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December 20, 2010

A Winter Scene

Photo by ArtemFinland
Today's writing prompt:

 Stopping, Hank glanced up.  As white as the snow they were slogging through, the sky seemed apt to dump another eight inches on them.  Jerry trudged on, each step crushing the track they followed.

"People are people, you know," Hank shouted, and the wind whipped his voice back at him. 

 Take the scene from there, and feel free to share what you come up with in the comments section.  I'd really like to know what or whom they're tracking and why. 

December 17, 2010

Language of Bees

I'm an impulse-reader.  With the best of intentions, I jot down books or authors friends recommend to me.  I make lists of titles and subjects in the news or mentioned on blogs that I think I'll like.  And then, dazzled by shelves and shelves of glorious books, I grab whatever title catches my eye.

The Language of Bees  was my most recent grab.  The ninth novel in Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series, it's the first Laurie King book I've read, and I didn't feel lost without having read the previous eight novels.  Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes' wife, is sharp-minded enough to match wits with the aging sleuth and calculate the course of a delusional killer.  She's funny, too--in a wry, self-effacing manner.  Russell is an enjoyable character with a distinct voice as you can tell from her blog.  (Yes, Mary Russell has her own blog.  And yes, my characters are a little envious.)

Structurally, the novel takes chances.  A couple of times in the first half of the novel, King shifts from Russell's first-person narration to third-person scenes involving Holmes and Damien Adler without Russell.  Set apart in distinct chapters, the occasional third person narration didn't pull me out of the story.  The scenes between Holmes and Adler enriched the story and actually drew me in more deeply, engaging my empathy.  An extended flashback near the novel's beginning  had the same effect.

Goes to show, you can't be afraid to experiment with structure.    

December 13, 2010

Christmas is Coming

A dusting of snow on the lawn, short days, and bitter-cold air leave no doubt December's arrived,  but it's hard to believe Christmas is almost here.  Our neighborhood is looking barren this year, and I've done nothing to add any holiday glitz myself.  I haven't so much as hung a wreath on our door. 

Last year we were snowed in over Christmas, and the year before we were stuck at home while my husband recovered from knee surgery.  This year we'll actually get to visit family.  I wouldn't have said this when I was ten, but getting together with people you love is the best part of the holidays.  (A great-big meal of delicious food I didn't cook comes in a close second, though.)

My favorite tradition isn't specific to Christmas, but takes place every time my family gets together for a holiday meal.  Conversation always turns to reminiscence and soon my brother and sister have us all laughing about misadventures from our childhood.  The stories seldom change.  They've become oral tradition--legends my neice and nephew could recite if they wanted to.  The stories link us as a family and link our adult selves with the children we once were.  I listen and add little. The memories aren't mine, but ours, and each story truly belongs to its teller.  My own memories, I keep to myself.

Holidays and family gatherings are frequent fodder for cliched films and stories, but they can be a source of true inspiration.  Take a few minutes and list the first words that spring to mind when you think of Christmas.  Keep your hand moving and don't second guess yourself, this is an exercise in free association.  When you've reached the bottom of a page, go back and select ten words from your list as a jumping-off point for today's writing.

December 6, 2010

Dialogue, Between the Lines

People don't always say what they mean.  We often mean much more than we put into words.  Think about the last conversation you had with your mother or your boss.  What went unsaid?  What was conveyed beyond the words exchanged?  A gesture, a look, tone of voice, a step away or a touch of the hand--contextual clues are a part of every conversation. One twist of the lips and, "Have a nice day," becomes, "Screw you!"

Effective dialogue incorporates the nuances of conversation.  Much more is conveyed between the lines than what characters come out and say.  Consider the following passage between Robert and Mrs. Pontellier from Kate Chopin's The Awakening:

"Alcee Arobin!  What on earth is his picture doing here?"

"I tried to make a sketch of his head one day," answered Edna, "and he thought the photograph might help me.  It was at the other house.  I thought it had been left there.  I must have packed it up with my drawing materials."

Photo from Trondheim Byarkiv
"I should think you would give it back to him if you have finished with it."

"Oh!  I have a great many such photographs.  I never think of returning them.  They don't amount to anything."

Robert kept on looking at the picture. "It seems to me--do you think his head's worth drawing?  Is he a friend of Mr. Pontellier's?  You never said you knew him."

"He isn't a friend of Mr. Pontellier's; he's a friend of mine.  I always knew him--that is, it is only of late that I know him pretty well.  But I'd rather talk about you and know what you have been seeing and doing and feeling out there in Mexico."

Chopin's dialogue reveals Robert's jealousy and Mrs. Pontellier's attempts to placate him.  One simple action--Robert kept looking at the picture--adds layers of meaning to their conversation, which never directly confronts his jealousy.

Try your hand at writing a scene in which the dialogue superficially discusses one topic while conveying more through innuendo or action.