Search

JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

Tag

G.K. Chesterton

Writing Tip — Favorite Stories: The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse

unknownTo tie in with my theme of digging deeper into our senses when writing, I chose the best example of writing about color that I’ve ever read. No author used color like G.K. Chesterton, and in his short story, “The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, color not only brings the setting and characters to vivid life but is the crux of the plot.

This story was first published in 1935, but the characters discuss a political event that took place years before when European armies still relied on horses and dressed in the uniforms of their regiment rather than in fatigues that allowed them to blend in with their surroundings.

A Prussian unit, the White Hussars, is encamped at one end of a raised stone road, the only road through a huge, desolate swamp. Other Prussian troops occupy the Polish town at the other end of the road. The Prussian officer in this town will release a Polish nationalist he is holding prisoner unless he gets a message to execute him from Marshal Von Grock, who is camped with the White Hussars.

Von Grock sends a solider on horseback with the execution order. He leaves by the stone road. When the Prussian prince comes into  camp a few minutes later to review the troops and learns what the marshal has done, he sends a second rider with an order that countermands the marshal’s. The prince fears international opinion if the Prussians kill the prisoner, who is also a famous poet and singer. Once the prince leaves, Von Grock sends a third solider, not with a message but with a rifle to bring down the prince’s messenger.

As Mr. Pond, who is telling the story, says, “The whole thing went wrong because the discipline was too good. Grock’s soldiers obeyed him too well; so he simply couldn’t do a thing he wanted.”

The plot hinges on the white uniforms with a “flame-colored baldrick” (I had to look this up: it’s a belt worn over the shoulder). All three soldiers on horseback wear it. These uniforms stand out against the dark swamp as do their white horses, which is the standard for the regiment. The descriptions of the swamp as the riders ride along the lonely road at night are so vivid that my mental picture is engrained in my brain.

“The grey-green blotches of flattened vegetation, seen from above like a sprawling map, seemed more like the chart of a disease than a development; and the land-locked pools might have been poison rather than waste. “

“The moon had risen over the marshes and gone up strengthening in splendor and gleaming on dark waters and green scum.”

Mr. Chesterton also uses color to contrast the marshal, wearing a white uniform, with the prince, who is wearing a black and blue uniform with a dark cloak.

I found this story in the collection Thirteen DetectivesWhat stories have you read that uses color, or one of the other sense, so effectively?

 

 

Writing Tip — Favorite Stories

bookw-1076196_1280For some reason, mysteries and Christmas seem like a natural fit. Perhaps it’s because Christmas celebrates one of histories greatest mysteries, God becoming fully human.

Christmas mysteries have a long tradition. Christmas Eve, before TV and radio, was the time to tell ghost stories. In 1892, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote “The Blue Carbuncle”, in which Sherlock Holmes solves a mystery just a few days after Christmas, all due to an acquaintance finding a stolen jewel in the crop of his Christmas goose. The ending works in very naturally a demonstration of the Christmas spirit

619tzntvatl-_sx380_bo1204203200_If you are in the mood to mix mysteries with your holiday cheer, check out The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler. This wonderful book has mystery short stories for any taste — funny, supernatural, hard-boiled, or classic. Here are some of my favorites.

“The Blue Carbuncle” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A clever mystery and a lot of fun.

“The Flying Stars” by G.K. Chesterton. Father Brown confronts a jewel thief.

“Christmas Party” by Rex Stout. Archie Goodwin witnesses a murder at a party, and his boss, genius Nero Wolfe, must avoid becoming a suspect. This is one of my favorite Nero Wolfe stories because, in his peculiar way, Wolfe shows how much he values Archie.

“A Scandal in Winter” by Gillian Linscott. A young girl involves herself in an investigation conducted by an elderly Sherlock Holmes and Watson. I don’t like romance, but the romantic reason Sherlock Holmes is trying to clear a recent widow of suspicion of murder hooked me.

“The Killer Christian” by Andrew Klavan. A hit man finds salvation in a very moving and funny story with an ending that always makes me smile. I mentioned this story in my post about the author.

“Dancing Dan’s Christmas” by Damon Runyon. How Dancing Dan unloads some hot gems and avoids a nasty fate in 1930’s New York.

Bonus Stories

“Three Wise Guys” in Guys and Dolls by Damon Runyon Some crooks travel to rural Pennsylvania to recover stolen money. In another post, I wrote how much I love Damon Runyon’s Broadway short stories and to appreciate his writing style, you need to imagine the story being told with a thick New Yawk accent.

51s7yianu4l-_sx328_bo1204203200_Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha ChristieFormerly entitled Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder. I wrote in my post about Agatha Christie that this is one of my favorites among her novels. It captures my idea of a holiday family reunion going as badly as you can imagine.

What are your favorite Christmas reads, mysterious or not?

 

 

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.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑