Tag Archives: imagery

It Leans

Hi folks,

It’s been awhile since I’ve last posted. I’ve been flooded with writing jobs lately, I’m revising one of my own books, and I’ve been sending out short fiction to journals, magazines, contests etc. etc. etc. So what I’m trying to say is this: sorry I’ve been silent here on the old blog.

Tonight I break my silence. The inspiration for the following fictional piece comes from a scrap of particle board I saw leaning against a road sign in my neighborhood. I picked the board up and snuck it into my trash a few weeks ago. For some reason, I’m not sure  what, I started thinking about that board as I was driving home yesterday. So as an exercise in creating symbolism, I wrote this:


It Leans

The board sits there leaning on the sign at the corner of Turkey Trot Lane and Red Fox Drive. A month or two ago it had appeared in that spot. The top of the board is jagged. There’s a screw sticking out of the bottom corner. thQ738M5EN

A month ago it looked old. “From a dresser?” a friend asked as I took the corner driving up Turkey Trot Lane. “Or a table,” I said.

It still looks old. But now it’s weathered and grey too. Maybe it’s been longer than a month or two. But I can’t remember when I first saw it.

Other cars pass the board. I watched a car pass it a day ago when I was walking up the hill. And cars driving in front of me—they pass it too.

Maybe the driver was thinking, the one driving in front of me yesterday, hey, someone should pick that up. Why doesn’t anyone pick that up? That never would’ve happened years ago. People leaving trash out on the road. No respect.

But he didn’t slow down. He didn’t stop.

Or maybe he didn’t see it at all. That’s more likely. He didn’t see it. Maybe he saw it a month or two ago when the board first showed up. But he doesn’t see it now. And, if I’m being honest, I don’t see it most days either. Today it caught my eye, but most days—

Anyway, I know I should pick it up. Some days, when I see it, I think to myself, just stop and pick it up. Put it in the dumpster. It’ll take a second—that’s it. It’ll only take a second. But then I take the turn up Turkey Trot and the board is gone. It’ll be there tomorrow, I think. Someone’ll get it.

So here I am today about to take the turn on Turkey Trot Lane. The board is there leaning against the sign. It leans there and I can’t help but make comparisons. It leans there like the dentist appointment I need to make. It leans there like some sad kid whose dad won’t come to see his baseball game. th10V2VGTBIt leans there like global warming or carbon emissions. Maybe it leans it there like that extra ten or twenty pounds we all wear on our gut. Or maybe—I could go on and on but I think that’s enough.

As I approach the turn I slow down. I notice the board leaning against the sign. I take the turn. It’ll be there tomorrow. Someone’ll get it.


Writing Drunk

To start off, no, this is not a post about getting drunk and writing something. Sure, American literature brims with alcoholics who proclaim the value of booze when creating art. Everyone knows this quote, “Write drunk; edit sober.” th02TSA5VZAnd we’ve all heard that when Faulkner wrote he would “always keep… whiskey within reach.” But that isn’t what I plan to discuss in this post. I neither condemn nor condone, and–well–honestly, when it comes right down to it, I’ve never done it before. I can’t say much about it.

So, what am I writing about? Well, I realized the other day, when teaching a lesson about unreliable narration that there isn’t a specific literary device for making a character sound drunk. I was teaching that old Edgar Alan Poe story, The Black Cat when the thought occurred to me. You see, The Black Cat features an alcoholic narrator who tortures, dismembers and kills his favorite cat. Although he’s apparently unconscious of the fact, he does it because he’s a drunk bastard who can’t control his fits of rage. th6I1Z4HYKLater, he reveals that he killed his wife too. However, he blames the cat instead of his alcoholism as the cause for her murder.

Because of the narration in The Black Cat, there was no reason for Poe to make the character act drunk. After all, the narrator, in telling the story, tries to cover up that fact. But it got the gears rolling and caused me to ask this question: when I’ve made drunk characters in fiction, how did I do it? Well–where to begin? Honestly, it’s a weird question for me to approach. Although I’ve written several drunk characters over the years, I can’t remember putting that much thought into making them seem drunk. I just did it. I didn’t have to think about it. I guess I’ve been around enough drunk people to know what it looks like.

But, as a person who’s always interested in improving his writing, just knowing “what it looks like” isn’t enough. So, I’m going to post an excerpt from one of my manuscripts, From A to B, in which I wrote an obnoxiously drunk character. And after I’ll analyze the parts that make him seem drunk.


Well, anyway, I think she was still spouting off lies about her love for inner city schools when I walked away. I don’t remember all that clearly. The walls were starting to get fuzzy at this point and I had to piss real bad. I remember that I had a big pinch of dip in my lower lip. In my right hand, I had a beer can that I cut in half for a spittoon.

I walked down a hallway. There was a door on the right. I found the knob. I opened it. Coats. Damn it. “What,” I mumbled. “You don’t keep a toilet in coat closet. What the fuck!” I backed out of the coat closet. I saw my wife. She was standin’ by the door. She looked at me funny, but I made sure to look the other way. To the left, that had to be it, another knob and I could hear the sound of a fan. I grabbed the door knob. Damn it.

There’s nothing quite like that feeling. I was squeezing my dick: I had to piss so damn bad. I was right there. The bathroom was right there. Relief was just a moment away. It was right there. th768KTCFBI let go my dick for a second and turned the knob, but the knob didn’t move. Locked. I was drunk, but not so bad I couldn’t smell. Sure enough, it smelt like colon, eggs, sewer, and garbage.


Damn it. I turned around. The walls were fuzzy and spinny now. Past my wife there was a staircase. “Usually bathrooms upstairs,” I mumbled. A moment later and I was half-way up. The bathroom was at the top. It wasn’t hidden like the one on the main level. The door was open. The room was dark but I flipped the switch. The toilet seat was down, but there was no time. This couldn’t wait. I took my hand off my dick. I unzipped. The air hit my tip and before I knew it there was that rushin’ sound of piss hittin’ water. It splashed up. Drops hit my pants and the top of the toilet seat. It was ok though, I reasoned, it’s clear. No one will see.

At the bottom of the stairs my wife was starin’. Her arms were crossed. I made sure to avoid eye contact. Our kid was on the floor next to the door. She probably said something, but there was nothing else that she could do.


So, what makes him seem drunk?  First, it’s important to note that this is first person narration, so describing his appearance or general clumsiness is impossible without the narrators willingness to admit what he looks like and how much he’s stumbling around. This narrator won’t admit anything that puts him in a negative light.  But still there are several indications that’s he’s had a bit too much. Here they are as a numbered list:

  1. He says he’s drunk. That one’s obvious. The important part is that he seems proud of it.
  2. He uses several short sentences. Alone this doesn’t make a character sound drunk. He might be panicked or in a rush. But it certainly contributes to his drunkenness.
  3. He thinks the coat closet is a bathroom. This shows general confusion and disorientation.
  4. He needs to urinate–badly. He’s clearly had a lot of fluids.
  5. His wife looks at him “funny”. As readers we know he’s acting inappropriately even if he doesn’t.
  6. He shares flawed reasoning. Urine splashes on his pants but he doesn’t think anyone will notice because his urine is clear which is another indication that he’s had a lot of fluids.
  7. He has a beer can cut in half. He’s using it as a spittoon. I’ve only seen drunk people do that.

And that’s it. As I look through my list, it’s obvious that I mostly relied on imagery. What I didn’t do, probably because the character is on a monomaniacal quest to find the bathroom and doesn’t talk to anyone, is use slurred or obnoxious speech; many authors rely on language to create drunkenness.

Speaking of other authors, I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve written a drunken character tell me about it in the comments section below. And I’m happy to share your examples of drunk characters, or any other excerpt of your writing right here on my blog. Feel free to contact me at the e-mail posted on the right side of the page. As always, thanks for reading and have a great day.




Writing with Style 3: Another Point of View

About a week ago I read a post about showing vs. telling. Now, I know what you’re thinking: there are thousands of bloggers who’ve written about the values of descriptive writing. If somehow you haven’t read about showing vs. telling, check out this link to the blog post I read: BLOG POST. He does an awesome job both defining the terms and providing original examples.


However, I think most explanations fall a bit short of describing exactly how to make writing more descriptive and less explanatory. Instead, most writers seem to focus on the importance of creating balance.

So, to add something new to the conversation, I’d like to mention a few observations I’ve made about narrative point of view, and the impact that narration has on descriptive writing.

Observation 1: some types of narration are naturally descriptive. Think about third person objective narration. If you don’t know what it means don’t sweat it. Its pretty simple. The objective narrator only reveals what he can sense. The thoughts of characters are off limits meaning that he can only describe the world surrounding the characters. Check out this example by Earnest Hemingway. I just flipped to a random page in The Old Man and the Sea, and this is what I found:

The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.

thN83JRY4ISo, what’s going on here? Well, in the excerpt there’s an old man who’s been a fisherman his entire life. That’s it. That’s what its about. But instead of explaining this to us, Hemingway gives a physical description. So, why didn’t he just say, “there was an old fisherman”? Well, if he had said that, we wouldn’t have known the harsh physical side-effects this life style has had on him. And the only way to reveal that with the same emotional impact of the physical description, would be through the thoughts of the old man. But third-person objective narration prevents that. So, the physical description, the showing, the imagery, is the only way for the narrator to represent the impact that fishing has had on the old man.

First person narration can also be naturally descriptive, especially when the narrator is a secondary character instead of a protagonist. Check out his example from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Chief Bromden, the narrator, describes the first time he meet Randle Patrick McMurphy.

This guy is red-headed with long red sideburns and a tangle of curls out from under his cap, been needing cut a long time, and he’s broad as Papa was tall, broad across the jaw and shoulders and chest, a broad white devilish grin, and he’s hard in a different kind of way from Papa, kind of the way a baseball is hard under the scuffed leather.

McMurphy is the protagonist here. Because chief Bromden isn’t the central character, well, at least not in the beginning, most of the narration focuses on what Bromden sees and hears and sometimes smells. He’s no mind-reader. He can’t tell us what McMurphy is thinking. Again, this type of narration naturally shows rather than tells.

Observation 2: Some narrative points of view can go either way. First person, when its from the point of view of the protagonist can either focus on what that protagonist senses or thinks. If he’s doing a lot of thinking, he’s probably doing a lot of telling. If he spends his time describing what he sees, then he’s probably doing more showing.thH17KCC3U

Observation 3: Some narrative points of view do a little too much explaining. Because omniscient points of view describe the thoughts of characters, a lot of explaining and  a lot of telling happens naturally.


Now look, I’m not saying that telling is always bad. Its great for creating suspense. Many writers will shift into an omniscient point of view to reveal what a character is thinking for this express purpose. The trick, I think at least, is to do this sparingly.

Well, that’s all I have for now. If you have anything to add, respond in the comment section below.

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