Posted in Craft of writing, Description, Details in Writing, Editing & Revision, Pacing, Travel Writing

Description, Detail, and Pacing

Research that Serves the Story

In my last post, I illustrated three places in my recent novel, Song of Herself, where research served the story well. Without it, there would not have been sufficient particulars to give credibility to the characters.

As writers, we must search for and offer just enough details to render the character believable, but not so much that it bogs down the pace of the story. That’s a fine line.

Four friends have commented on that fine line and how my story achieved that for them as readers.  Here are their words.

Rhonda has taken years to craft this story and the work shows. One of the best books that I’ve read. The image of “monkeys swinging from thought…” sticks with me the most. (George H.)

You captured me with including wonderful information about things outside my world. The vocabulary of the ship and the special “horse words” are a bonus, but not ones that get in the way. (Jane W.)

Calcutta, I was there fifty years ago. You nailed it. The story flowed—made it easy to read. (Bruce B.)

The horses, you got it just right, but not too much. (Lenell D. )

Tips for Writers

  1. As writers, we must remember that readers want a fast-paced story with specifics that tell the story without slowing it down. Two to three targeted details usually get the job done.
  2. Presenting them in the context of an appropriate environment helps, as well. To find how much time is spent in a scene and then match it to how the reader experiences the story is critical. This is called pacing.
  3. Writers develop the skill of pacing over time from experience and feedback by beta-readers or writing group members helps.

If you haven’t already ordered my book, Song of Herself, see below

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1639885501

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BDK7Q54J/

If you read the book, please leave a short review of two or three sentences on Amazon, what you liked, what you found intriguing, or what you discovered about yourself in reading the book. Thanks, so much!!!

Posted in Craft of writing, Editing & Revision, fiction, Revision, Writing exercises

Three Elements for Power-packed First Sentences

INTRODUCTION: Writers continue to learn the craft no matter where they are in their writing development. Recently, I read in the January 2022 issue of The Writer magazine an article by Alison Acheson, “In The Beginning: Three elements that create a strong opening sentence,” pages 26-29. First sentences draw the reader in and give them a sense of character, setting, and emotion. They carry a lot of weight to gain your readers interest and trust in your writing. The author suggests that there are three elements to carry that responsibility of reeling in the reader. Here is my take on reading her article. I hope you will reader her article.

Three Elements in First Sentences

CHARACTER: Readers want to have a sense of the main character(s). We may not know their names, but we know something about them that will show up again or throughout the novel.

SETTING: The first sentence will offer a sense of place, maybe a location, time in history, or an event.

EMOTION: This may be indirect or implied by the setting or action or event. We likely won’t be told in the first sentence what the emotion is, but the writer will hint at it. We will get a sense of it.

EXAMPLE

I’ll offer an example from Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms. I’ll give you the first sentence then I’ll dissect it to learn what Hemingway accomplished in using those three elements. Your take on it maybe somewhat different than mine, but that’s okay.

HEMINGWAY in Farewell to Arms. “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountain.”

CHARACTER: The word, “we,” implies two or more people. The rest of the sentence tells us that they live together in a house. My assumption before reading the book would be that it is a couple, which it is.

SETTING: “In the late summer of that year,” tells me it is about a point in time that we will learn more about later. But it happens in a season that is waning, which gives me the feeling that something is in decline, about to hibernate, or die.

The phrase, “a house in a village,” makes me think of a remote location, perhaps isolated.

The prepositional phrase, “across the river and plain,” again gives me the feeling of being in a valley far from the big picture, or where the action occurs.

Finally, the last expression, “to the mountain,” tells me they are looking to what is or might be happening on that mountain. Or perhaps it is just a goal, a wish, or even an illusion.

EMOTION: The setting has carried a lot of metaphorical and emotional weight of distance, foreboding, remoteness. A moment in time that might entail a connection, an affair, an event that does not bode well.

Summary

As you can see, Hemingway’s sentence deftly implies a decision by his main character’s to give up his arms to fight in World War I. The relationship between he and his lover is waning because they are looking at what they need and want, which is not each other.

What’s next in the coming weeks?

Look next week for another example taken from a narrative nonfiction classic. The next week another one from a short story; and finally the last week the example from my own novel, Song of Herself, to be published next year (soon I hope).

What about you?

Does this help you think about the first sentence in your story, novel or narrative nonfiction? Examine your first sentence and tell us what you find.

Posted in Craft of writing, Editing & Revision, First Sentences, Memoir writing

Three Elements to Create a Strong Opening Sentence

INTRODUCTION: Writers continue to learn the craft no matter where they are in their writing development. Recently, I read in the January 2022 issue of The Writer magazine an article by Alison Acheson, “In The Beginning: Three elements that create a strong opening sentence,” pages 26-29. Opening sentences have a lot of weight to carry. The author suggests that there are three elements to carry that responsibility of reeling in the reader. Here is my take on reading her article.

Three Elements in First Sentences

CHARACTER: Readers want to have a sense of the main character(s). We may not know their names, but we know something about them that will show up again or throughout the novel.

SETTING: The first sentence will offer a sense of place, maybe a location, time in history, or an event.

EMOTION: This may be indirect or implied by the setting or action or event. We likely won’t be told in the first sentence what the emotion is, but the writer will hint at it. We will get a sense of it.

EXAMPLE

After last week’s example take from fiction, this week I offer a nonfiction example from Frank McCourt’s memoir, Angela’s Ashes . I’ll give you the first sentence then I’ll dissect it to learn what McCourt accomplished in using these three elements. Your take on it may be somewhat different than mine, but that’s okay.

McCourt’s first sentence in Angela’s Ashes, “My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born.”

CHARACTER: The reference to the writer’s father and mother suggests they who set the action in motion. Even if we don’t know if the mother and father will be key actors throughout the memoir, we do know that they made a decision that impacted the antagonist, Frank McCourt’s life.

SETTING: The phrase, “… should have stayed in New York,” implies they are all on a journey to some place else. They have left a thriving city where previously good things had happened – the couple met, married, and gave birth to Frank.

EMOTION: The setting, like Hemingway’s, carries a lot of metaphorical and emotional weight. In this case, it provides a hint of regret, remorse, or longing for what is left behind.

Summary

As you can see, the relationship between him and his parents implies that McCourt is young and therefore reliant on his parents at this point in time. His first sentence deftly implies a decision by parents that will come to influence or impact McCourt gravely. What we do not know is that Angela is his mother, nor that her ashes are the cigarette ashes of despair.

As writers, when we can weave or at least hint at the three elements, character, place, and emotion in the first sentence of a story, whether fiction or nonfiction, we have successfully sent a message to readers they are in capable hands.

Next week, I’ll take the first sentence from a fiction short story writer. Join me in this series of investigations on first sentences that convey character, setting, and emotion in some significant way.

Posted in Craft of writing, Memoir writing, Revision, Travel Writing, Writing exercises, Writing Groups

Endings: The Power and Types of Endings

ENDINGS. Philip Lopate in To Show and To Tell talks about a typology of endings. Here are the kinds that he mentions. This is a summarized list and paraphrased in some cases by me. My travel writing group that meets every two weeks, discussed this list in our last Zoom time together. We are eager to use this list and see where it takes us in add the power and punch of a satisfying ending. Join us in discussing these through this blog post.

Step #1: Identify the type of ending you have used in one of your last stories. 

  1. An image (metaphorical or real)
  2. A pithy saying in a clever or humorous way
  3. A line of dialogue 
  4. A joke (use this one with care)
  5. A question
  6. A quote
  7. An ellipsis (…)
  8. A return of a refrain or a different spin on the phrase 
  9. A new insight
  10. A resolve
  11. A sigh, a shrug, a sudden mood change
  12. A platitude, ONLY IF it is humorous or non-preachy 
  13. A summary in the form of a series of semicolons
  14. Restating conflicting elements (ideas, images, thoughts, etc.) and how to live with them 
  15. ________________________________
  16. ________________________________
  17. ________________________________

Step 2: Develop multiple endings to your next story by trying several of these types of endings. 

Step 3: Choose three of your favorite endings you have written. Think through those and select the most impactful for your story.

Step 4: Add to these types of endings overtime from your own experience and from your reading of others work.

Which ones have you used? Which ones would you like to use in the future? Which ones have you added to this list? I’m curious to learn what you think about the types of endings to our stories.