Tag Archives: Chapter 14

Descriptions and the Author’s Voice

At the moment I’m reading Game of Thrones on my Kindle and I have to say I think it’s making me a better writer.

George R.R. Martin has this amazing way of describing the world he’s created. It’s a very difficult thing to define, but as I continue to read it he throws in these amazing similes and metaphors that surprise me.

It’s interesting because obviously I’m reading these passages and they are making me notice them. So I stop. I think WOW! Then I continue. I’d like to think that the kind of people who read his books are the kind to share in this experience. It does worry me slightly that if you are reading it and perhaps are not enjoying it quite as much as I am (seriously?) that perhaps descriptions of this ilk may jar with the narrative, and maybe pull these readers too far out of the story.

I’m going to have to find an example of what I mean… Hang on…

Rather annoyingly, I hadn’t learnt to highlight passages on my Kindle when I read the passages I’m trying to explain. And there’s no way I will find them now, short of re-reading what I’ve just read.

I did find, however, these:

The rising sun sent fingers of light through the pale white mists of dawn.

Ned put ice in his voice.

These may seem simple sentences, but they each hold favour with me, purely because Martin has described things that I may well have described in my book, but I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have described the light through the mists as fingers. And I most certainly wouldn’t have turned a character’s dialogue cold by literally describing it as putting ice in his voice.

I really wish I had highlighted the passages that made me stop and WOW when I read them, and I plan to do that as I carry on reading.

Anyway, the reason I think that Martin is making me a better writer is his ability to WOW with description. I’d like to be able to WOW with description.

My, I’d probably have to say, problem with the way I describe a scene is I sort of do it from my protagonist’s point of view. The book is of course from Crystal’s point of view, but what I mean is it’s not written in first person narration. There’s very much the author’s voice and so is written in third person, but I do take the narrative as if Crystal and the author, and by extension the reader, experience everything at the same time.

So when it comes to description, I guess I have been describing things in a way accessible to Crystal. Consequently, the author’s voice is not as WOWing as I would like.

In the passages I have just written for chapter 14, I have allowed my author’s voice a bit of freedom and what has happened, miraculously, is a good piece of writing; in my opinion anyway.

 

She pulled out a dagger. Crystal’s smile faltered like a candle being extinguished. Both aunts started to laugh. But it wasn’t a normal laugh; it was more like a cackle. It echoed through the kitchen, bouncing off the solid wood of the counter, the shiny metal of the upturned saucepans on the dish-drainer and the ceramic tiled floor.

            Lightening struck the front garden. The thunder rumbled above them. Their cackle met the thunder in a jousting match that seemed to swell in her ears. For a moment it was sinister. But then the room felt warm again. Auntie Sis and Edna turned to each other and embraced. Crystal saw Auntie Edna wipe the happy tears away from her eyes and Auntie Sis held onto her emerald pendant, wrapping it tightly in her fist so that none of the green light reflected through her white skin.

 

This passage feels like quite a good example. Crystal’s smile faltered like a candle being extinguished is only a small sentence but somehow manages to capture how her smile would disappear in these circumstances. Because it is her aunt holding the dagger, she’s not afraid at first, but then her other senses capture other atmospheric devices, the cackle and how it echoes through the room, the lightning followed by the thunder and how it met the cackle in a jousting match that seemed to swell in her ears.

Even the description a jousting match illustrates what I mean. Would Crystal describe a laugh and a thunder rumble meeting like this? Or is this more the author’s voice? I think it’s a good description but it sort of jars from Crystal’s perspective.

But I like it because of that! It doesn’t pull the reader out of the narrative, but it is the writer flexing their writing-muscles. The issue I may have with it is that I haven’t consistently described like this in the other 13 chapters. It is something I’m going to have to address if this kind of describing continues, which I hope it does because I think (and hope) that it makes for a better reading experience.

For a moment it was sinister. But then the room felt warm again. I really like this too because I didn’t have to describe the room as cold before describing how it returned to warm. And I like that! I implied that it had turned cold without having to say that. I hope that I have used devices such as this in the previous chapters, if I haven’t then there is room for them.

Further on in the same scene there is a paragraph which describes the gems and stones that have been dotted around the room. These stones are all different in name and description and have been chosen because of their affinity with this particular part of the book. The paragraph in question is most certainly the author’s voice, because it calls the gems by name and goes on to describe their appearance; these are facts that Crystal would not know.

It is possible that this paragraph would jar with a reader and pull them out of the narrative. It is an exercise for the writer and I’m afraid that if it feels like one, and isn’t adding to the scene then it shouldn’t be there. But it’s a lovely paragraph. I like the way I’ve described them and because they are witches, and this is Halloween, these gems serve a purpose; they enrich the descriptive surroundings and give a nice depth.

I had thought about having the aunts describe them but that feels like needless dialogue that isn’t particularly interesting. I may have to find a way for the descriptions to still be there but in a better more clever way.

I know this seems like a terribly scrupulous analysis of my work, and it is, but this blog is about the writing process; I’m supposed to write about writing, and these little niggles and worries that I am feeling make for an interesting blog post, I hope.

I’m still on my first draft of The Moon Machine and mainly in a first draft I get the plot down on paper. It’s the dialogue that tends to take centre stage because, for me, that it what moves the story forwards. So on my second draft I will be paying close attention to descriptions and the author’s voice, after all, I have a voice and what is a book if not a way to get it heard?

I am now multi-screened. Next stop, book completion!
I am now multi-screened. Next stop, book completion!

Middling-Chapters

My Brother at his 15th Birthday Meal!
My Brother at his 15th Birthday Meal!

I’m currently reading several books, but the one that I’m getting quite excited about is Oblivion by Anthony Horowitz. It’s the culmination of a five book series about the Five children who are destined to save us all from the Old Ones. You must read them, they are very, very good.

They aren’t the happiest of books, but we are dealing with the end of the world here; it isn’t going to be a happy place.

Anyway, last night I read a chapter where Scarlet and Richard arrive in Dubai. It’s a chapter where nothing really happens. Horowitz has rolled the dice and has made the characters aware that they have to get to Antarctica and this is the chapter where Scarlet and Richard have to get there.

It’s a difficult chapter from a writers point of view because it has a very clear purpose, and this purpose has to be achieved; there is no choice. Scarlet and Richard have to get to Antarctica and they are in Dubai. They need a plane, they need a pilot and it can’t be as easy as walking into the deserted airport and happening upon what they need; this is the end of the world, it can’t be that simple.

So Horowitz creates an obstacle for them to get around in order to get them on their way. It’s sort of neither here nor there. It’s a plot point that probably wouldn’t be in the film version, if there was one, which there should be because it would be wow! It’s skip-able. 

In Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, I always groan slightly when I get to the chapter about Norbert. I think there’s only one chapter, but it is needless. Nothing happens to advance the plot, as far as I can remember – it’s been a while since I read it – but you can’t just skip a chapter when you’re reading a book; can you?

Norbert is skip-able. I have a feeling that the chapters in Dubai are skip-able. Obviously I haven’t finished reading it yet so you never know, there may be some greater significance which I don’t know about. But often when you’re crafting a story, and I’ve said this before, it’s the geography of the plot that is the most significant. You can build a story with all it’s twists and promise, but physically getting your characters from A to B (or sometimes Z) is the most challenging part.

I’m not necessarily talking just about the physicality either, it’s not just about Dubai to Antarctica, the geography I’m talking about also deals with being in Dubai, needing a plane, finding a plane, needing a pilot, finding out where the pilot is, discovering he’s a prisoner, developing a plan to free him, meeting a new villain… etc etc. Geography can mean many things.

The reason I am writing about this is because I am currently writing a chapter where it’s all about the geography. Crystal has to go to the Halloween Ball but first she had to convince one of her aunts to take her.

I wanted this to be a chapter where she could prove how clever she is. I knew a few things going into the chapter. I knew that Auntie Sis would not be there, but Patrick would. And he was the key in convincing Edna. I just wrote that scene and am pleasantly surprised with how it’s turned out.

This is very much a Middling-Chapter, but unlike Dubai and Norbert, I am using this chapter to really get a feel for Crystal and Edna’s relationship. They are the perfect double act for this portion of the book. It’s a wonderful relationship. Edna is her aunt, but also her guardian. She is bringing Crystal up, so in many respects she is her parent. But because she is also not her parent, it allows the relationship to be more than just parental.

Edna is an older lady, but she’s young at heart. And she’s all heart. She is thrilled by things like a new blender for kitchen, or X-Factor; she takes pleasure in the little things. She’s got a wonderful sense of humor and has the ability to put anyone at ease without even trying. She’s a baker and very much a nester.

In going to the ball with her niece, she is actually being wonderfully defiant. Sissy is very much the voice of reason and rules; she is sensible and has taken on the mantle of protector and safe-keep-er. I love their relationship; so different and yet sisters. Complete trust in each other and aware of who the other is. Really, it’s a failing on Sissy’s part that she didn’t see this coming.

The interesting thing is, Sissy doesn’t see this coming because of the third influence, Crystal. It’s Crystal’s want and need to attend the event that Sissy doesn’t see coming. Edna would never have dreamed of going to the ball as Sissy had declared, had Crystal not convinced her to. She wouldn’t resent Sissy for not letting them go either, she has complete trust in Sissy and her opinion. But also, Edna doesn’t think anything of defying her sister because she sees it as harmless. And it would be, if they weren’t walking into something all the more sinister…

This Middling-Chapter malarkey is quite difficult. A completely necessary chapter that really is just padding before a major plot point. What I am trying to do is make it interesting. Actually, it’s not even that, it’s finding a way to make the middling-chapters good. I do understand that this chapter could become skip-able. I don’t want that; I know no author would want that. So for me, this chapter is not about interesting or advancing the plot, by default the plot is advanced anyway; this chapter is about heart. I’m hoping that focusing on heart I will avoid the trap of the Middling-Chapter.

In a way, Edna is the heart of this story, or at least this part of the story. When readers think about Edna in the future, I want them to think “Awwwwwwww!” She brings so much warmth and humor and that feeling of family, so this chapter is about her.

And it has been aptly named… Edna will go to the ball, and so the chapter is called Cinder-Edna.

Mason
Mason
Happy Birthday Cookie!
Happy Birthday Cookie!
My nephew Mason can't say Matthew yet, so Matty gets called FooFoo!
My nephew Mason can’t say Matthew yet, so Matty gets called FooFoo!