Focusing on Vividness

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I found this quotation on Facebook the other day and have been mulling it over in my mind ever since. As a reader, I realise it is what I look for in a book too. I want to be able to identify with the characters, to see what they see, hear what they hear, smell what they smell, and so on through the senses. And yes, the authors who can help me do that are the ones I go back to time and again until I’ve read all the books they have produced.

They are the authors who achieve that vividness in their writing.

As a writer, I analyse as I read. I analyse how they achieve vividness, and try to emulate their methods in my own writing.

The readers among you might enjoy my findings and look for how the authors you read achieve that vividness, and the writers among you might enjoy to put my findings into practice as you work.

In simple terms, I found it is necessary to find and use appropriate descriptive words. As the quotation says, “Focus on trying to be good with vividness.” Remember, your goal is to help your reader see, hear, taste, smell and feel what your characters see, hear, taste, smell and feel. 

Music is one of the most evocative of mediums. It can be calming, relaxing, energising, make you feel elated, happy, miserable or sad. It can get you up on your feet to dance, or settle you to sleep in your bed. The beat can have you tapping your foot or clapping your hands. So how can a writer convey that in words?

When describing music or other sounds, I find it helps if I listen carefully with my eyes closed, and pay attention to how it makes me feel. I know that if I can’t feel it, it will be impossible to help my readers feel it.

What have you found helpful?

As a writer, what words would you use to convey a heavy beat – pounding, thumping, or drumming? Does it make you think of heavy rain? Hailstones? A gentle shower? Is it rhythmic or discordant? How are you going to describe that to your readers? What about the sound of water running? Will it whoosh, drip or dribble. You’ll want to find words to convey that.

How about this for an example of using the sound of hailstones? It’s from Makeshift Memories, my work in progress:

She had seen the hammers. Muckle great beasts. Not as the one her father uses to thump fence posts into hard earth, nor less as the one she uses to fix the wood to the stave when she aids in the work. What she saw as she sat beside Sheamus up at the waterworks were long, thick shafts with great iron heads the like of which she never did set eye upon afore. Having the picture of him sitting astride the rock with four strong men raining heavy blows on the tiny drill he held atween his legs was fearsome. Lying in her cot of a night of winter hail, listening to it heavy on the roof, coming down with a fierce speed, she sees in her dreams four hammers raining down to its tempo and she squirms and sweats in her covers.

Sometimes it’s good to start by describing a sound. Use onomatopoeia, not just to describe the actual sound. Use words that sound like it in your narrative. Let your readers hear what you hear. Let the sound take them on a journey.

Let me share another excerpt from Makeshift Memories, as an example:

Matt knows the route I like to take through the park and we walk through the reed beds on the squiggly boardwalk, built to traverse them like a long wiggly bridge. The wind swishes through the reeds, making them sing with a magical sound. “Listen,” I encourage him, stopping on the bridge. “Wh-o-o-sh! Who-o-o-sh!” I mimic the susurration, my voice hushed, soft and gentle as the air.

Close my eyes and I’m in Africa, standing in the back of a truck in savannah land, watching lemon grass sway, smelling it on the warm breeze. I’ve never been to Africa, but it doesn’t stop me imagining the scene. With little effort, Edinburgh’s dark, damp night turns to blazing African sunshine, clear blue skies stretch for miles, and I’m a million miles away enjoying the warmth of the sun on my back, allowing the breeze to whisk away the remnants of my earlier discomforts.

Do you see how, even before the sound is introduced, a word that sounds like it is used – the wind swishes. Then after the sound is described – Wh-o-o-sh! Wh-o-o-sh! – susurration, hushed, savannah, sway, whisk – all words that are reminiscent of the sound of the rushes. So many ‘s’ sounds! Try them out. Say them slowly in a hushed, drawn-out voice. Isn’t that fun? Can you ‘see’ and ‘hear’ the rushes sway in the wind? The sound transported Caitlin to the African savannah. Can you follow her? She was helped in that she and Matt were on their way home after watching the classic film, Out of Africa, but perhaps the sound helped you see, hear and smell something similar.

When wanting to describe something visual, imagine your pen as a paintbrush. Stroke words out of your keyboard. Coax them till they form the picture. Use words that are vivid, graphic, colourful, evocative.

When describing a yellow dress, it’s not enough to say it’s yellow. There are so many shades of yellow. Is it citrus lemon, sunshine gold, daffodil yellow, yellow neon? Each one is different, each one will show up in your reader’s mind when they read your description.

Here is an example:

The dress I’m going to wear tonight is hidden in the wardrobe till later. I want it to be a surprise for Paul. He hasn’t seen it yet and has no idea of the peaceful hours I’ve spent sewing while he’s been out and about. It makes me smile every time I open the wardrobe door, push aside the things it hides behind, and see my handiwork hanging there. Inspired by the pale, creamy-yellow, woodland primroses that bloom in our garden every spring, designed and fashioned over the summer months after their faded beauty folded and faded further, it has been such a delight to make. Impossible to improve on nature, all I could do was allow the delicate flowers to inform my eye and guide my hand as I sketched and painted, desiring to capture the essence of their beauty in the spring to infuse into my work in the summer.

The georgette material I sought out is gossamer thin and beautiful, the colour soft as sunshine on a misty day, and the dress slips over my still-trim figure in flattering, floaty, fluted layers to just below my knees.

Being so fine, it is one of the most difficult materials I have ever worked with, but worth every painstaking moment of the hours and days it took to cut and sew. Even the buttery silk lining had to be handled gently. Never have I worked so slowly and never have I been so rewarded for my care.

My fingers melt with pleasure as they linger on the fabric, and I long to feel my creation slip over my body to caress my skin. ~~~ Rosanna from Gold Plated by Christine Campbell

Can you picture Rosanna’s dress? Pale, creamy-yellow, woodland primrose – their faded beauty – delicate – the colour soft as sunshine on a misty day – the buttery silk lining. Can you see the delicate colour it is? Can you feel the lightness of the material? Georgette material – gossamer thin – floaty, fluted layers. Can you almost feel the dress slip over your body to caress your skin?

We’ve referenced two of the senses we want to evoke in our readers – three, when you consider how Caitlin feels the sun on her back and the breeze on her skin, and how Rosanna’s dress feels as she touches it and as she slips it over her body.

Perhaps we can talk in the comments about the words we might use to convey the other senses – and perhaps in another blogpost at another time. 🙂

 

If you’d like to read how Rosanna vividly describes some of the other dresses she creates for herself and her friends, you can buy Gold Plated as paperback or ebook here.

And you can find eight other novels by Christine Campbell here.

~~~

7 Things I’d Like To Do

7 Things I'd Like To do

This is not a ‘Should Do’ list, it’s not a ‘Need To Do’ list, it’s not even a ‘To Do’ list. It’s an ‘I’d Like To Do’ list. There is a difference. A huge difference, I’m sure you’ll agree.

As I write, and as you read my list, I invite you to start one of your own. There are probably lots of things you’d like to find time to do too. Maybe mine will prompt you to think about them and do what I intend to do, which is, having listed them, I’m hoping to prioritise them – not making the top priority the thing that should be done, but making it the thing I want most to do. For me, that means the thing that will be most fun.  For you, that may mean the thing that will be most productive, most cost effective, most efficient, most useful. You decide your priority. Mine is always fun-related in this sphere.

The method I plan to use to decide priority will be to ask myself questions. Please feel free to adapt those questions to similar ones that will be useful to you.

I’m writing things in the order they come to mind, so my list is bound to change in priority as I write. Yours probably will too.

As a writer, my list is about writing-related activities. Yours might be about something else. Your gardening activities, artistic endeavours, cooking projects, craft projects, whatever. What I invite you to do is to think about projects related to your work or hobby that you haven’t been getting around to doing but you’ve been thinking you’d like to try sometime.

So here goes:

Number One: The project that triggered this whole chain of thought.

I downloaded Scrivener ages ago, but have never taken the time to learn how to use it. For those of you unfamiliar with Scrivener, it is designed to make a writer’s work easier, to keep research, notes, ideas, notions, and drafts of work all in one place and easily accessible – once you know how to use it. By all accounts, it is not particularly simple to learn.

So, am I willing to take time out from other projects to become familiar with the program? Will the time spent doing that be offset by the time saved later? Since the way I write now is comfortable, how much discomfort am I willing to endure to reap any presumed benefits from the program?

The answers lead me to think, ‘No.’ At the moment, although at the top, Scrivener is going to the bottom of my list. It could be rescued by your comments and observations on the subject, should you choose to share your experiences with the program.

Number Two: There is a menu bar that runs along the top of this blog, with different categories for my writing, crafting and other exploits. It has been far too long since I updated any of the categories there. Far too long, and I’d love to take the time to do that updating.

Why have I not kept it updated as I needed to? Too late to worry about the answer to that question now. I try not to think in terms of ‘should haves’. It will now be time-consuming to do the updating. Am I willing to take that time out from other projects?

Yes, I do believe I am, but not as a high priority. I think I’ll slip it just above Scrivener.

Number Three: I wrote a series of invitation blogposts a few years ago. It was about Food in Fiction. I also wrote a series about Music in Fiction. I would like to develop them into a series of ebooks to share on Amazon Kindle.

Am I willing to give them research time to enrich and complete them? Am I willing to take time out from my other projects?

Again, the answer is, ‘Yes.’ Higher priority than the menu project.

Number Four: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is fast approaching. I love participating: love the discipline of pushing myself to write 50,000 words in the month of November, the first draft of a brand new novel. That means taking time in October to decide on a project, do any necessary research, plot and plan the novel and be prepared to write like a steam train through November.

Am I willing to set aside that time for the next two months? Can I be at a stage with my present WIP where I will not mind putting it aside for November? Will I be willing to put the other projects on this list aside for that time too?

The answer is, ‘Yes.’ And because of it’s time-sensitivity, NaNoWriMo has to move into first place – for the moment.

Number Five: I’d like to write another in my Reluctant Detective Series. I love writing about Mirabelle and her friends and family. I already have a few half written Mirabelle stories that spring from the series so it would be a good idea to get to work on them and finish them – one at a time, of course 🙂

The completing of the unfinished stories will slot in nicely to number three, behind NaNo, the ‘in Fiction’ series, but ahead of ‘menu update’ – with the proviso that I might bump a new Mirabelle story up as joint Number One if I decide to write one for my NaNo novel.

Number Six: My present WIP, working title Makeshift Memories. I’ve almost completed the third, or is it the fourth draft of this novel. It’s been a challenging but a fun one. This is the first time I’ve written anything with a historical strand running through it. It has required heaps of research and a lot of editing, but I do believe I’m on the home straight.

Am I happy to put all other projects aside in order to get this draft completed before NaNoWriMo – without rushing the process and thereby not doing it justice?

The answer is not a difficult one. It’s a resounding, ‘YES!’  If I can stick in with it for a few more weeks, it will be ready to send off for a second round of beta reads, then I can give it a final edit during December and hopefully publish it in the new year. 🙂 So that one has to go top of the list, at least until November, when the time-sensitivity issue arises for NaNoWriMo. Interestingly, Makeshift Memories  was my NaNoWriMo novel for November 2017.

Gold Plated, my latest release, was my NaNo novel in 2016 and is now available both as paperback and ebook here. It hasn’t been out terribly long, yet already it’s garnering some lovely reviews and comments. Makes my heart sing when I know I’ve written something that brings other people pleasure.

And Number Seven: Blogposts, FaceBook posts and other Social Media posts. These not only play a necessary part in promoting and marketing my novels, they are also FUN! And, as I said at the outset, my criteria for prioritising is FUN.

I enjoy writing blogposts here, love posting in my Facebook group here, my Instagram account here, and following others on Social Media.

How much time am I happy to spend doing these things? Can I cut the time I browse just for entertainment? Can I ignore the distractions and maximise the use of my time on Social Media in order to make good progress with all my other projects?

This is a more difficult answer, a more difficult one to prioritise. It’s a ‘Yes,’ and a ‘No.’ It has to be high on my list because it’s fun, and it doesn’t require as much time and energy as the other projects on my list. But can I stop being distracted by interesting and fun posts while I’m on Social Media? No. And why would I want to be? It’s fun. I could cut down on distraction and browsing time, I suppose, but realistically, knowing who I’m talking about here – me – time will be happily spent there, not always productively, but hey! why do I do any of these projects if not for pleasure?

So my decision is to take this one off the list altogether and run it alongside all the others on a day to day basis.

So how does my list look now? Well, for starters, it’s now a list of six, instead of seven 🙂

1. WIP, Makeshift Memories, first until November when

2. NaNoWriMo will take over pole position.

3. The ‘in Fiction’ books

4. New Mirabelle books – with the proviso if I start a new one, it goes to 1. in November

5. Menu bar

6. Scrivener

How does your list look? Has the order of yours changed from how they came into your head? How happy are you with the prioritising of your list?

In fact, what I’m going to aim to do is a little of this and a little of that, working in order of priority in that I’ll make sure the ones high on my list receive most of my writing time. Believe it or not, I do have other fun things I take time for 🙂

I’d love to hear what your list is about, how you feel about it now you’ve examined it with a view to prioritising the items, and how you plan to implement it. If you need any help with the exercise, do let me know and I’d be happy to be your sounding board.

If you’re looking for an enjoyable read, all my books are available in paperback and ebook format here.

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Oh, and please don’t be put off by Amazon telling you the paperback is out of stock. Of course it’s out of stock – it’s Print on Demand. Amazon never keep a stock of any POD books. Click to buy it and they order a print copy. That’s the process they always use.

Don’t forget to have fun with your list.

I wonder how many Things You Would Like To Do.

~~~

 

Music in My Fiction

Music in Fiction

Last year, I wrote a series of guest blogposts about Music in Fiction, in which we discussed books that featured or mentioned music as part of the story.

There are many devices writers can use to help bring our writing to life. In that short series of articles, published on Chris The Story Reading Ape’s blog, I took a fairly light-hearted look at just one of them.

Music.

Music plays a large part in Gold Plated, my latest release – in particular, the music of the sixties, and I’ve included a playlist at the end of the novel, with links to YouTube videos of the original versions of some of the songs I’ve referenced.

The story begins with Rosanna and her daughter, Heather, meeting up to continue planning Rosanna’s Golden Wedding Anniversary party. As she wanders through the garden centre on her way to meet Heather, her own version of a popular song from her youth runs through Rosanna’s head:

~~~

When a third stranger smiles at me, the realisation dawns not only am I humming an adapted version of Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit, It’s My Party, as I meander among the flower beds, but also, I sport a silly grin – and the blush of embarrassment that follows the realisation. But I can’t help myself.

There’s a party in the offing and, for a change, the butterflies fluttering about in my chest have gossamer wings rather than tackety boots. I’m not often a party-person, being more comfortable as a wallflower than a poppy, but …

“It’s Paul’s party and I’ll smile if I want to, smile if I want to, smile if I want to. You would smile too, if it happened to you.”

~~~

It’s My Party And I’ll Cry If I Want To – Lesley Gore – 1963

Gold Plated is now available on Amazon Kindle – paperback will follow shortly.

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Click to buy Gold Plated

If you’d like to read the series I wrote about Music in Fiction, click here.

Enjoy!

 

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