January 2016 Archives

Fiction is about emotional resonance

Fiction is about emotional resonance, about making us feel things on a primal and visceral level.
R.R. Martin

Ship Breaker

ShipBreaker-PaoloBacigalupi-197x300.jpgI'm late to the party on this award winning book--it won the 2011 Michael L. Prinz award (go here to see more awards), but perhaps you missed it too. (original hardback cover on the left, paperback cover on the right)

Ship Breaker (Little, Brown and Company, 2010) by Paolo Bacigalupi took me into a believable future world with an age old story of kids doing what they have to to survive. I found it fascinating and, at times, heartrending.

shipbreaker.jpgNailer works on a light crew stripping wires from rusting ship hulks. It's dirty, dark, and dangerous. When he goes home, he has to be equally cautious depending on the mood of his brutal father. A hurricane in the gulf changes his luck. Or does it?

I want to know more about this world. Fortunately, there's a companion book, The Drowned Cities, that I can read next. It came out in 2012.

I'm not sure how I missed this author--Mr. Bacigalupi writes adult and YA fiction. Check out his books on his website.

Distancing Your Reader

flyonbench.jpgI was writing lines such as "She noticed the fly crawling across the wooden bench" or "He saw the girl toss her hair," when author Daniel Schwabauer pointed out I was "distancing the reader." I thought I was showing the character in the action, but I actually s-l-o-w-ed the action by making the character an observer! If I'm in the viewpoint of the character, I can simply state the action. "The fly crawled across the wooden bench." "The girl tossed her hair." The reader assumes since these actions are mentioned that the main character saw or experienced them.

Here are some examples crammed into one paragraph:

"It seemed the sun was already scorching the dewy grass. The boy cast his line and watched it fall into the murky pond. He felt sweaty and the mosquitoes were biting. He was afraid it might be too hot to catch any fish." (43 words)

Better would be action stated directly:

"The sun scorched the moisture from the dewy grass. The boy cast his line into the murky pond. He licked sweat off his upper lip and smashed a mosquito on his jeans. Would the fish bite in this heat?" (39 words)

Four less words and I slipped in what the boy was wearing.

Another example:footonrail.jpg

"I felt the rail vibrating beneath my feet." (8 words)

"The rail vibrated beneath my feet." (7 words)

The rewrite is less passive--more active--more immediate.

Verb forms that distance the reader from the action are a type of passive writing as well. Look at samples:
"let herself drop" versus "dropped"
"attempted to reach" versus "reached"
"tried to climb" versus "climbed"
They aren't as sharp and weaken the writing.

Another writer, Michelle Hauck, calls it filtering. She says, "Filtering is exactly what its name implies. It is running an observation through your point of view character instead of giving it straight to the reader . . . you're having the character share the action with the reader instead of putting it directly before the reader. It's like a stage direction that shouts 'look here.' If you have words like 'heard, saw, watched, looked, realized, knew, understood, seemed, and felt' then you have filtering." Read more of her blog article on the topic.

Does this mean you never should use "heard, saw, watched" etc.? In my opinion, no. I was rereading a book recently and the main character is hidden under a tarp in a boat. He can't see anything outside the tarp. Hearing becomes a very essential sensory detail as the character makes judgments about what he hears. However, if we read about him "hearing" all the time in the story, this particular instance is buried and won't stand out.

Whether you call it "distancing your reader" or "filtering," check your writing to see if you are misusing this in your stories.

Images courtesy of morguefile.com.

A writers voice is not

A writer's voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more. A writer's voice like the stroke of an artist's brush--is the thumbprint of her whole person--her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms.
Patricia Lee Gauch

Wait as much time between

Wait as much time between revisions as possible. Just close the document. Resist that urge to open it and read your wonderful opening page just one more time. Seriously. Resist it.
P.J. Hoover

We need encouragement a lot

We need encouragement a lot more than we admit, even to ourselves.
Orson Welles


uprooted.jpegThe first book I read in 2016 was appropriately a Christmas gift. It's not technically a YA, however, the main character is 17, so I'm putting it in that category for my readers.

Uprooted (Del Rey, 2015) by Naomi Novik captured me from the opening sentence: "Our Dragon doesn't eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley." This time Agnieszka and the whole village know that her best friend Kasia will be chosen since she is so special. And Agnieszka hates the wizard for that future action. It doesn't matter that he protects them from the Wood. Or that this happens every ten years as payment. But Agnieszka is wrong about what will happen.

The book was hard to put down, and had believably scary monsters. This fantasy will stick with me and I'm hoping the author will write a sequel.

Naomi Novik is the author of another series, the Temeraire novels. I'll have to check them out. Read more about the author and her books at her site.