lives like, well, like it was our only hope against the darkness the world can hold."
This soliloquy proves too much for him and Oliver stiffly rises to his arthritic legs, stretches his back and walks into the bedroom.  As he steps into the solitude and comfort of a plush carpet, he turns and looks back over his thick pelt of ginger and...now this will sound like a fake report...but he actually gave me a wide mouthed yawn! 
Unbelievable!  I guess I found my biggest critic.  But hey, the lawn care guy thought me interesting.  He didn't spray me did he!?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

What Makes a Good Love Scene?

After reading romance novels of varying types over the last 30 years, I've come across all types of love scenes. I would even venture to say that there is no perfect type or formula you can use to write a love scene. Personal preference dictates the type of romance you love best. The industry these days has everything from sweet (no love scenes) to behind closed doors (implied but not written) to written but "tame" to written explicitly to erotica which can address all sorts of predilections. And even more in between.

So my question--what makes a good love scene?--is just that. It's a question to readers and authors of romance alike. What makes a good love scene for you?

When I started adding love scenes to my books, I decided to do a little research. I went back to some of my favorite authors and tried to figure out what it was about their loves scenes that made them my favorite authors. What I came to realize was that they didn't have a formula, but they did incorporate certain elements that made things work so well.

Build the Heat

This one is probably obvious, but harder to pull off than you'd think. I had a roommate in college who was drop-dead gorgeous and guys would just throw themselves at her - without any idea of who she was as a person initially. Watching her frustration with that made me realize that I want to see relationships where the heat is not only about the initial attraction, but also a growth of that attraction. No instalove and not "just sex."

Build the Connection

Unless the story starts out with the couple already in some kind of relationship (friends, previous lovers), I prefer to see their relationship build. When they finally make love I prefer there to be a connection already started - even if it's just in the beginning phases. They've noticed each other - not just physically but things about their personalities. They like each other as people, even if they don't admit it yet.

It's my opinion that building the connection and the heat are even better when they work in tandem together. And I've seen few do that better than Lucy Monroe. Read one of her books looking for that specifically, and you'll see what I mean.

Include Something "Surprising"

I like it when some aspect about making love is surprising to one or both of them. There are multiple surprises a writer could incorporate. There's the often used virgin surprise - which I usually feel is better when he's also surprised at how much he likes the thought of being her first. There are smaller surprises. He's surprised he falls asleep in her arms. She's surprised she felt something deeper. And so on.

Make The Scene "Fit" the Couple

I find it to be a real turn off when the scene doesn't make sense to who they are as people. For example, let's say she's been established as shy and timid. The first time they make love if she's immediately a wild-cat in bed, the writer's lost me. I get that they want to establish that she's so comfortable with the male lead that she'll be herself. But having that grow and develop over several love scenes works better, in my opinion.

What About Paranormal Romance?

Love scenes can become even more unique in paranormal romance. Do you like these scenes to show the character's powers as well as their connection and heat? Think about how shifters would differ in this department versus say vampires or witches. I love it when a writer can incorporate that added element in every part of the character's lives and that includes love scenes.

As I mentioned, the above observations are what I've noticed I like as reader. Since this is what I prefer to read, it is also what I try to incorporate when I write. My success in that is TBD. These are mine. What are yours? Think about some of your favorite romance writers and what makes their love scenes so compelling.  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Eclipse Weirdness by C.J. Burright

Since another total solar eclipse won’t be coming around the U.S. for years, I’m getting all geared up to take it in. I’ve got my glasses, and since Oregon is expected to be overrun with tourists, I even got the day off without asking. Score! If I’m super-lucky, the skies will be clear…but this is Oregon, so here’s to hoping. People are making a big deal about the eclipse, and wherever there are people, there’s bound to be some weirdness. Which I am, of course, happy to share with you. First, some cool weirdness.

via GIPHY


Did you know that by taking pictures of stars during a total solar eclipse, Eddington demonstrated how gravity bends light? Also, French astronomer Jules Janssen discovered helium during a solar eclipse in 1868. That’s some super-cool scientific weirdness.

It is written…according to some Greek historians, a solar eclipse in 585 BCE was enough of a sign to halt warfare between the Lydians and the Medes. If only that worked in today’s world, right?

If you’re near animals during the eclipse, watch for some weirdness. Experts say that the birds and insects go eerily silent. The darkness confuses nocturnal animals into waking up and tricks others into settling down for a nap. Since I live on some acreage, I plan to take notes on the level of eeriness. For future writing projects, of course.

And now for some even weirder stuff…

In ancient China, predicting the eclipse was a big deal for an emperor’s success. If astrologers failed, not only did this not bode well for their leader, but some paid with their lives. And Babylonians would plant temporary kings during eclipses so the bad luck wouldn’t fall onto their real king. Some poor sap got to be king for a day—and face the wrath of their Gods.   

Some people in India fast during the eclipse because any food prepared during an eclipse will be unpure and/or poisonous. Even better, some Indians avoid demonic possession during the eclipse by bathing in urine before and after. And don’t forget to rinse your eyes! They also believe that urine protects vision…but to be extra-safe, don’t forget protective eclipse glasses.

Thinking about getting it on during the eclipse? You might want to reconsider. Back in the day, it was believed that would result in ugly, little demon children.
Not that Dean Winchester as a demon is ugly...but to play it safe, go with what some Latin Americans do—wear red undies and a safety pin to prevent any birth defects. Need a partner for some eclipse action? Check craigslist. There's a 40 year old guy from Europe who's looking for a woman to help him produce a child during the eclipse. He claims he's smart, attractive, in good shape, and his blood is pure. Hrms. If he was such a great catch, I'm thinking he wouldn't have to resort to craigslist, but what do I know? 

Whatever you plan to do for the eclipse, don’t forget to look down too! Look at the horizon during totality for a 360 degree sunset. Check the ground for shadow snakes or shadow bands, which are moving lines of alternating light and dark. Smack something large and white on the ground beforehand to get the full effect—they only occur during the seconds immediately before and after totality. And lift your gaze again to find Mercury, which is usually outstripped by the sun.

Are you planning to view the eclipse?


via GIPHY

Friday, August 18, 2017

Paint a Picture with Words by Elizabeth Alsobrooks

Description is the foundation of a vivid story, the kind that plays like a movie in the reader’s head. Visual description is more important than ever as a staple in a fiction writer’s toolbox. In this modern media day of iphones, internet and music videos, even the readers’ perceptions and expectations are changing. Teachers complain that students don’t have any creativity or imagination any more. They don’t play make believe games. They play video games. They have become so inundated and even dependent upon visual media it’s difficult to interest them in fiction reading, a form of entertainment that isn’t as immediate. It’s not enough to hook the reader’s attention in the beginning. Ageless classics are written with well-drawn characters, realistic storylines and vivid descriptions. Today’s writers, more than ever, need to create evocative scenes with well-paced storylines that elicit visceral responses from their readers, drawing them eagerly forward through a story that however fanciful “feels” realistic.  

Creating a story does require imagination, so the first thing you must do to describe a person, place or thing well is to visualize it. Many writers choose magazine pictures or stock photos to help them better describe settings or characters. You have to begin with an impression, getting a feel for what you are about to describe. Writers are probably among the most observant groups of people in the world, filling their imaginations with visuals and human behavior.

Once a writer has the rough draft version of what they wish to describe, it’s necessary to choose just the right words to convey both a correct and enhanced image. A good describer doesn’t make the mistake of using just their computer’s synonym or thesaurus tool to find more interesting, as in less common, words to replace what they’ve already written. Beginning writers who implement these tools inadequately often end up using the wrong words, as in incorrect word use, which renders the description confusing rather than giving it clarity and creating a visual image in the reader’s mind. One of the handiest tools in a writer’s toolbox, even a seasoned writer who wants to up the voltage of their creative juices, is a describer’s dictionary. These handy references include samples of words as well as phrases to better describe faces, expressions, body types and individual behaviors, such as gestures or walking habits. They go into detail about such seemingly simple things as sizes, shapes, colors, landscapes and objects, as well as more complex details such as skin tone, complexion or the look in someone’s eyes.

With the rough draft fleshed out the writer has created a “real life” image for the readers. Now, it’s important to trim the fat. Take out any unnecessary words or over-the-top phrases and what’s left is a much more interesting piece, one that will draw the readers in and keep their attention. Use these three steps, 1) get the description down on paper, 2) make the description more vivid with interesting phrases and vibrant details, and 3) tighten the writing, removing redundant or verbose words or phrases, and the result will be much better writing, which means much better reading.

Here are a couple examples. You decide which ones are the better reading.

He was a mean and miserly man. Or: "Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as a flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster." - Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol"


It was a dark and stormy night. Or: The impending was inevitable and I could sense it nearing. Thunder rumbled in the distance and a bolt of lightning cracked the midnight blue sky into two. Jagged flashes of pure light cast a glow against the monochromatic background. For the past week, I lay in bed fervently hoping I'd wake up to the gentle patter of rain on my windowpane, an escape from the scorching heat; and now, here it was, cascading in diagonal sheets in its full glory. There was a certain rhythm to the downpour that I caught amidst the wind unleashing a torrent of its own. The rain exhibited no sign to cease, the inception of the storm had only just arrived.-Sachi’s published descriptions

Now you can't make every description detailed, or carry both landscape and motivation within a character's description at every turn. Too much of a good thing can also bore your readers. So like a great love scene, writers must learn to use pacing effectively, knowing that detailed descriptions slow down the pace and are sometimes especially effective after a violent or fast-paced emotional scene. Whenever and wherever a writer uses description though, it has to be a well-worn tool in their toolbox.


Monday, August 14, 2017

The Farther, Forbidden Paths

My first published novel was Gemini Rising, winner of the Mainstream Category in the 2012 Preditors & Editors Poll.  That year, it was also 2nd in the Paranormal Romance Guild's Reviewer's Choice Awards.  However,

Gemini Rising is a controversial dark fantasy.  I didn't expect it to be published at all, but Canadian Publisher Double Dragon Publishing released it in 2012.  This year, I took my rights back and Class Act Books accepted the novel for reissue under the new title Anointing: The Gemini Factor.  I'm currently updating the manuscript for republication.

The story is told in a 'frame', starting in the present, the majority told in flashback, then returning to the present for the end.  This excerpt is from the present and is a celebration of Alina's husband's birthday.  The hero and heroine, Alain and Alina, are identical twins.  Male/female mono-zygotic twins are a scientific impossibility, but not in the suspension of disbelief, right?

From Chapter 26 - Another Homecoming

An army of servants trooped across the lawn, their arms laden with brightly wrapped packages.  Mum motioned Rory to a chair center stage on the dais.  Alina stood behind him, her hands on his shoulders.  A young king, he smiled as they stacked the gifts around him [her husband].
With paper and ribbon littering the platform and the ground, Alain slipped into the shadows.  She’d give him ten minutes then signal the orchestra.  Her heart raced, but she mustn’t betray her excitement to Rory.  She kissed his cheek, stroked his hair.  At the soft thud of hooves on grass, she nodded at the conductor.
To Trumpet Voluntary, Alain strode the gamut of wicker torches.  Light gleamed on living gold.  Red ribbons fluttered on the stallion’s halter.  The palomino snorted, tossed his noble head.  His snowy mane flagged in the breeze.  A collective gasp rose from the crowd.
Every eye was on the dazzling pair—every eye but Rory’s.
She clasped his hand to her breast.  “Isn’t he beautiful?”
Her husband’s voice was ice.  “The man or the horse?”
Alina frowned a reprimand.  “Your birthday gift.”
A smile brightened Rory’s handsome face.  “Trust Alain to make a grand entrance.”
With a flick of his wrist, her brother halted the Lusitano stallion at the platform’s edge.  He bowed low, his hair sweeping the grass.  How regal the man and the horse were.  Alain in his tuxedo, the stallion’s golden palomino coat glistening in the torchlight.  Focused on Alain, the horse stood four-square, his ears flickering, nostrils flared.
Her brother straightened, shook his hair back from his face.  “Happy Birthday, Rory, from Lina and me.”
Her husband brushed a kiss to her lips, shot to his feet and bounced down the two stairs.
Alain smiled at her and handed Rory the lead.  “His name is Prospero.”
Rory wound his arms around the arched neck.  The stallion curled his head over the man’s shoulder, pressing him close to the warm scent of horseflesh.
Alina laughed.  “An equine hug.  See, he loves his master already.”
Rory turned, embraced Alain.  “Brother, you have outdone yourself.”
Alain beckoned, offering his hand.  “He was your wife’s idea.  Come, Lina, you must be first to mount him.”
Applause erupted.  The stallion danced to the end of the lead.  An anxious expression swept over Rory’s face.  Alain whispered to Prospero, and the horse stilled.  Alina stepped down into her brother’s arms.  A quick embrace, then she hoisted her skirt and Alain eased her astride the golden stallion.  Rory beamed up at her.
She smiled down at him and blew a kiss.  “I love you.”
Rory fisted the sky, the other hand clutching the horse’s lead.  “I love my wife,” he proclaimed to cheers.  With the same flamboyance, he spun on a heel and paraded his birthday present before his audience.
Alain walked beside Rory.  “Hold the lead tight and cluck.  He’ll piaffe.”
Alina stretched her arms beside her, threw her head back and laughed with joy as the stallion danced in place, his bare back swinging between her legs.
“Wow,” Rory breathed.
“Prospero is the reason I’ve been in Portugal for six months.  It took a long time to persuade the breeder to sell him.”  Alain stroked the muscles rippling under the stallion’s sleek hide.  “Good boy.”
“He’s magnificent.”  Rory clucked his tongue.  “But what will I do with a horse like this?”
Alain squeezed his shoulder.  “Learn to ride.  I’ll teach you, my friend.”
Alina closed her eyes, her body swaying to the two-beat rhythm.  Finally, they were together again, and she’d never allow anything to separate them.
_____________________


If you're not wary to venture into a story with a thread similar to Flowers in the Attic, look for Anointing: The Gemini Factor, a dark fantasy, coming from Class Act Books in October 2017.

The picture is a mock-up of a cover that is simply for example purposes.  The images behind the smoke will be different in the final cover.  The smoke image is from Fotolia.

Happy 14th of August!  Linda