The Unspoken Truth

Last week I talked about the love triangle, one of the many obstacles that can be thrown at a romantic couple in story.  This week I want to talk about the unspoken truth, otherwise known as the awkward silence.

This obstacle is one of the things that can make a reader shout at a book, “Just tell her already!”  One of my favorite authors (Mercedes Lackey) used this to great effect in her first trilogy.  The unspoken truth is that conversation that just needs to happen, but for whatever reason, the characters refuse to have it.  It can be tied to a love triangle, as well, which makes it even more interesting (or frustrating, depending on your point of view).

There are two major ways to set this up with your characters.  The first is to start it with a misunderstanding, or even a fight.  (This is where you can tie it in to a love triangle, especially if the triangle isn’t real, just the perception of one character.)  Someone makes an incorrect assumption and removes themselves from the situation, the other one doesn’t know why the first pulled back and is hurt, and suddenly your romantic couple are no longer even speaking to one another.  Obviously that’s just one way to develop it, but really, a lot of these awkward silences grow out of some type of misunderstanding.

The other way comes from character traits, rather than any actual event.  This is where you use flaws like shyness, insecurity, or stubbornness to your advantage.  The boy is too shy to tell the girl how he feels.  The girl can’t imagine that a boy like that would be interested in her, so she misreads or ignores his advances.  Both characters know that they are interested, but both are too stubborn to be the first one to say anything.  These types of silences are just as effective as ones based on misunderstandings.

Of course, it’s really fun to use both.  There’s a misunderstanding, they stop talking, she realizes she was wrong but is too stubborn to admit it, he’s convinced he’s no good for her, etc. and so on.  I say it’s fun, but that’s from an author’s point of view.  Authors like to make their characters work for it.  Readers, of course, want to strangle the characters (and their creator) for their inability to just have the conversation already.  You have to admit it, though; a well-written unspoken truth obstacle makes it that much sweeter when the couple finally gets it figured out!

Colorful Thoughts: Black!

This is part of a series.  Check out previous posts on purple, blue, yellowredorange, and brown! (I know I skipped green – it’s my favorite, so I’m saving it for last.)

Black, like red, can be different things to different people.  (We’re not even getting in to the “absence of color” vs. “all colors” argument.)  Let’s talk about it first in the context of clothing.

Black can be austere, especially when worn unbroken by other colors.  It is a favorite color of priests, puritans, and widows.  In this form, black is a symbol of sacrifice and loss.  Priests and puritans made sacrifices to separate themselves from the world, and their clothing demonstrates it by the color.  Widows have lost a loved one, and (at least in Western culture) black signifies mourning, a time to focus on that loss.

Black is also mysterious. It reminds people of night, when it’s harder for us to see and things that are unfamiliar happen.  Ninjas and thieves wear black as camouflage for their nocturnal activities.  This is also where black gets its sexy flavor.  A woman in a black dress and veil could be in mourning; she could also be a mysterious (and by extension, sexy) stranger.

Because of its relationship with sacrifice, death, and darkness, things that most people fear, black has also become synonymous with sinister.  (Disney hasn’t helped this.  Some of their scariest villains are associated with black: Ursula the sea witch, Jafar, and Maleficent all dressed in black, albeit with differing accent colors.)  Many children’s villains are black; it makes it easier for them to identify “the bad guy.”  Westerns, too, like to make use of black clothing to signify to the audience who is the antagonist.

In magic black is often associated with something dark and sinister, sometimes related to death, which is where we get the phrase “black magic.”  Magic users in black don’t have to be evil, though.  Groups of wizards can use black the same way that priests do, to symbolize sacrifice and identify themselves as separate from the world.

When it comes to individual coloration, black can be used many ways.  Dark skin is often given to exotic characters in fantasy, probably because it wasn’t commonly seen in medieval Europe.  Dark hair or eyes, especially paired with fair skin, can give a mysterious/sexy quality or a sinister feel, depending on how it is used.

As an author, you can either use people’s typical perceptions of the color black in a way they will anticipate or against expectation.  In Dragon Pendant, the black dragons are smart, unwilling to conform, and the only one we meet is pretty much evil.  In the movie How to Train Your Dragon, the main dragon is black.  He’s scary at first, but his character changes as we learn more about him.  Dress a character all in black to make her mysterious or even scary, and you can either carry her on in this fashion or reveal her as a sweetheart who really just likes the color black.  As always, you are the author, it is your call.  🙂

A Book Review – sort of

I just finished reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Now, there are many reviews out there of this book, I’m sure, and I’m very much behind the times as this is my first time to read the book.  This is not exactly a book review, per se, so much as a few thoughts that I have about it.

I’ll try not to share spoilers, for those of you who might want to read it and are even more behind the times than me.  🙂

My first reaction on the first page was “Wow, this is in first-person present tense.”  This is significant because most books are third-person (of varying knowledge levels) and past tense.  It works, though, since the best person to tell the story is the main character, and the present tense makes it more immediate.

Another thing I noticed were the commas, or perhaps a lack thereof.  I’ve discussed in the past how commas can be optional, and I prefer to use more rather than less, so this is not terrible.  There were also occasional sentences that would require a second read on my part, because they were written as people speak, not as they write.  Namely, there were a lot of fragments.  Again, this worked, as the general feeling of the book was that the main character was telling you the story.  It’s okay for it to be written as if spoken, especially since it came across not as a lack of technique but as a carefully thought-out choice.

I know, you’re thinking, “Okay, Leigh, enough with the technical writing stuff.  What about the plot?  The characters?”  Unlike technique, these are more subjective and personal-opinion related.  Plus, I don’t want to spoil it!  That said, here are a couple quick reactions.

I like the main character, and I think that all of the key players are well-created.  There’s a couple that I would have liked to know a bit more about, but that’s always the case in a novel with a large cast.  Most importantly to me, I cared about what happened to the characters.  This is what drives me through a book.

The plot concept is interesting while at the same time gruesome.  (Minor spoiler alert, but most of the following is learned early on.)  I don’t know how I feel about a country that finds it entertaining to pit 24 randomly chosen boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 against each other in a fight to the death.  The concept (kids battling it out) was disturbing enough before I started reading the book; add to it that this is basically their equivalent of reality TV and it’s a lot disturbing.  I think this is where the value of first-person from a character you care about comes in.  This isn’t you enjoying the same gruesome spectator role as the viewers in the novel.   This is you accompanying a girl as she tries to survive the spectacle.  As a reader, the emotion involved in those two viewpoints are very different.  You can be disgusted by the concept without feeling disgusted at yourself.

So there are my initial reactions to reading The Hunger Games.  I’m ready for the next book (it’s a trilogy, you know) which is a good sign.  It means I’m still attached to the characters and I care about what happens to them.

Borrowing Books

I am nice to books, generally.  At least that’s what I think until I borrow someone else’s book, and I catch all of the things that I do to my own books that I would never do to a friend’s book.

Here are my crimes against book-kind, which I am careful not to commit when in possession of another’s book:

I read while eating.  This actually entails two crimes – flattening out the book (if it’s not a one-hander) and inevitably getting food on the book somewhere.  I do not read borrowed books while eating.

I shove books into bags that are very snug.  I have a couple of purses that are fine for a paperback, but not a hardback.  I will, on occasion, wedge a small hardback into said purses.  I also have a messenger bag that is a bit snug for a large hardback, but I’ll use it anyway.  With my own books, that is.

I toss books short distances.  Of course I don’t throw books across the room!  I will, however, toss them onto the bed or couch from a short distance; from time to time I misjudge the toss and the book hits the target before sliding to the floor.  Oops.

I set books on questionable surfaces.  There have been a few (rare) moments where I set a book on a wet countertop or a dirty table.  A recliner armrest is also not a great place to put a book, as they tend to slide off.  Let me reiterate that this is with my own books, not those of others!

Kelly, I am taking exceedingly good care of your copy of The Hunger Games. I am not participating in any of the above activities with your book.  I promise that I will return it in the condition I found it, which is excellent.  And if I don’t, well, then I’ll return a brand new copy.  🙂

Dual Definitions

Many words that are written the same have two definitions.  Sometimes these are wildly different, like lead (please follow) and lead (a metal), and in writing the reader figures out which you mean by context.

When the two definitions are similar, things gets tricky.  This can even lead to major misunderstandings.  Take the word “theory,” for example.  Two definitions, similar in concept but different enough to be a problem.  One definition is commonly used, the one that means more than a guess but less than a fact.  “He didn’t know who had killed the girl, but he had a theory.”  The other definition is very scientific in nature.  From Merriam-Webster: “a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena.”  This second version, to scientists, implies a large concept that has been supported by numerous studies and is basically accepted as fact.  This is used in examples like “theory of relativity,” “heliocentric theory of the solar system,” “atomic theory,” and “theory of evolution.”

Ah, now you understand where the misunderstanding comes in.  That word theory is a big reason why there is so much debate about something that has been considered the driving concept of biology for decades.

Okay, let’s get to the writing-related concept here.  Debating evolution is not my goal today; instead it is simply an example that we, as authors, can take as a warning.

Part of being a good author is having a large vocabulary.  You have to be careful with your word use, though, when things have similar but not identical meanings.  Using a word in the wrong way (especially if it is related to a specific field or career) can not only irritate a reader, you can actually lose people who were enjoying your book.

If you’re not 100% sure about the use of a word, take 5 seconds to look it up.  It will help avoid irritating your readers, and it might even win you some extra respect from those who know what you’re talking about!

Name Dropping

Part of Dragon is set in a world similar to ours.  They have gates to a fantasy world with dragons, elves, and magic, so it’s not quite the same but it’s similar enough that major characters have jobs and live in a world you would recognize.

I am having a dilemma as I revise it, and perhaps you can give me some opinions.  I don’t know how I feel about using real names for things.

Right now I have it both ways.  I have a character drinking pomegranate juice and Sprite, which is listed by name.  I also have a group of people watching Tartanic at a Renn Faire, although I currently don’t have the band name.  I just refer to them as a Scottish band.  Part of me would like to use the names, but at the same time I always have an odd reaction to brand names when they appear in books.

As a writer, do you use names for real things?  As a reader, do you like it or does it bother you?

Falling Asleep at the Wheel

I didn’t literally fall asleep at the wheel.

I did, however, fall asleep while I was waiting for the “Add New Post” page to load.  (It’s about 7:30pm – Eli had a particularly bad night last night, so I’m running on very little sleep.)

Have you ever noticed how your brain functions differently when you are low on sleep?  I tend to follow random tangents more easily.  I can also get very fixated on a subject, which is what happened earlier when I was trying to write a post about the color black.  (Obviously the subject I fixated on was not the color black. That post will have to wait until I can get a bit more sleep.)  I even have trouble with words and concepts – earlier today I said that you can check the entomology of a word on Wikipedia, when I really meant etymology.  I caught it, but that was a silly mistake.

For now, I will leave the conversation up to you, as I am heading to bed.  What does your brain do differently when you’re exhausted?

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