Writing Tip — Favorite Author — Lessons from Melville Davisson Post

new-river-gorge-1286064What I learned from reading the Uncle Abner mysteries by Melville Davisson Post is how the setting establishes the mood of the story. Mr. Post’s description of the weather and Appalachian mountains in West Virginia pulls me into the story so completely that I experience the setting with the narrator Martin, Abner’s nephew.

From “The House of the Dead Man“: “It was a morning out of Paradise. crisp and bright. The spiderwebs glistened on the fence rails. The timber cracked. The ragweed was dusted with silver. The sun was moving upward from behind the world. I could have whistled out of sheer joy in being alive on this October morning and the horse under me danced.”

From “A Twilight Adventure”: “There is a long twilight in these hills. The sun departs, but the day remains. A sort of weird, dim, elfin day, that dawns at sunset and envelops and possesses the world.”

From “The Riddle“: “That deadly stillness of the day remained, but the snow was now beginning to appear. It fell like no other snow that I have ever seen — not a gust of speck or a shower of tiny flakes, but now and then, out of the dirty putty-colored sky, a flake as big as a man’s thumb-nail winged dow and lighted on the earth like some living creature.”

In each case, describing the weather sets the mood. Martin’s exaltation of the October morning reveals his mood, just as his description of the snow shows his unease. I really like the words chosen to describe the snow because in current times, when people see snow, they get excited or grumble, but they usually don’t dread it.

post_abner_des_cov_cmykTwilight is the perfect setting for “A Twilight Adventure” and not just because of the title. Abner and Martin come across a lynching party. The men responsible think they have the culprits, but just like the twilight can make objects appear different from what they look like in full daylight, Abner shows that the evidence the men believe is conclusive actually has several interpretations.

In my novel, when I wanted a peaceful scene, I chose a summer evening bathed in golden light. Mellow light for a mellow mood. For a tense scene, I can write about the stillness before a storm.

Or I can use the weather to contradict the action or the characters. In “The House of the Dead Man”, the glorious fall morning is the back drop for a confrontation in a cemetery. I can write about a storm, but instead of describing it in terms of fear, I write about kids playing in it.

Is weather important to your style of writing? How do you use it to set the mood of your story?

 

 

Writing Tip — The Eclipse as a Setting

wallpaper-1492818_1280If you were anywhere near the path of the eclipse yesterday, I hope the weather and your circumstances allowed you to enjoy it. I wasn’t in the path of totality, so all I experienced as a slight darkening and cooling, like on an overcast day. The most notable difference were the crickets chirping like it was evening in the middle of the afternoon.

Eclipse for Crime Fiction

If I was using the eclipse for a setting, it would have to be a backdrop for something momentous. It’s too unusual an event for just mundane occurrences. A murder can take place, or the revelation and capture of a master criminal.

Speaking of crime, my husband noticed something at a business meeting yesterday. The meeting was held at a building with security at the entrance. The building emptied for people to view the eclipse at its height. Then everyone reentered the building. So many people came in at once that the security guards didn’t bother to check I.D.’s.

With that in mind, in a crime story, an employee can smuggle in accomplices when the crowds return to a busy office building after viewing the total or near-total eclipse. Then they commit their crime later in the day. Or have a crime planned for site in the path of totality when the criminals know employees will be outside for several minutes.

Eclipse for Speculative Fiction

surreal-2290472_1280Researching the myths surrounding eclipses might provide fertile ground for a story. The site timeanddate.com list many of them. Interestingly, most ancient cultures describe the eclipse in terms of some creature eating the sun.

I could write a story about a certain group of people whose special powers only work when they stand within the path of a total eclipse. They spend their lives traveling the world, from eclipse to eclipse, so they can use their powers, some for evil, some for good.

Or a villain is going to unleash some horrible power but can only accomplish it in the path of totality and if the eclipse is visible to him. The heroes know this. The day of the eclipse, the heroes and the villains watch the weather and race up and down the path trying to get into the perfect position.

I like the idea of this story a lot because I could work in the specific date and real locations that were in the path of totality. It would give a veneer of realism to a fantastic story. I also like the idea of the chase, and the characters racing around in numerous vehicles as the villain hunts for the right weather and the heroes hunt of the villain.

What ideas do you have for using the eclipse as a setting?

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.

 

Monday Sparks — writing prompts to fan your creative flame

meteorite-1060886_1280Since I usually find landscapes inspiring, whether I look at one in person or in a painting or photograph, this Monday’s prompt is a sci-fi landscape. This scene intrigued me because the people in it don’t seem scared of the fiery meteor.  They are focusing on it but their postures don’t reveal any fear.  Why?  Were they expecting it? Maybe meteors fly by all the time.  I could start a story like this:

My little brother looked up from the praying mantis he was holding. We both watched the meteor soar out of sight.

“Do you think it’ll land where the others have?”

I said, “Sure.  Why not?”

“Can we go see?  Please?”

I rolled my eyes, but since I had to watch Jake any way, we might as well.

“Okay. But remember we have to be quiet.”

Jake bobbed his head up and down in agreement and hopped on his trike.

How does the picture inspire you?

 

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑