Get the Picture?

Whitney (my sister, who has been mentioned in several previous posts) pointed out to me relatively recently that, except for Stefan’s “deep blue” eyes, she has no idea what anyone in Burden looks like.

This is not because she has no imagination (far from it!) but because I did not describe any of the characters in the story.  Don’t believe me?  You can read it again for yourself, if you like. 

The truth is this: I am primarily an auditory learner.  If I hear something several times over, I will probably have at least a good chunk of it memorized.  When I read a book, I hear it out loud in my head, and when I type something on the computer, I am actually taking dictation from my own thoughts.  (Yes, everything I think is basically spoken inside my head.  And yes, I often talk to myself.)

When I create a scene from a story, it often starts with the dialogue.  Conversations between characters replay in my head until I get them on paper.  I can imagine the physical actions that accompany the words, feel the emotional responses to conversations and events, but I do not usually picture what is going on.

In Butterflies, I created physical descriptions for every one of my main characters.  I wrote them down and had to refer to the document frequently because I couldn’t remember what anybody looked like.  Some physical characteristics, like build or a hereditary hair color, were pertinent to the story.  Those stuck with me.  Otherwise, did it really matter what color someone’s eyes were?  I know for many readers it does – this is how they build the characters in their minds.  My sister is one of these people.  She wants to know what the entire room looks like, not just the little corner where the action is taking place. 

I am trying to improve my skill for description, as I know it is important for some readers, and have done several writing practices to that end.  No matter how much I practice, though, imagining what someone looks like or how a room is arranged will always be something I have to think of consciously.  I need to hear and feel; it doesn’t matter so much what I see.

Blood and Guts

I just finished reading a book that included a large-scale war, with multiple sides fighting.  It got me thinking about the war in The Queen’s Butterflies.

There is a funny thing about the war in my novel: people either think there’s not enough of it, or there’s too much of it.

Fighting is almost a required activity in fantasy.  Battles between neighboring kingdoms, rival magical factions, bandits or pirates; it may not be the sole plot driver, but it is a critical part in the plots of most fantasy I can think of.   (Anybody know of a great fantasy novel or series that is almost entirely bloodless?)

The war between Molva and Diaea in Butterflies goes on for 4 years.  We occasionally look in to see how it is going, but it is not the primary focus of the novel.  A lot of the feedback I’ve gotten has fallen into one of two camps: either there is not enough “looking in” (the war doesn’t feel like it’s 4 years long) or there is too much of the fighting (the war is a distraction from the primary plot). 

Writing fighting is challenging – I don’t get wrapped up in the details of death and I’ve never experienced war, so I tend to keep the bloody battles succinct and pertinent.  Even in war, I focus on the characters and their experiences.  I even invested some energy into creating a few soldiers, so we’d have someone to follow throughout the fighting.

My favorite fighting scene in Butterflies is not war-related.  (Mini spoiler alert for the novel!)  Instead, it is an attempt on the Queen of Molva’s life, thwarted by her maid (who also happens to be a Butterfly).  Other than the acrobatic, clothing-tearing, hand-to-hand craziness, the best part about it is a little bloody tidbit I picked up at a Renn Faire.  Squeamish?  Skip the next paragraph.

If you grab someone’s hand with two fingers in each of your hands (left hand around the pinky and ring finger, right hand around the middle and pointer) and pull with all your strength…  *Pop!*  The hand will split down the middle like peeling a banana.  As soon as I heard someone say that in a combat demonstration, I knew it had to go in my book!

A little gruesome, I know, but a great image and one that I’m glad I found a way to include.  🙂

A Difference of Perspective

While I was visiting at home, I asked my dad and my sister the same question to compare their answers.  I asked both of them to describe the “yellow room,” my mom’s craft room.  The comparison was an interesting study in their different perspectives.

Both traveled around the room left to right, which makes some sense as the door is in the right corner.  Some things, like the technology that lives in the far corner, they both described similarly.  But on several things their answers were strikingly different.

My favorite part was the longest wall in the room.  My dad described it as “open shelving, about 6 feet tall, holding craft supplies.”  My sister, on the other hand, said, “bookcases with the stamping stuff, photo boxes, and ribbon.”  My dad focused on the details of the shelves themselves, while my sister chose to describe the items stored on the shelves.

This was true of the whole room – dad with structural information, sister with details.  It was an interesting experiment, one that gives me a little more insight into describing scenes in the stories I am working on.  I just wish I had asked my mom before I told her what my dad had said, so I could have gotten her perspective, too.  🙂

Writing on the Porch

I have been visiting my family in Illinois the last few days.  It’s been a while since I was back for a visit and my parents have done some major renovations to the house where I grew up. 

Today I am taking advantage of one of those renovations: their new three-seasons porch.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, I will attempt to explain.

At my parents’ house, the three-seasons porch has replaced an old deck.  Instead of being open to the world (thus rainy, cold, or hot depending on the season) the porch has walls and a roof.  The walls are filled with windows; only the space required for the window frames is not glass, at least at a certain level.  What makes it a porch and not a room of the house?  It is not connected to the heating/cooling system and has no insulation.  It does have electricity, enough for one outlet and a ceiling fan.  You can probably guess the three seasons of intended use.

It’s cold here today.  Before I turned on the little space heater, it was 48° Farenheit on the porch.  This is not one of the three seasons (although some might argue that it is still fall, here it feels like winter).  I do not get a lot of chances to visit, however, and I wanted to take advantage of the porch as a place to write while I was here.  I’m sitting on the porch wrapped in throws with a heavy sweatshirt, writing.  After I finish the post, I intend to do some serious work on With Honor (that’s Matthew’s story).

If I was a full-time writer, I think I would have a porch like this as my office.  I write better when I am outside, even if “outside” is really a window away.  🙂

Steps to a Story: A Title!

At this point I have written a lot about Matthew’s story without having written a lot of Matthew’s story.  Even without a lot of the story done, I have found a title.

With Honor

Like Burden of Knowledge, this title plays to two facets of the story.  It refers to Matthew’s behavior as a soldier and the heroics that he will be a part of (not fully formed, but I know they will be there), and it also refers to how Matthew handles his relationship with Charlotte, the love interest. 

Throughout the story, Matthew behaves with honor.  The title fits the story, as well as the character.

Steps to a Story: Building a Relationship

Spoiler Alert: In order to share this part of the process, I will need to reveal some of the things that are going to happen in the story.  If you prefer to wait until the story is done to find out what happens, I suggest not reading this entry.  Come back tomorrow; I’ll keep things a bit more secretive then.  🙂

One of the things I learned from the comments on Burden was that relationships between the characters are more satisfying if they are difficult.  Give the couple challenges to overcome, and readers are even more pleased when they end up together.  Knowing this, I’ve decided to play a little with Matthew and Charlotte, his romantic interest of the story.

The first time Matthew meets Charlotte, we’ll get to see a spark, but not much else.  He is career Army, after all, and while the daughter of a farmer might be intriguing, he’s got a calling to follow.  Both the first encounter and the second are brief.  The second will fan the spark – after we see the two interact, she’s going to linger in his mind, much to his dismay.  (I am looking forward to writing that section.)

The third interaction is going to be more involved, and while I don’t have the logistics fully worked out, it will likely involve her nursing him back to health from some type of injury.  This is when the attraction grows, when he realizes that she is interested, and is a great moment for the two to get together.   This is also where I throw in a hurdle.  Matthew is too honorable to simply act on his desire, and he is still bound to the Army.  Charlotte is a good farmer’s daughter, and unwilling to settle for a fling when what she really wants of Matthew is a husband.  Emotional struggles ensue.

I won’t give you the details of how they deal with it (especially since I haven’t figured them out myself) but they will eventually get it worked out.  It is a prequel, after all, and Matthew does need to father some offspring for Butterflies to work out.  😉

Going to the Movies

I have mentioned in a previous post that I don’t watch movies based on books that I like, although I didn’t explain the reason for the rule.  At this point, with all my complaints about consistency, it may already be clear.  Here’s the story. 

My friends all wanted to see Jurassic Park when it came out – I was in junior high.  My mom was searching for a way to get me interested in adult fiction, so she seized on this opportunity.  I had to read the book before I could see the movie.  It was quite a successful venture: I ended up falling in love with Michael Crichton’s work and spent the summer checking out every book he ever wrote.  (I played that game again later – in high school – when I discovered Mercedes Lackey.) 

This did, however, lead to the rule.  I saw the movie.  I would have liked the movie had I seen it out of the context of the book.  However, I spent most of the movie saying things like “the girl is the one who likes dinosaurs, not the boy” and “What?  That’s not how they figured out the dinosaurs are breeding!”  Needless to say, I was disappointed in the movie and the lack of cinsistency with the book.

Thus the rule was born.  It started as “no movies based on Michael Crichton books” and then grew from there.  (I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies, but I also didn’t finish those books and it was years between reading and watching.)  I did make one exception: I saw the first Harry Potter movie when it came out.  Guess what?  Disappointment again, this time based on the things that had to be omitted, so the rule was reinforced.  This has led to  more than a few arguments, with friends, family, and significant others who really wanted to see movies that I refused to see.   My apologies, but you knew my rule when you started.  🙂

I have since seen all of the Harry Potter movies, most of them on DVD.  I found that distance from when I read them (as in Lord of the Rings) makes it much easier to enjoy the films.  I went to see the most recent one last night; now I am impatient for the last one.  Of course, I am also impatient because I want to re-read the books, and I can’t do that until I have seen the last movie.

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