Writing Tip — Evoking Sight

watercolor-2332129_12803I really like the post on Almost an Author using sight in our writing.  You can read my comment on the exercise Mr. Young proposes. It’s extremely useful to remind writers to slow down and truly observe a scene.

Most of us write by sight. What kind of writing you do effects your visual descriptions. Novelists can add more detail than a short story writer, but a short story writer may come up with an extraordinarily vivid description because of the constraints of the form.

One area of sight I want to improve is the use of color in my writing. We are so used to seeing color that we take it for granted unless the color is unusual in some way, especially ugly, pretty, vivid, and so on.

G.K. Chesterton used color very effectively in his writing. I discovered him through his Father Brown short stories. I tried reading them at twenty and didn’t understand them at all. But I did remember his descriptions of landscapes. When I went back to the stories years later, I could appreciate them so much more as well as his skill in writing with color like a painter.

profession-1923499_1280Here are some of my favorite examples from the short story collection The Innocence of Father Brown:

“They awoke before it was daylight; for a large lemon moon was only just setting in the forest of high grass above their heads, and the sky was of a vivid violet-blue, nocturnal but bright. ”           From “The Sins of Prince Saradine”

Describing a duel : “Everything above them was a dome of virgin gold, and, distant as they were, every detail was picked out. They had cast off their coats, but the yellow waistcoat and white hair of Saradine, the red waistcoat and white trousers of Antonelli, glittered in the level light like the colors of the dancing clockwork dolls.”       From “The Sins of Prince Saradine”

“In the cool blue twilight of two steep streets in Camden Town, the shop at the corner, a confectioner’s, glowed like the butt of a cigar. One should rather say, like the butt of a firework, for the light was of many colors and some complexity, broken up by many mirrors and dancing on many gilt and gaily-colored cakes and sweetmeats.”      From “The Invisible Man”

My favorite story by Chesterton is “The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse” collected in Thirteen Detectives. The plot hinges on the fact that in the late nineteenth century, army uniforms were based on regiment colors, not the terrain where the army was located. The ending is a tremendous paradox, a speciality of Chesterton’s, and I never saw it coming, but once it arrives, it makes perfect sense.

Tomorrow I have a guest post on a friend’s blog, so I will talk more about colors in my own writing next week.

Writing Tip –Evoking Sound, Part II

singer-2119874_1280If you have any writing set in nature, describing the sounds of that setting is critical. Nature is never silent, so don’t pass up a chance to add sound imagery (that seems like an oxymoron) to your writing.

The setting for my novel is in the eastern mountains of West Virginia.  My main character lives miles from the nearest neighbors. Someone living that close to nature would notice its sounds.

If my plans don’t fall apart, I will revisit that location, so I can get first-hand observations.  Until then, I can do research with field guides and look up the songs and call of local birds and other animals.

Whether your setting is forest, fields, desert, mountains, or beach, here are some questions to ask yourself so you can describe the correct sounds.

What time of year is it?  If you are writing about a temperate climate, the season will affect the sounds. My novel takes place in July, so the animals actively making noises then may not be the same ones as in the spring.

What time of day is it? I have a scene where my main character is sneaking around his family’s property at night, checking for intruders.  I’m looking forward to hiking in the mountains at that time so I can make this scene accurate.

What are the weather conditions? My novel starts in a rain shower — lot of opportunity for sound descriptions. It’s also been very wet, so the wind blowing through a soaked forest would sound different from one that is suffering from drought.

And don’t forget the flip side of all that sound. If a natural scence suddenly gets quiet or even silent, it means something significant is happening or about to happen.

fog-2330095_1280Two weather conditions that can aid you in describing quiet are snow and fog.  Snow seems to soften everything, both visually and audibly, if fierce winds don’t accompany it.  Fog has a contradictory effect.  It muffles, but since fog can’t exist with wind, it also allows you to pinpoint the directions of sounds more easily.

Whatever your natural setting, be sure to explore it with your ears as well as your eyes.

 

Writing Tip — Evoking Sound, Part 1

headphones-1301527_1280Every writer knows that to draw a reader into her literary world she needs to describe it in terms of the fives senses. But knowing and doing are two different things.  I know I rely too heavily on sight and need to work on using the other four.  Almost an Author is running a series of posts on writing with senses.  This one on sound provides an interesting exercise to get you to notice sound more.

Reviewing my novel, I found a few areas where I do use sound.  One is in how characters sound when they talk. Below are a few examples.

Describing a three-year-old boy: “Because he … talked so well, True gave you the weird impression he was a miniature adult.”

A sixteen-year-old boy is chronically nervous.  So he talks fast.  Throughout my story, I mention “Gabe answered at full speed”, and “The longer he talked, the faster he got”. He also has a habit of drumming his hands on any handy surface when he’s really nervous.

A petty crook has “a voice as deep and rocky as an abandoned mine”.  Later he speaks in his “basement voice.”

group-1825509_1280One thing I can’t do is use dialogue tags to describe the voice, like “roared”, “squeaked”, or “hissed.”  And it’s definitely out to use adverbs, such as “she said sternly” or “he said weakly.”  I can use “whisper” or “shout” or “yell”, sparingly, to indicated volume, but since minimizing dialogue tags is the style now, it’s better to convey the sound of the voice through either the dialogue itself or actions that accompany it.

I have a character who runs a notoriously wild bar and may be engaged in illegal activities there.  So he doesn’t like the police. When the sheriff shows up at his bar to investigate a possible crime, he says, “‘Get lost, Acker.’ Mr. Ferrick flung an arm at the patrol car.”

Since I have already established Ferrick doesn’t like the police, his action conveys how he sounds when he speaks to them.

For more on dialogue tags, read my previous post on them.

Another area I can use to evoke sound is nature.  My book is set in the mountains of eastern West Virginia, so I have a great opportunity to make a scene come alive with sound.

I’ll discuss that next time.

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