da-AL’s Atmosphere

I recently had the opportunity to guest post on da-AL‘s HAPPINESS BETWEEN TAILS BY DA-AL blog.

 
I offered a bit about creating atmosphere in one’s writing. After all, you do want your readers to take a breath now and then.… Read the rest

I recently had the opportunity to guest post on da-AL‘s HAPPINESS BETWEEN TAILS BY DA-AL blog.

 
I offered a bit about creating atmosphere in one’s writing. After all, you do want your readers to take a breath now and then.

While you’re there, take a look around da-AL’s site. And give her dogs a hug. They like that.

Atmosphere Is…

Regular blog readers have seen my reviews of writing books. I distill these readings into easy to use and remember storycrafting and storytelling chunks and will share my learnings in this blog.

Writing what I’m learning, explaining it, helps me understand it.… Read the rest

Regular blog readers have seen my reviews of writing books. I distill these readings into easy to use and remember storycrafting and storytelling chunks and will share my learnings in this blog.

Writing what I’m learning, explaining it, helps me understand it. Or let’s me know I don’t. Please feel free to comment and let me know when you’ve got something different. The whole point of this exercise is to learn!


Atmosphere is the presenting of physical details so as to create an emotional reaction in the reader. Emotional reaction is what allows the reader to identify and empathize with characters in the story.

 
Consider the line “Eric stopped as Julia entered a copse of ancient, dark boled trees” from a horror story I’m working on.

The details relevant to Atmosphere are “stopped” and “a copse of ancient, dark boled trees.” The word “stopped” tells us Eric doesn’t want to do something and what he doesn’t want to do is follow Julia into “a copse of ancient, dark boled trees.”

I hope readers experience some tension, some foreboding, and at the same time want to read more to learn 1) why Eric stops and 2) what happens to Julia in the copse. People have walked among old trees and loved the experience. But chances are people enjoyed walking in a brightly lit forest, sunlight streaming through the leaves of ancient trees or perhaps a forest rich with the sounds and scents of wildlife nesting in old trees or maybe a woods with rustling leaves and grasses guiding travelers on their way.

Such descriptions are longer than a copse of ancient, dark boled trees and intentionally so. I kept the phrase a copse of ancient, dark boled trees short to create a sense of confinement, entrapment, to make readers ill-at-ease; all emotional responses to physical details.

Creating reader emotional reaction is important to successful fiction and non-fiction writing. You want the reader involved, engaged. A bored reader stops reading your book and worse, won’t buy another one you’ve authored. An unengaged reader doesn’t care about your characters, your plot, your story, and ultimately, won’t care about you as an author.

The line Eric stopped as Julia entered a copse of ancient, dark boled trees should make the reader sympathize more with Eric than Julia because Eric is showing caution while Julia is entering that copse of ancient, dark boled trees and people (in real life) tend to favor caution.


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The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing

The Goodreads blurb is “Some of the best advice available on how to create character, use description, create a setting and plot a short story.” The Amazon blurb is “Here’s a collection of the most helpful articles from WRITER’S DIGEST magazine covering every aspect of short story writing.… Read the rest

The Goodreads blurb is “Some of the best advice available on how to create character, use description, create a setting and plot a short story.” The Amazon blurb is “Here’s a collection of the most helpful articles from WRITER’S DIGEST magazine covering every aspect of short story writing. Every writer, from beginner to professional, will find guidance, encouragement, and answers to such concerns as how to make characters believable, developing dialogue, writer’s block, viewpoint, the all-important use of conflict, and much more.”

Definitely some advice although not until the third section (Characterization). The first two sections read more like Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, basically cheering sections for those unsure and/or starting out (which is to be expected. This was the handbook for the Writer’s Digest Fiction writing course).

I can believe that the separate chapters were Writer’s Digest articles. They both read as such and, from a business perspective, why solicit for something already owned?

Is it helpful? Yes. I was suprised at how much new (to me), useful information the book contained (once I got past the rah-rah sections).

There’s enough in here to keep writers developing their craft going for quite a while. I do recommend it.


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Quit Stage Directing

Do you ever go back over your past efforts to rewrite/rework/update/improve?

I do. Often. I’ve discovered lots of stage direction in my earlier works (“earlier” meaning everything from just a few days ago to my earliest efforts).

Funny, because I spot stage directing easily when critiquing others’ work.… Read the rest

Do you ever go back over your past efforts to rewrite/rework/update/improve?

I do. Often. I’ve discovered lots of stage direction in my earlier works (“earlier” meaning everything from just a few days ago to my earliest efforts).

Funny, because I spot stage directing easily when critiquing others’ work. And note that stage directing is different from stage direction characters. The latter serve a story purpose, the former rarely does.

The crux is in that last line – “…serve a story purpose…”

Example
Here’s a scene from the published version of Empty Sky:
She walked up to him and ruffled his hair. “Hey there, skippy. You here to dream?”
Jamie frowned under her hand. “My name’s Jamie.”
Carsons, walking back to his sleep chamber, turned. “What’s your name, son?”
“Jamie McPherson, sir.”
Joni’s hand had dropped from Jamie’s head and pointed to the old, small, black and white picture on Lupicen’s console desk. “Who’s that?”
Jamie followed Joni’s gaze. He looked from the little boys in the picture to Lupicen and back.
Lupicen tapped the dark complexioned boy’s face with his fingers, then pointed to the lighter faced boy. “Yes, that boy, the younger of the two, that is me. this other boy, he is my older brother, Émile.
“He is the reason for all of this.”
Al Carsons came over to get a good look at Jamie and found himself staring at the picture. He pointed to the older boy. “Him? That’s your brother, Émile?”
“Yes. He is responsible for all I do here.”
“How’s that?”
Dr. Lupicen rocked back in his chair so that his feet were unable to touch the ground. He looked at the picture and sighed, then tilted his head back until he was staring at the ceiling, closed his eyes, took a deep breath and began. “It happened long ago, on a hill on the outskirts of my village, Crit¡, in Rumania…

Keep the reader moving forward smoothly!

 
If nothing else, the above is full of rough transitions. Character A does this, character B does that, character C does something else and the reader is tugged and shoved from A to B to C like a prisoner in a chain gang rather than being smoothly passed back and forth like a basketball in an All-Star game.

Here’s the rewrite followed by what makes it better:


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Show, Don’t Tell

Every wannabe author hears “Show, don’t tell” until their ears fall off and fly away rather than listen to another dollop of unexplained advice.

Some writing teachers give examples but most often it goes something like this: “Here, this is an example of showing, not telling” with no explanation of what makes something shown and not told.… Read the rest

Every wannabe author hears “Show, don’t tell” until their ears fall off and fly away rather than listen to another dollop of unexplained advice.

Some writing teachers give examples but most often it goes something like this: “Here, this is an example of showing, not telling” with no explanation of what makes something shown and not told.

I mean, we’re dealing with words on paper. We call ourselves (figuratively) Storytellers. How can we share a story without telling.

Ah…let me provide an example much in the vein of Great Opening Lines – and Why!.

 
Here’s a paragraph from Carson McCuller’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and an explanation how things are shown (I’ll provide explanations of showing using the methodology I use when ala critiquing someone’s work. First, the paragraph:

Portia read from the Book of Luke. She read slowly, tracing the words with her long, limp finger. The room was still. Doctor Copeland sat on the edge of the group, cracking his knuckles, his eyes wandering from one point to another. The room was very small, the air close and stuffy. The four walls were cluttered with calendars and crudely painted advertisements fro magazines. On the mantel there was a vase of red paper roses. The fire on the hearth burned slowly and the wavering light from the oil lamp made shadows on the wall. Portia read with such slow rhythm that the words slept in Doctor Copeland’s ears and he was drowsy. Karl Marx lay sprawled upon the floor beside the children. Hamilton and Highboy dozed. Only the old man seemed to study the meaning of the words.

Now, what is shown element by element:
Continue reading “Show, Don’t Tell”