Word Painting – The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively

Word Painting

Word Painting – The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan (an excerpt from Writer’s Digest, January 2015) Here are four secrets to keep in mind as you breathe life into your characters through description.

  1.   Description that relies solely on physical attributes too often turns into what Janet Burroway calls the “all-points bulletin.”

It reads something like this: “My father is a tall, middle-aged man of average build. He has green eyes and brown hair and usually wears khakis and oxford shirts.”

This description is so mundane, it barely qualifies as an “all-points bulletin.” Can you imagine the police searching for this suspect? No identifying marks, no scars or tattoos, nothing to distinguish him. He appears as a cardboard cutout rather than as a living, breathing character. Yes, the details are accurate, but they don’t call forth vivid images. We can barely make out this character’s form; how can we be expected to remember him?

When we describe a character, factual information alone is not sufficient, no matter how accurate it might be. The details must appeal to our senses. Phrases that merely label (like tall, middle-aged, and average) bring no clear image to our minds. Since most people form their first impression of someone through visual clues, it makes sense to describe our characters using visual images. Green eyes is a beginning, but it doesn’t go far enough. Are they pale green or dark green? Even a simple adjective can strengthen a detail. If the adjective also suggests a metaphor—forest green, pea green, or emerald green—the reader not only begins to make associations (positive or negative) but also visualizes in her mind’s eye the vehicle of the metaphor—forest trees, peas, or glittering gems.

  1. The problem with intensifying an image only by adjectives is that adjectives encourage cliché.

It’s hard to think of adjective descriptors that haven’t been overused: bulging or ropy muscles, clean-cut good looks, frizzy hair. If you use an adjective to describe a physical attribute, make sure that the phrase is not only accurate and sensory but also fresh. In her short story “Flowering Judas,” Katherine Anne Porter describes Braggioni’s singing voice as a “furry, mournful voice” that takes the high notes “in a prolonged painful squeal.” Often the easiest way to avoid an adjective-based cliché is to free the phrase entirely from its adjective modifier. For example, rather than describing her eyes merely as “hazel,” Emily Dickinson remarked that they were “the color of the sherry the guests leave in the glasses.”

  1. Strengthen physical descriptions by making details more specific.

In my earlier “all-points bulletin” example, the description of the father’s hair might be improved with a detail such as “a military buzz-cut, prickly to the touch” or “the aging hippie’s last chance—a long ponytail striated with gray.” Either of these descriptions would paint a stronger picture than the bland phrase brown hair. In the same way, his oxford shirt could become “a white oxford button-down that he’d steam-pleated just minutes before” or “the same style of baby blue oxford he’d worn since prep school, rolled carelessly at the elbows.” These descriptions not only bring forth images, they also suggest the background and the personality of the father.

  1. Select physical details carefully, choosing only those that create the strongest, most revealing impression.

One well-chosen physical trait, item of clothing, or idiosyncratic mannerism can reveal character more effectively than a dozen random images. This applies to characters in nonfiction as well as fiction. When I write about my grandmother, I usually focus on her strong, jutting chin—not only because it was her most dominant feature but also because it suggests her stubbornness and determination. When I write about Uncle Leland, I describe the wandering eye that gave him a perpetually distracted look, as if only his body was present. His spirit, it seemed, had already left on some journey he’d glimpsed peripherally, a place the rest of us were unable to see. As you describe real-life characters, zero in on distinguishing characteristics that reveal personality: gnarled, arthritic hands always busy at some task; a habit of covering her mouth each time a giggle rises up; a lopsided swagger as he makes his way to the horse barn; the scent of coconut suntan oil, cigarettes, and leather each time she sashays past your chair.

BELLA THE WINTER MOUSE

Bella, The Winter MouseSome time ago, I befriended an adorable winter mouse, I named Bella, who wandered into my yard one day and became my friend for one long lonely winter.  Little Bella first caught my attention by peeking out from behind a wooden rocking chair on my back porch one cold December morning as I worked busily cleaning away cobwebs and dust from window panes and dusty corners.

I pretended to ignore this curious little field mouse. I was hoping that she would scurry away as almost all little critters do to avoid the murderous intent of larger critters.  As I continued dusting and sweeping, I kept stealing glances to see if the little  mouse with the large pink-ears was still watching me from its hiding place behind my old rocking chair.  As I furtively turned my head to get a better view, I was taken-aback to see the funny little brown mouse standing up on its hind legs with its little hands clasped in a pleading gesture as she stared at me.

My heart went out to the furry little winter mouse and I reached into my jacket pocket for the small package of peanut butter crackers I had accidentally left in my pocket the day before.  I opened the package , stepped off the porch (making sure the little mouse saw what I was doing) and placed a peanut butter cracker on the frozen winter grass.  I felt sure this would appease the determined little mouse to take the cracker and scurry back its winter nest, preferably far away from my back porch.  I then stepped back into my house and shut the door behind me allowing the little mouse to know it was now safe to scurry away with the peanut butter cracker.

The next day, as I gazed out of my backdoor window I saw my neighbor’s old Tom Cat on my back porch. He had apparently cornered something behind my old rocking chair. All at once, I knew Old Tom had cornered the little winter mouse who, no doubt, had returned for another peanut butter cracker.  I quickly stepped outside with broom in hand and shooed Old Tom away giving the frightened brown mouse with the large pink ears time to escape. It was the least I could do seeing how it was my fault the furry winter mouse had returned for more peanut butter crackers.

This time the little winter mouse scurried underneath the wooden porch and dashed away, but where to, I wondered. Surely, Old Tom would catch it now and it would be my fault.  Sadly, there was nothing I could do—this was nature, the natural cycle of life and death. I sighed deeply and bowed my head as I turned away from the window.

Little did I know Bella was quite familiar with all the hiding places around my house as I found out one chilly morning in the wee hours before dawn a few weeks later.   While snuggled up in my bed, underneath a quilted coverlet, I reached over to turn on the lamp on my nightstand.  As I did, (to my dismay) my winter mouse stood before me on my nightstand.  Her tiny hands were clasped tightly in front of her, grasping a peanut butter cracker I had left on the nightstand.  Her pink belly and soft brown fur trembled in the bright light.  We stared into each other’s eyes, nose to nose, for what seemed like a long time before she suddenly dashed, cracker in mouth, to wherever she had made a home – in my house.

Well, I thought, a friend it one thing, a Boarder is quite another.  So, early that morning, I crept, as quite as a mouse, with my flash light in hand to find the freeloader’s hideaway.  And find it I did. Apparently, my little curious winter mouse liked music, because I found her and her nest behind my credenza.  Her little brood of six pink baby mice seemed quite comfy— snuggled up in one of my missing fluffy slippers.

Well, enough is enough, I thought.  One winter mouse is tolerable for a winter, but not Bella’s brood of six baby mice.  I found myself in dilemma of what to do with Bella and her babies.  There was the mudroom, I thought, and that presented another dilemma. The mudroom already had several guests.

The injured red flying squirrel was healing well in a shoebox on the third shelf, Tabby, my 12-year-old tabby cat, somewhat incontinent and nearly blind, slept there each night on top of the filing cabinet, Fluffy, my snow white Tibetan Lhasa Apso also preferred to sleep there where his food was kept, like wrapped around the 25lb bag.  (You should know that Lhasa’s are very protective of their people and their food.)

I had no choice. Bella and her babies were going into the mudroom, in a covered shoebox, secured with tape and with small holes for air.  I placed the shoebox on the floor very near the mudroom backdoor that had a small bit of daylight between the door and the floor.  Every day I would leave one peanut butter cracker for Bella on the back porch. It didn’t take long before she waited for me every day at the backdoor, standing up, her little hands folded across her tummy and I would hand the peanutbutter cracker to her. She would reach out with her tiny hands, and grasp it and hold it to her chest before dashing away. She was the sweetest mouse. Her cute little personality and her big brown eyes were so expressive.

In early spring, I went to the backdoor and there was no Bella. I hurried to the mudroom and found the shoebox empty. They were gone. Bella, my winter mouse had gone back to the corn and alfalfa fields with her young.  I hope they all survived, but I would never know. I never saw her again. I still think of her sometimes, on a chilly winter morning when I turn the light on.

 

 

 

 

 

Today is World Kindness Day October 10th @2019

World Kindness Day

World Kindness Day is an international observance on 13 November. It was introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, a coalition of nations’ kindness NGOs. It is observed in many countries, including Canada, Japan, Australia, Nigeria and United Arab Emirates. Wikipedia

Date: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Frequency: Annual

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystical Greenwood by Author Andrew McDowell.

 

To all those who’ve purchased, read, and reviewed Mystical Greenwood, I want to say thank you. Thank you for your support and encouragement. It was recently announced as a finalist in the Epic/High Fantasy Category of the 2019 American Fiction Awards, sponsored by American Book Fest.

If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll consider reading my book and posting a review. Every review helps spread the word. I will be very grateful if you do.

Description:

Dermot is a fifteen-year-old boy living in a remote village in the land of Denú. He has always longed for something more in his life. Now, everything changes after he sees a renowned creature – a gryphon – in the sky, and then crosses paths with a reclusive healer who harbors a secret.

Soon, he and his brother have no choice but to leave the only home they’ve ever known. They travel with new friends across the land through several great forests, along the way meeting an old man, a family of unicorns, and witnessing an important birth. They must evade fire-breathing dragons and dark-armored soldiers hunting them down, all serving an evil sorcerer determined to subjugate the kingdom, and who will stop at nothing to destroy them.

Denú’s only hope is if a renowned coven returns to face the enemy after years in hiding. Dermot however suspects their own role may be more significant than he thought, as he slowly discovers a power which exists amongst the trees and creatures of every greenwood. Can they save those they hold dear? Will Dermot find what he has sought? Or will all that’s free and good be consumed by darkness?

 

It is available in Paperback, Kindle, and Nook:

US$: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books a Million

UK£: Amazon.co.uk | Foyles

CA$: Amazon.ca

Be sure to add it to your Goodreads to-read list! The cover art is also available at Deviant Art. If you’re a fan, you can show it through your memorabilia!

Be sure to check out my publications in poetry and creative nonfiction as well!

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive notifications of new blog posts! You can also follow me on social media:

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Delphi Altair Strange Beginnings A Big Surprise From Amazon

 

About an hour ago my twin sister, Kathy Lauren Miller, called me and she was so excited. I said “calm down, what in the world are you going on about!! She excitedly told me that one of my books, Delph Altair Strange beginnings was being promoted by Amazon. So, with quite a bit of Shock and Awe…I said “What?   What do you mean?”

“I mean,” she said. “That Delphi Altair came in the Weekly Amazon.com Store-News@amazon.com. in her  email today.”  So, she sent me a copy of the Amazon Ad and I will include it here. I was so shocked. With so many millions of books, I thought, oh my gosh. Well, this may not be earth-shattering news to most, but it was to me.

There were six books advertized/promoted (one of which I am going to buy) I really thought that probably most of my books would end up in Book Heaven and when I calculate the number of people that will see my book cover and the description underneath the title. WOW. That is exciting.

 

 

Book Review: Tales From The Irish Garden by Sally Cronin and Illustrated by Donata Zawadzla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sally Cronin writes a delightful fairytale that children and adults will love. Beginning with the fact, if you don’t know anything about fairies, it is important to note that fairies are very small beings that have a strong society of their own. They have all the same problems that humans have, but how they deal with their problems are quite different than humans. Their communities are quite diverse and that diversity brings them great strength in dealing with a few outliers that cause problems; like the Winter Fairy whose jealousy, insecurity, and mean spirit fail to give him any kind of reward in the end.

It is the kindness and love from the royal family, headed by Queen Filigree, that save the day when problems arise in her magic Kingdom of Magia. It is quite amazing that so many different beings like honeybees, spiders, voles, rabbits, messenger birds, Fluffy the Dragon, and many other kinds of beings, including stone guardians, manage to live in harmony together.

In Queen Filigree’s magical kingdom, where even Oaks and Elms help keep the Kingdom safe with their pollen. The trees help to prevent mean outliers from harming the Kingdom of Magia by creating dense areas of pollen that cause constant sneezing. However, one very difficult problem is the fact that no amount of help will save the Kingdom in its present location of 700 years.

Humans had decided to clear the entire area where the Palace of the Queen and all of her subjects abide. For 700 years the ancient Magnolia tree with deep roots had keep the fairies and other beings safe, until now. Including, all the honey bees whose honey was a key part of their income as well as a drink that was very important for health if not imbued too much or too often.

As luck would have it hope was insight. Messenger birds were sent to find a place to live for everyone in the Kingdom of Magia. The story that unfolds, in the Tales From The Irish Garden, includes the gracious help of the Storyteller who tells the tale like no other. The Storyteller is a gentleman farmer, who loves special roses in his garden, and who has magical skills of his own.

He begins to unfold the story that brings alive each creature within their own families, their own problems that become so real to the reader that you may never look at a Badger, a Fox, a Donkey, Mice, and so many other delightful beings that all help each other in the most amazing ways when great danger is afoot, again. Queen Filigree is forever grateful to the Storyteller for saving her Kingdom and she also improves the life of the Storyteller with an entirely new community to help keep safe. They solve their problems together in unity.

The Tales From The Irish Garden is a mythology that brings to light what kindness, sharing, caring for others, and love can bring to any society that abhors greed, selfishness, and meanness. It is a great society where every being, no matter their poor beginnings, large or small, can thrive. I give this delightful magical fairytale, with a grand and beautiful message of unity, 5 stars.

Find Sally Cronin’s Books on the following:

Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

AmazonUKhttp://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

smashwords for Epub: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SallyGCronin

THURSDAY PHOTO PROMPT: SPAN #WRITEPHOTO

The Promise

I walked alone through a forest of maples, birches, oaks, and pines, happy to listen to birds chirping, as they called to one another hoping for a mate. I marveled at the beauty of this spring day. Beneath my feet I felt the soft spongy layers of leaves becoming one with the earth. It was this fresh feeling of renewal after a long cold winter that was so invigorating, and it lifted my spirits, ferreting away my winter doldrums.

I was so deep in thought that I walked without seeing where I was going. I just blindly put one foot in front of the another. I don’t remember how long I was walking or where I was going when I came across an enchanting burn, that flowed with such energy. The waters were crystal clear, flowing from the melting snow drifts of winter, and mixed with spring water from deep within the earth.

Above the burn was a span, an ancient walkway, now covered with many years of moss and grass. I marveled at the construction of the span, and its ability to survive for how long I didn’t know, but perhaps a few hundred years or more. I imagined how life must have been so long ago. How many young lovers must have made promises to each other as they gazed into the waters, promises that wouldn’t or couldn’t be kept. No different than the raging burn as it too would soon cease to keep its passion.

I let my eyes wander, once more, as I stood at the edge of the rapid flow of the burn. The sound it made was eerie yet enticing as it raged through the burn. Life is so similar, I mused, its passion rages only to burnout more quickly than one would think. Yet, like the winter that has come and gone, the spring of life continues to renew all hope, love, care, and we, like springtime, will once again be filled with the passion to live our best lives.

 

 

The Heart Stone Chronicles: The Swamp Fairy, by Author Colleen M. Chesebro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This mystical story is bound to capture your heart. Abigale Forester is only fourteen years old, recently orphaned, and has been sent to live with her Aunt Magnolia Forester, a woman she has never met, and is now her legal Guardian. Abigale was born with mystical gifts, inherited from her mother, along with a few hundred acres of swamp land that has been handed down for generations in her family.

This is no ordinary swamp. It is a place where mystical things happens, another realm, that is critical for the safety of mankind. Abigale has no idea what this has to do with her, but she will soon find out. In the meantime, a corrupt, greedy, and wealthy man as plans of his own to destroy the swamp and possibly Abigale and her aunt, as a form of revenge.

Danger is everywhere for Abigale as she tries to adjust to her new life. When the truth about the swamp legacy is revealed to her, Abigale is forced to make a decision about the swamp legacy and her choice is a dangerous one.

I highly recommend this mystical mystery that is so well written, by author Colleen M. Chesebro, that the story itself almost leaps off of the pages, right into your reality. It is that good. 5 Stars!

 

Steve the Crossing Guard

Steve the Crossing Guard, a teacher-at-large, and his amazing gift to children.

A Teacher's Reflections

There are teachers, and there are remarkable teachers.  Steve the Crossing Guard is one of the remarkable teachers, and he doesn’t teach in a classroom. He teaches on the street at a school crossing.  The children at his crossing will often learn far more than they learn in the classroom.

I got an email from Steve the Crossing Guard at 6:39 AM.  It was titled,
“Boston Massacre 3/5/1770”.

The text simply said:

Yes, you bet we’ll discuss it, within the hour…

Have a great day!
Steve

WOW!

This is exactly what Steve the Crossing Guard does.  He is so excited for what’s to come, because he has planned questions and challenges for the students. The anticipation of knowing and then wanting to pass it on is the greatest feeling. Really.

At 8:01 PM that night, he emailed:

Jennie,

So much history tomorrow: Michelangelo’s bday; fall of the Alamo; Dred Scott…

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The Ghost in the Standing Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I walked through the abandoned centuries old churchyard, in a neglected area of the Yorkshire countryside of England, I shivered in the cold, damp, morning air. I was feeling melancholy, no doubt enhanced by the gray skies that seem to want to stay indefinitely, hovering over this landscape.

As I continued walking, mindlessly, through this abandoned field, I found myself wondering about the lives that once walked through this field, that are now dust. I couldn’t help wondering when it would be my turn—to turn to dust.

In my field of vision, I noticed an odd-looking standing stone that stood at the very edge of the long field. It was all alone, as if abandoned through the ages. From a distance, I could see, no, I  could feel it’s presence. How does one feel a standing stone’s presence?

I don’t know, yet, I felt it pulling me toward it or was it my imagination?  With each step toward the standing stone, the feeling grew stronger, my steps more sure of where they were going.

As I continued walking toward the standing stone, I began to hear a whispering of words. Was the stone whispering to me? I felt compelled to keep walking toward the speaking stone, and do what? Start speaking to it? Engaging it in titillating conversation? Really? Have I totally lost my mind?

As I approached the standing stone, the whisper grew louder and then I knew that this standing stone was inhabited by a ghost! This was no trick or a twist of my imagination; I could not help but feel its pain, its loneliness. I wondered how long it, the ghost, had been alone, abandoned, forced to haunt this abandoned place.

How many centuries did this poor soul live a life in stone? It was too horrible to even a imagine. And then I knew what I had to do. I had to help this lost soul, somehow. I felt it wanted me to.

He, yes, it was a male, I somehow knew that. He had been turned to stone, this poor soul, this young man, had, no doubt, been hexed, cursed as it were, by some warlock or wicked witch. How I knew this, I don’t know. But, why was he hexed and turned to stone? I had to find out!

I felt my hand go up to touch him, this standing human stone, so lost and alone. I felt his warmth, his heart beating, his lungs breathing. How can that be? I wondered.  In shock, I realized he was alive, not dead!

“May I have…your name?” I asked him. He then spoke. His voice was rich and deep, almost soothing.

“Aye, ye may,” he said. “Christian ‘tis mah name, Christian McEwen. May I be so bold Milady, tae ask yer name?”

“My…my name? Huh…yes…my name is Lexi, short for Alexandra McCoy.”

“Aye, ye hae a bonny name, Lexi, and ye art bonny, as weel.”

“Christian, how long have you…been in stone,like this…and who did this to you?”

“Aye…’twas a Witch, ye ken. A shrew! A bonny she-devil—a vixen.”

As I listened to him tell the story of how he happened to be turned into a standing stone, I could see him as he was before he was captured in the stone. His visage, pale as it was through the stone…was a handsome, tall, blond headed young man.  I guessed him to be about twenty-five years of age. He wore the clothes of centuries past. I guessed he once lived sometime in the 15th century. Scottish Gaelic.

“Christian,” I said, “I can’t stay much longer. It looks like a storm is brewing, so please tell me how I can help you?”

“Aye, I ken ye dae. I wish ye could stay with me, Lexi.”

“I wish I could too, Christian, but I must go now. I can comeback, you know.”

“Nay, Lexi, ye only hae one chance, ye cannae return to me. ‘Tis part of the wicked Witch’s curse, ye ken. Dinnae fash, Lexi.”

“How I wish I could stay, Christian. I am so sorry. I will miss you and I am sorry I couldn’t help you somehow.”

Suddenly the sky darkened, the wind blew like the devil himself wished me gone. The earth shook beneath me. Like magic, looming up in front of me was a figure of a woman, dressed in a centuries old costume. Her laughter rang out with glee and spite. She looked at me, with narrowed eyes of the darkest black I had ever seen.

“Run Lexi, ‘tis the Witch! Run as fast as ye can, Milady! Away with ye—now!”

I couldn’t move, the Witch had me in her grip; she said something in a language I didn’t understand. I felt myself vanishing, fading away, but I was not gone, not really. I found myself inside the standing stone with Christian. Fear raced through my being. “Oh my god, what have I done? Christian, what has happened to me?”

“Lexi, ye art with me. ‘Tis her curse…I didae ken. But, ye dae so on ye own. Aye, ye hae helped me, dinnae ye. I am nay alone now Lexi. Ye art with me.”