Tag Archives: writers

How to Write an Ugly Character

Good evening folks. As you’re  aware I’ve been sharing a lot of other people’s writing lately. But tonight I figured I’d show off some of my own fiction. The excerpt below is from an unpublished novel I wrote. I chose this as an example of how to create an ugly character. “Big” Jim, the character described below, was my attempt at creating the ugliest character possible. He’s intolerant, racist, sexist, abusive, and uses terribly offensive language. th6SFZ10U9But before you read it, I’d like to mention three important things to keep in mind. First, even though I created him, I don’t condone anything he says or does. Second, in my life I have met people very similar to him. People like “Big” Jim exist in the real world and I’m going for realism here. Third,  you’ll likely notice that his strange speech patterns and mispronounced words seem grating. Although this is set in the Eastern Panhandle, he still speaks a little strange.  This is done purposefully to put the reader on edge. You might also notice a preponderance of hard syllables. This gives the passage a cacophonous and unsettling sound. Hope this gives you ideas for the next time you sit down to write an ugly character.

 

 

from From A to B

“Big” Jim is 6’2” and three-hundred pounds. His head is round and balding gray. He shaves it to keep it “lookin’ neat”. His face is red and bloated; he looks at your chest and then down in front of him and then your chest when he’s talking to you. His eyes are always shifting, and he always has something dangerously attractive to say.

 

Well, let me tell you about it.

That son-in-law-uh mine, Gene, that is, he pulled up just ‘round five or six. It was Friday night and I could already feel my hand shakin’ if you know what I mean.

So, I went right ahead and just popped one open. Figured-uh beer would do the trick just fine. Didn’t need to start mixin’ the liquor drinks just yet. It’d be a late night I figured, and I didn’t want to get all crazed up too damn early.

Teresa, my old lady, she wasn’t set to get back from the vet clinic for another hour and Gene was just unloadin’ his shit, so I figured I’d just set right there on my own sippin’ my beer till the family was ‘bout ready to join me. I’ve found that when I’m throwin’ a party, it’s always best to start drinkin’ ‘fore the crowd gets settled. That way, when they see you there drinkin’, they’re liable to want to do some drinkin’ too. And then when other folks get there, they’ll see that everybody’s drinkin’, and that’ll get them thinkin’ “Hell, I could go for a drink myself.” One thing goes ahead and leads to another, and ‘fore you know, everyone’s there drinkin’ and carryin’ on and actin’ like it’s the god damn fourth of the god damn July. Know what I mean?

Course you do. Anyway, I’ll tell you how it was. Well, first of all, it’s wasn’t the Fourth of July. I said LIKE the Fourth of July. It was actually Memorial Day. Well, not the actual day. But the weekend that goes with the day. And I was excited. I got to admit that. You see, I knew Gene’s dick would be all hard because there hadn’t been any snow days earlier in the year, meaning that he only had a week left of work and then he’d be free for summer. Last time it happened that way, Gene drank so damn hard I almost died keepin’ up with him. Uh night to remember.

Well, like I was sayin’, I was just settin’ there on the porch sippin’ from my beer can. It was right out the cooler and goin’ down like water. Then Gene and that damn daughter uh-mine and that little boy uh-their’s came round the side of the house. Somethin’ was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but somethin’ just wasn’t right. Gene’s mustache. He shaved it off. Now, I know what you’re thinkin’. You’re thinkin’ I’m some kinda fag for noticin’. But I didn’t really notice it, or its significance just then. Just then, all I noticed was that somethin’ was off.

He was holdin’ my daughter’s hand like a queer and that boy of theirs, he was standin’ there behind him.

“Gene, my boy, come on up here. I got a cold one right here in the cooler. It’s for you buddy boy.”

I went ahead and reached in the cooler for him. I was just so damn excited if you know what I mean. Well, I pulled out uh-beer for the boy and when I looked up he was still holdin’ the hand uh-my daughter like some type-uh fudge packin’ dick-lickin’ faggot. Just standin’ there while the beer I pulled out for him was burnin’ my damn hand with cold.

“Got your beer for you boy!” That’s what I said and he just kind-uh looked at me with this funny faggoty grin.

Well, that’s when that slut of-uh daughter-uh mine opened up her big damn mouth and started sayin’ somethin’ about Gene bein’ off the stuff, sayin’ that he ain’t drinkin’ no mo’.

“What kind-uh dick-lickin’…” I started to say but cut myself off when I saw that little shit of-uh boy-uh their’s lookin’ at me fawn-like.

“What the hell got into you woman?” I said to that no good daughter-uh mine. “What the hell! What did you do? What did you do to the boy? Gene, my boy, what the hell’d she do to you, boy?”

I could see right then that I had an effect on him. He wasn’t gonna budge right then. He couldn’t. But he looked at me. Then he looked at that slut of-uh daughter-uh mine. He looked back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and shit. And I knew it right then. Right then I knew his new attitude wasn’t at all set. Just a little coaxin’. That’s all it’d take. Just a little coaxin’.

 

That’s it. Let me know what you thought. And if you have an ugly character of your own, feel free to send me an excerpt for next week’s Writing as Art:

Ejamesolson1@gmail.com

Thanks and have a good day


Writing as Art: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality

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Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. The purpose is educational and based off of the idea that we can all learn from each other. I start off the conversation by incorporating annotations every few paragraphs. (These are surrounded by parenthesis and written in bold) But my annotations are only the starting point. I encourage you to comment, critique, disagree, agree and argue the literary merit of each piece.

For this week, we have an excerpt from Henry Martin’s novel Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality. Enjoy, and let me know what you think of it.

 

from: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality

The food sits comfortably in my stomach, washed down with a few glasses of Riesling wine. Strange bar, strange city—but for all its strangeness, no advancement has been achieved today. The wine, the food, and the atmosphere were making me sleepy, drowsy, and indifferent—in a nonchalant way. Nice, the land of art, beaches, riches and fame—the land where one should be fortunate to be. Do I feel that way? No. Across the sea, across the border, across a zillion stories lies the place I want to be. Where? I do not know, but I am certain that it is not here. Perhaps my quest will never come to an end; perhaps I am never to feel peace and harmony. The stillness and lethargy of the Pyrenee annoyed me, yet, the indifference and apathy of the Cote d’Azur is not proving to be a better medicine. Only a few hours ago, I thought Nice was nostalgic, colorful, friendly, and refreshing. Now, under the veil of darkness, it shows its true face. Or, it is that my eyes have opened? Am I finally seeing things for what they are? Will I ever find a place that will not reverse my perception after only a few hours?

 

(Martin blends form with content intelligently in this opening paragraph. Let’s start with content. The narrator, unnamed in the paragraph, first appears in a liminal state, a purgatory, stuck in a “strange city” miles from where he “want[s] to be.” Yet, he’s seems to be at the cusp of a realization. Perhaps it isn’t the city that irritates him. He acknowledges that Place doesn’t matter. Regardless of where he goes, his “perception” spoils “after only a few hours.” To express this, Martin chooses both his words and setting carefully. This takes place in Nice, a beautiful city on the French Riviera. But at the same time, the word “Nice” in it’s common form has a separate meaning of it’s own. Nice could also mean nice. It could also be interpreted as it’s philosophical form “Niceness.”   th89L7RA6PWhile the narrator believed that the “Pyrenee” and “Cote d’Azure” would be “friendly and refreshing,” he only found “stillness” and “apathy.” While these places promised to be “Nice,” he realizes that it looks different “under the veil of darkness.” He uses diction and juxtaposition to create this ironic effect. The philosophical form “Nice” as well as the city of Nice transform into darkness as the sun sets. Friendliness is stillness. Refreshing is apathy. The positive becomes the negative as he asks “Am I finally seeing things for what they are?” And the questions are important too. The questions further reflect the narrator’s liminal state even after his “eyes have opened.” Another part of this paragraph that interested me was the ambiguity of the second sentence: “no advancement has been achieved today.” For who? I’m not sure, but I think the ambiguity puts the reader in a similar state of mind as narrator. The line “across a zillion stories” had a similar effect. What stories?)

 

Leaving the bar behind me, I stroll back towards the harbor. This time my eyes are open, as if the short experience in the bar had corrected my vision. Nice at night is not the same as Nice during the day. The air remains warm, only now it seems to be charged with perfumes, scents, and electricity. While I was inside, enjoying my late meal, someone had turned the street upside down, replacing all the well–dressed couples and families with hookers, pimps, dealers, and lonely men driving around, aimlessly looking for an exciting fuck. Everywhere I turn, there is a whore. Some are eating the flesh of their clients right on the street; some have the decency to hide their profession in shadowed entryways. On the hood of a Renault sits a woman old enough to be my mother. Her exposed skin hangs loosely over her leather skirt, which is rolled up well above her hips. Her hair, dried out and bleached, is tied in a ponytail; her eyes and face are covered in so much make–up that it almost overpowers the presence of the man penetrating her with swift moves—her legs thrown over his shoulders. Pandemonium, circus, humanity. Amidst the trash, the cigarette butts, the luxurious yachts, and the cars and buildings lies a street where human genitals are pre–positioned, dancing with each other, dangling in the air, ultimately swallowing one another like the mating dance of a praying mantis—Ballare, Ballare, a formal dance in this informal setting. Yet the justification to dance is a righteous one, as long as they are touched and held.

 

(Martin further develops the ironic reversal of Nice by describing the ugliness of the streets at night. Again, this is done mostly through word choice and negative connotation. Check out this line: “Everywhere I turn, there is a whore. Some are eating the flesh of their clients right on the street.” Ugly right? Prostitutes don’t have to be ugly, but when they are “eating the flesh of their clients,” they’re definitely ugly. Check this one out: “Her exposed skin hangs loosely over her leather skirt, which is rolled up well above her hips.” Pretty ugly. And yet, I found the final line perplexing. He seems to excuse the ugliness for the basic needs of human nature)

 

These streets may as well be the streets of Constantinople. These prostitutes are but Roman whores, sitting on the steps of the ancient basilicas, and these lonely men, searching for the cheapest and the most exotic of meats almost mirror the anxious warriors of the Empire, returning from some bloody war—eyes and hair shining through the night, diluted and dyed in phosphorus—smiles so innocent and evil at the same time, resembling a poisoned strawberry, glowing with a lustrous sheen. Lust, lust, lust—like an unexpected avalanche the covetousness and cupidity knows no feelings, no boundaries. Sex to kill the boredom, sex to feel better about the self—does that really work? The worm made out of the two counterparts in this trade keeps swirling and swishing, growing wider and larger with each new arriving client. Concubines and business suits take over the harbor and the surrounding streets, while the bums jerk off in the alleys. Not befitting to this unorganized orgiastic swirling, I leave the harbor behind, marching away like the soldier of God, left, right, left, right…until the scent of sweating bodies can no longer be found in the air, until the trees and bushes provide me with a comfortable hideout. The street lamps glow far below, their light reflecting off the water like a burning inferno, but up here, I am alone, a cigarette in my mouth, watching the true life show before I settle for the night.

 

In the morning, I awake to the sounds of sea horns, traffic, and birds. Like a mad shivaree for civilization rather than newlyweds, it bounces off the green leafage, vibrates through the leafhoppers, and comes out of their tiny buttocks in the form of a sound, spreading everywhere like cosmic dust. I brush away the few leaves dropped on me as I slept, stand up, light a cigarette, and inhale. Exhaling a puff of smoke into the brisk morning air, I take a look at the harbor. Nothing left resembles last’s night imagery—the calm sea gently rocks the docked ships; the street is deserted. I descend back onto the main road, my body rested like royalty. It is no wonder that I feel like royalty; the castle in the background, standing proud on top of the hill, is certainly suitable for royalty of any kind, including me. I smile.

 

(I felt a certain sense of closure with the final sentence. “I smile.” Short sentences tend to have that effect. Now that the narrator sees the civilized world for what it is, “unorganized orgiastic swirling,” he’s happy to find his Place amongst the “green leafage” and “trees and bushes” describing the natural world as a “castle in the background…suitable for royalty.” I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the novel to see if the natural world also “shows it’s true face.”)

 

51BtuEKMatL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_And that’s it. Here’s a link to the rest of the book: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality. If you have an excerpt from a novel or a short piece of fiction, please e-mail submissions to Ericjamesolson1@gmail.com And as always, please comment. It helps us all out.

 

Henry Martin was born in 1977. 6583769Aside from his regular job at a preschool, he spends his nights writing fiction and poetry, which predominately deals with the often-overlooked aspects of humanity. He is the author of three novels: Escaping Barcelona, Finding Eivissa, and Eluding Reality; a short story collection, Coffee, Cigarettes, and Murderous Thoughts; and a poetry collection, The Silence Before Dawn. He is currently working on a joint project with an Australian photographer, Karl Strand, combining one of a kind images with short stories. He lives with his family in the Northeast. Check him out on Goodreads: Henry Martin

 


Send me Your Novel Excerpts!

Writing with Style takes submissions of novel excerpts and flash fiction to be featured on a new type of blog post, Writing as Art. If you are a writer interested in having your short fiction or excerpts from your longer fiction read and critiqued in a public forum, please send a brief e-mail to ejamesolson1@gmail.com . No need to pitch an idea or anything like that. Just a simple email will do. Make sure to include the following:

  • Your name
  • Your story or excerpt (750 words or less…less is better) pasted in the body of the email (Sorry, but I’m not opening attachments. I’m dreadfully afraid of viruses)
  • Title the subject line with the word “Submission” followed by the title of your story. Like this: “Submission: Godzilla vs. Batman”

I respond to all submissions and will let you know if your excerpt has been selected. All genres are welcome, but the focus is on the literary merit of each piece. If I decide to feature your story, I will also include a short write up with bio information and a brief critique, a great opportunity for anyone looking to increase their visibility. Not sure what to send or if this is right for you? Check out last week’s post here.

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So, what are waiting for? Send your story to ejamesolson1@gmail.com by 3/4 and check in next week when I announce the next title to be critiqued on Writing as Art. I look forward to hearing from you!


Call for Submissions: Writing as Art

Writing with Style will be taking submissions of flash fiction and novel excerpts to be featured on a new type of blog post, Writing as Art. If you are a writer interested in having your short fiction or excerpts from your longer fiction read and critiqued in a public forum, please send a brief e-mail to ejamesolson1@gmail.com . No need to pitch an idea or anything like that. Just a simple email will do. Make sure to include the following:

  • Your name
  • Your story or excerpt (750 words or less…less is better) pasted in the body of the email (Sorry, but I’m not opening attachments. I’m dreadfully afraid of viruses)
  • Title the subject line with the word “Submission” followed by the title of your story. Like this: “Submission: Godzilla vs. Batman”

I will be responding to all submissions and I will let you know if your story has been selected. All genres are welcome, but the focus will be on the literary merit of each piece. If I decide to feature your story, I will also include a short write up with bio information and a brief critique, a great opportunity for anyone looking to increase their visibility.

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So, what are waiting for? Send your story to ejamesolson1@gmail.com by 2/22 and check in next week when I announce the first title to be critiqued on Writing as Art. I look forward to hearing from you!


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.

 

 

 


Sorry for the Shameless Self-Promotion

Normally, I don’t spend time reading book reviews. But earlier tonight I read a review of But the Angels Never Came, one I hadn’t seen before, and had to post it here on the blog. As writers we get all kinds of criticism. Some of its good. Some ain’t so good. Some of its fair. Some of it makes us wonder if the reviewer actually knows how to read.thG0CMNJK9 I’m posting this because the review I read earlier tonight is the most generous critique of my writing thus far. I added pictures to make it even more awesome. Check it out:

I’m not a huge reader of apocalyptic ci-fi, but every once in a while something comes along that catches my fancy. This was one of those books. For one thing, how the near-future comes about had a scary sense of realism to it, as if it were a straightforward, logical extrapolation from news making the headlines today. That, of course, makes the tale just that much more disturbing, as if this could well be something many of us will be living through down the road. It’s a very dark future that I don’t want any part of, so in that vein, these kinds of books serve as a great wake up call to snap us out of our lethargy and make what small efforts we can today to see that this destiny is not carved in stone.

Despite the clear biblical references, this is in no way requires a fan of Christian-based fiction to enjoy the story; its audience is much broader. There is a Book of Eli feel to the novel, for those of you who saw the film, but this is far deeper, and more profound to my thinking. And you don’t have to wait until the end for the profound and prophetic material to click into place; it’s there from page one. As sci-fi based on religious parables go—not that I read a lot of those either—this has become my new favorite.
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The writing style is smooth, polished, and flowing, making this a fairly effortless read at any speed. The pacing with the plotting is thSYV17UMFquite good, just enough to balance character development with action, and leave the right amount of room for the infusion of the philosophical ideas. While this is arguably thinking man’s sci-fi, it’s not so heady as to be off-putting to folks just looking for a fun story.

While we have a lot of staple scenes that are de rigueur for this genre, I like the extra layer of polish the addition of the double timeline gives us, with the old storyteller conveying to the young lad the apocalyptic happenings early on that leads to an even greater and protracted downward spiral.
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Pound for pound, I enjoyed this foray into a dark future world much better than the one that won the Pulitzer Prize for covering much the same subject matter, The Road. Maybe there’s no allowing for taste. Or is there?

CLICK THE LINK : (BUY NOW ON AMAZON FOR 3.99)

 

You heard it folks. The book rocks. Thanks for reading and sorry for the shameless self-promotion.

 

 


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.

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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.


Writing with Style 2: Could we go back to the future…tense?

When I first started writing, I read all sorts of advice regarding verb tense and which ones are suitable for novels. I’ve written about this once before but focused only on the present and past tenses. Basically, most of the advice I read said to either use one or the other, preferably past tense because it’s easier.

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Now, for most new writers this is probably sound advice, but for me it didn’t work. I wrote my first novel, Farmers and Cannibals, primarily in present tense to make it feel more like a movie. That fit the book because the characters were unknowingly participating in the recording of a propaganda film. It was nice using present tense because I could switch over to past tense to create seamless flashbacks, and I was able to draw a distinction between the filmed actions of the characters and the filming of those actions using verb tense alone. And for me at least, despite the advice I’d read, it worked.

(For more on how to use both the present and past tense together in fiction with examples from famous novelists, check out this blog post: Letters on Literary Devices: Back to the Present )

So, what’s my point here? It’s this: the type of advice that says to ALWAYS do this, or NEVER do that in writing is inherently flawed. Writing evolves not because someone didn’t do something; it evolves because writers DO challenge conventions and AREN’T afraid to experiment with new forms of expression. Think about it, if writers didn’t challenge convention, we’d still be writing in olde English. And that stuff is awful.

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Speaking of challenging convention, I’d like to talk about another verb tense that gets a bad rap in story telling. I’d like to talk about the future tense, and the ways in which it can be purposefully used to foreshadow events and create suspense.

Now, first of all, when I first read about tenses, most writers said to avoid the future tense entirely. While I agree that I wouldn’t want to read an entire novel written in the future tense, I don’t agree with the idea that it can’t be used at all. And actually, many writers probably use it without even thinking about it. The easiest way to use future tense is through character dialogue. Check out this example I just made up:

Elton sat alone at the breakfast table with a bowl of cheerios and a sour smirk. His mouth was still cut open, and his right eye was swollen. It was just black, no blue.  He looked up from the cereal and pictured his mother standing there with her arms folded across her chest. She wasn’t actually there. He just pictured her there telling him that he didn’t have a choice. He could see her mouth forming the words, “You will be going to school today. I don’t care how scared you are. You will be going to school.”

He heard her footsteps coming down the stairs. Her arms weren’t folded across her chest but her eyes were hard. “Don’t you say a word,” she said. She was really saying it now. This was real. “You will be going to school today.”

In this I used past tense for the narration and a combination of present tense and future continuous tense for the dialogue. The future continuous is in BOLD. Primarily, the future tense verbs are used to foreshadow events to come by highlighting an inescapable future conflict for the protagonist. This type of paragraph could work anywhere within a chapter or story. Because the tense changes are in the dialogue, it’s unlikely that a reader would get confused. Well, unless he or she suffers from severe stupidity or some other intellectual handicap.

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Ok, so that was easy. Now, lets take the same story but get rid of the dialogue. Some writers might think this impossible but here it is:

Elton sat alone at the breakfast table with a bowl of cheerios and a sour smirk. His mouth was still cut open, and his right eye was swollen. It was just black, no blue.  He looked up from the cereal and pictured his mother standing there with her arms folded across her chest. She wasn’t actually there. He just pictured her there telling him that he didn’t have a choice, that he would still have to go to school. I won’t go, he thought. She can’t make me go.

He heard her footsteps coming down the stairs. Her arms weren’t folded across her chest but her eyes were hard. She didn’t say a word. She didn’t need to.

He will be going to school.

As you probably noticed, this example isn’t nearly as seamless as the first. It would be a challenge to transition back to the past tense. But it still works to foreshadow the same inescapable conflict as the first. This would work at the end of a chapter as a cliffhanger leading into the next. It could also be used to open a chapter, especially if an additional space is given before the next paragraph. The point is that it’s more suspenseful. Compare the line “He will be going to school,” to the past tense equivalent, “He went to school.” In past tense, the line doesn’t stand out like it does in future. It doesn’t cause the reader to pause and think in the same way.

So, that’s it for today. If you know of any other ways that authors can use the future tense, feel free to post those in the comments section. If you liked this, share the love by hitting that like button, sharing on twitter or facebook or whatever social media you’re into.

If you’d like to check out my fiction just click this link: BOOKS. Each book has an Amazon Link and Farmers and Cannibals, my first novel, is on sale this week. Click the picture of the book below for the Amazon link with the special promotional price.

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As always, thanks for reading and have a nice day.

 

 

 


How ’bout an excerpt

Hey folks,

It’s been a while since I posted an excerpt from one of my books, and seeing that I’m in the process of editing one, I figured I’d post a paragraph or two. I just read over these lines that I must have written about six months ago. It caught my eye because I’m teaching anaphora this week to my high school students, and I used one in the first paragraph. I also liked the use of sentence fragments. Check it out and let me know what you think:

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Gene drove home. He looked out to the right. The scarred, rocky face of the mountain stood straight up. It had been cut almost two-hundred years ago. It had been cut for the railroad. It had been cut by a man with vision. It had been cut with purpose. It had not been cut so that a single train could get from A to B. No, it was never that simple. The veins of industry. That’s what one man saw. The veins of all industry.

There had been rain earlier that day. Water seeped through the gaps and spaces in the mountain and flowed through the cracks in the rock. Gene felt poetic. “She’s crying,” he muttered looking up at the rock standing straight up beside him. “She’s crying.”

That’s silly though. Rocks don’t feel. When the railroader came and cut through the rock for the sake of progress, it didn’t feel. It’s lifeless, without purpose. And so is Gene.

 

That’s it. Let me know what you thought by leaving a comment, hitting that like button, or sending me an e-mail! And if you get a chance, check out these other books I’ve written:

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Letters on Literary Devices 14: Writing Sarcasm

To my Number One Groupie:

I’m writing this one for you. But before I start, lets give a little context to anyone else who might be reading this.

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Last week I received an e-mail from my biggest fan. One thing led to another, a few e-mails went back and forth which concluded in her sending me this:

Let me be clear. I beg you to never high five yourself again. I was so pleased to see that you kicked that hAbbit. I was going to high five you about it but that would just send you spiraling back into your addiction. You can make it. Just slap youself on the ass and put it on youtube whenever you want to high five yourself, but make sure nobody can trace it to you and cut off your head (she meant conceal my head, not cut it off. That was explained later) in the video. You will do a kick ass job. Adios.

If you couldn’t tell, she was joking about my tendency to “LIKE” my own blog posts. That’s what she meant when she said “I beg you to never high five yourself again.” She was just joking.  Well, that’s not completely true. She meant what she said, but she wasn’t being mean or cruel or hateful.

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This was how I responded:

Now THAT was funny. You certainly have hyperbole down. I haven’t tried the youtube video yet, but next time I get the urge to high-five, I’ll just get the camera rolling, put on a mask, and go for it.

And this sparked an idea which took the form of two questions: How did I know she was pulling my leg? How was I able to interpret her e-mail as clever sarcasm not vindictive malice?

Well, the answer to that one’s simple: I’m an English Teacher who’s written a few books and I know all about verbal irony. But most people don’t; most people don’t need to know how to write verbal irony or to recognize it in other people’s writing. For most people, it’s enough to recognize sarcasm in speech. And that’s usually easy because in speech we’re exposed to more than just a person’s words; we’re exposed to their tone as well.

So, you’re probably wondering: how can verbal irony or sarcasm be written? How can a writer sound sarcastic using words alone?

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Well, it’s easier than you’d think.

Here are two easy ways to do it:

HYPERBOLE: That’s what my number one groupie used in her e-mail. This is the use of exaggeration or overstatement. So how did she do it? Simple. She did it through her choice of verbs and adverbs. Check out this sentence that she wrote: ” I beg you to never high five yourself again.” This sounds sarcastic because of the verb she chose: “beg”, and the adverb, “again.”  If she had written it like this: “I don’t think you should high five yourself,” she wouldn’t have sounded sarcastic. And that was just one sentence. Look at the other verbs and adverbs, “send … spiraling … slap … on the ass … cut off.” Each exaggerates the type of action I should take if I ever feel the urge to “LIKE” my own blog posts.

UNDERSTATEMENT: This is the opposite of Hyperbole but has a similar effect. Instead of using verbs and adverbs to exaggerate, it uses these to sarcastically minimize whatever is being said. Think about my response back to her. I said “You certainly have hyperbole down.” That doesn’t sound very sarcastic. But if I changed it to this: “You seem to have hyperbole down,” it would. All I did was change the adverb. “Certainly,” was changed to “seem to” which understates her ability to use hyperbole. I mean shit, she more than just “seems to” have hyperbole down.

 

Well, that’s two ways to do it. To my number one groupie who sparked the idea, I hope I was clear and I hope I did a kick ass job.

Adios!

 

 

P.S. If you liked this PLEASE hit the “like” button. I’d do it myself but I’m no longer giving myself high-fives. Make sure to check out the youtube video: VIDEO … just kidding that was just a link to my books page. Fooled ya!


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