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.

Ellen Russell Mallory – First Lady of Key West

Ellen Russell Mallory – First Lady of Key West

 

Ellen Russell Mallory (1792-1855) settled in Key West with her ailing husband Charles and two young sons in 1823.  She was first white female settler in Key West.  Her husband and elder son died in 1825.  To support herself and her surviving son Stephen, Ellen Mallory opened her home as boarding house for seamen.  During frequent Yellow Fever outbreaks, she served as the town’s nurse.  She provided a good education for her surviving son, sending him to a Moravian academy in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.  Ellen was a leading figure in the growth and life of Key West until her death in 1855.  Her son went on to become a U.S. Senator, and then Secretary of the Navy for the Confederate States.  Mallory Square is named after her son Stephen Russell Mallory.

 

Ellen Russell Mallory

 

Ellen Russell was born in 1792 at Carrick-on-Suir, near Waterford, Ireland.  Carrick-on-Suir is situated in the southeastern corner of County Tipperary, 17 miles northwest of Waterford.  When she was orphaned at about thirteen years of age, she was adopted by two bachelor uncles (her mother’s brothers), who were planters on the island of Trinidad.  There she met Charles Mallory and married him when she was no more than sixteen years of age.  Charles Mallory was a construction engineer, originally from Redding, Connecticut.  Charles and Ellen Mallory had two children, sons John and Stephen.  Charles Mallory’s health then began to fail.  The family left Trinidad and came to the United States around 1820, leaving seven-year-old son Stephen in school near Mobile, Alabama.  After trying the climate of Havana for a short time, the family moved to Key West in 1823, when the island was inhabited by only a few fishermen and pirates.  Charles Mallory died of consumption at Key West in 1825.  The elder son John died shortly thereafter, at only fourteen years of age.  To support herself and her surviving son Stephen, Ellen opened her home as a boarding house for seamen.

 

Ellen Mallory’s boarding house “Cocoanut Grove”

 

Her boarding house, the “Cocoanut Grove”, was the only lodging in Key West for many years.   With her meager earnings from the boarding house, she sent her son away for further schooling at a Moravian academy in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.  Although, like his mother, he was a devout Catholic, he had only praise for the education he received at the academy.  After three years, his mother could no longer afford to pay his tuition; so in 1829 his schooling ended and he returned home to Key West.

 

Ellen’s boarding house remained a center of social life and hospitality in Key West throughout the remainder of her life.  She nursed and cared for many of the sick and injured in Key West, during numerous outbreaks of Yellow Fever and hurricanes.  The hurricane of 1846 was one of such unusual severity that it obliterated the graves of her late husband Charles and son John.  Ellen lived to see her son, Stephen Russell Mallory, become a successful lawyer, marry well and have children of his own, and become a United States Senator in 1850.

 

After 32 years as the beloved “First Lady” of Key West, Ellen Russell Mallory died on May 15, 1855.  Perhaps at no time was the Key West custom of closing the stores along the route of a funeral procession as a tribute of respect more spontaneously and wholeheartedly observed than when Ellen Mallory’s remains were born to her final resting place.  Nearly the entire population of Key West walked behind her bier to the cemetery.  She was buried in the town’s new cemetery, founded after the great hurricane of 1846, where a stone about six feet long is inscribed:

MALLORY

Ellen Mallory

born at

Carrick-on-Suir, 1792

died at Key West

May 15, 1855

 

Excerpts from an article in The Florida Historical Quarterly; Volume 25, Issue 4:

 

Of those who have been identified with early Key West, one who has been given highest acclaim is Ellen Mallory, Stephen R. Mallory’s mother.  A contemporary noted:  “The first white female settler of Key West was Mrs. Mallory in 1823, the mother of the present United States Senator from Florida; she is an intelligent, energetic woman of Irish descent, and still keeps an excellent boarding house, for the accommodation of visitors there being no taverns upon the island.”

Another noted that “For some considerable time [after 1823] she was without a single companion of her own sex [on the island].  As the pioneer matron of the place, she was presented with a choice lot of land, on which she has erected a house, which she now occupies, as a boarding house, dispensing to the stranger, with liberal hand, and at a moderate price, the hospitalities of the place.”

Key West’s leading twentieth century chronicler speaks and quotes others: “First in point of time as well as in affection and esteem of her contemporaries, was Mrs. Ellen Mallory. Two distinguished men have told of her virtues,” writes Judge Browne.   He repeats Governor Marvin’s judgment: “I mention Mrs. Mallory last because she is last to be forgotten and not because she was the mother of an United State senator and secretary of the navy of the Confederacy, but because she was situated where she could do good and she did it.

Left a widow in early womanhood, she bravely fought the battle of life alone, and supported herself by her labor in respectful independence.  She kept the principal boarding house in town. She was intelligent, possessed of ready Irish wit, was kind, gentle, charitable, sympathetic, and considerate of the wants of the sick and poor.  She nursed the writer through an attack of yellow fever and was always as good to him as his own mother could have been.”

The sentiment of another, crystallized through a long friendship is contained in an excerpt from an address delivered in 1876: “Methinks I hear her musical voice today as she was wont to speak, standing at the bedside of the sick and dying in days gone by.  Catholic by rites of baptism…Oh, how truly catholic in the better and non-sectarian use of that term, was her life, devoted as it was to acts of kindness.  Her husband died shortly after their arrival; she kept for many years the only comfortable boarding house on the island, located first on the north side of Fitzpatrick Street and subsequently, after the proprietors had expressed their appreciation of her character and usefulness, by a donation of a lot of ground, on her own premises, on the south side of Duval street near Front.  With many opportunities of becoming rich, she died comparatively poor.  Next to her God, her devotion centered in her son, Stephen R. Mallory, whom she brought to this island a child of tender age and lived to see occupying a seat in the Senate of the United States as one of the Senators from Florida.

Going tranquilly about her duties, or dispelling discouragement with the tonic of fortitude and hope, the picture is beautiful.  Twice as I remember, I had the pleasure of receiving the proffered hand of this lady.  First, with words of ‘Welcome’ to your city, when as a poor young man, I became one of your number.  Second, on the occasion of sore affliction, when the balm of consolation gratefully reached my ears, and pointed my mind to contemplations of future usefulness.  She died in 1855.  Her mortal remains lie in yonder cemetery respected of all men.  She left no enemy on earth. ‘Requiescat in pace.’  Such was the woman who founded the family of Mallory in Florida; is it any marvel that she was the mother and grandmother of United States Senators?”

 

 

A Book Review: Through the Nethergate by Author Roberta Eaton Cheadle

 

Author Roberta Eaton Cheadle writes an incredible and terrifying adventure; a journey into a ghostly story with many historical tales relevant to this fascinating story and incorporating many real fictionalized characters that once lived and breathed that had experienced horrors from the past.

This story will greatly please ghost story lovers and I do love a great ghost story and this story has many ghosts; there are helpful ghosts and evil ghosts as well as entities to be dealt with that are as dangerous, wicked, and deadly as you can imagine.

What I found of great interest beyond the incredible ghost story is the intriguing depth of knowledge given to the reader by the author. As I reader, I loved the historical in-depth knowledge that is a fascinating addition to this story. This author has done her work that helps to create the reality within the story.  Margaret, the main character, carries the story forward to a very satisfying ending, that will not disappoint the reader.

I give this historical ghost story by Author Roberta Eaton Cheadle, a 5 star rating.

 

 

A Review of Watching Glass Shatter by James J. Cudney IV

A Review of James J. Cudney, IV superb novel, Watching Glass Shatter.

 

The title alone intrigued me. I already knew that James J. Cudney IV, was a fabulous writer and I already loved his writing style. I knew that it would be a great read, but I had no idea it would be so superb and that I would spend hours reading it while ignoring everything else that went on around me. Honestly, if my house had burnt down around me I probably would not have noticed.

I didn’t answer my iPhone, or make dinner or finish the laundry, I was so taken by it, so entranced by it, that I could do nothing else but read this novel that is as true to life as anything I have ever read. The people in this novel, come to life as real as you and me.  James J. Cudney IV’s novel brings a realism to this novel, Watching Glass Shatter, like no other. It is so astonishingly real in every conceivable way.

Normally, when I read a book, I know it is fiction, but not this story, no, anything but fiction. This story is like stepping into a family’s life in a very intimate way, observing, as though you are their invisible friend, and wanting so much to give advice, to hold a hand when tears flowed, to cheer when things go as planned, to grieve when they grieved, to respect their choices, even though poorly chosen sometimes, but necessary.

When I finished reading the last sentence, I knew I didn’t want it to end even though it was after midnight. I realized I had been reading for many hours without stopping for nether food nor drink. I knew in an instant that I would never forget this family, their lives, their losses, and their triumphs. I also knew I would be buying the print version today. I am also thrilled that now, knowing that Watching Glass Shatter is to be printed in several languages, because I am so happy that other people around the world will love this book as much as I do, and I hope the French language is of them. I give this story 5 stars and it doesn’t seem fair…it should be 10 stars!

 

THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF WRITERS AND AUTHORS IN SOCIETY

I believe our global world is teetering on a precipice or an abyss. However  we wish to view our global situation, because there are too many dictators that have now gained power. The supposed purpose of our American Democratic Republic was, and hopefully will be again someday, for religious freedom and economic prosperity. Democracy, however, is losing.
      Therefore, in my opinion, writers can and should share their views. America’s policies are everyone’s business, because our lives, how we live our lives, are dependent upon on our written and verbal voices. Writers have a voice—an audience, a vibrant and often collective voice. Fiction, especially, is a vehicle to express societal needs and wants for a better life. Consider A Tale of Two Cities, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Scarlet Letter, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Roots, and so many others. All of these written works represent writers speaking out about the horrors of tyranny placed on people of poverty, of color, of sex, and of faith.
     Furthermore, all of the above classic fictionalized literature, speaks to the appalling human conditions forced onto society by tyranny, greed, hate groups, ignorance, and loathe. The cruelty of mankind is a poison without a cure…unless humankind speaks loudly, writes loudly about injustice, poverty, bullying, hate, fear, racism, greed, and tyranny.
     For instance, religion is a set of beliefs based on faith, a policy of doctrine, and religion has changed lives, for better or worse, consider: The Malleus Maleficarum, The Salem Witch Trials, The Trail of Tears, The Holocaust, Roots, and so many other travesties and horrors, based on some tyranny or tyrannical religion precepts, basically humans being inhuman. I say this, because some forms of religion do not wholly, truly represent the founding of beliefs that a prophet gave to people of a certain time in history.
     All religions are faith and politically based beliefs—by speakers, writers, authors, and preachers. Our lives are based on faith. Faith is what we believe to be a given right: freedom to pray, to think, to express our beliefs, and nothing is more political than the faith of our choice. It is our right to believe in a higher power or not to believe, and we all believe differently.
     Our collective belief in a democratic republic is policy-based, and we came to believe in a democratic republic as written by authors, who expressed their views, their faith in the ability to tell us stories, stories that are based on democracy or tyranny. We, as writers and authors, are at another dangerous point in our humanity.
     We should and can choose to write short stories, novels, and commentaries that support our democratic republic; if not, we will fail miserably to defend our right to write stories. Without this right, we may see our written work burned in the fire of a tyrannical and often insane dictator.
As it is today, so many great written works are on the banned books list and are not allowed in libraries. Who knows? Your religion could be next or any and all religious doctrine based in faith, could be banned and our fiction writing banned as well.
     Whether tyranny is religious or theoretical, what we believe collectively becomes the law of the land. The voices of our written work: our novels, our commentaries, our short stories, our speeches, all are critically important to our way of life, our democracy.
Our lives depend on the written word that will reflect our collective voice for freedom of thought, of choice, of faith in our union as Americans. What we allow to endure, without our voices, will be our fall from grace.

A Few Quotes that Shine a Light on Being Who You Are.

 

 

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Thomas A. Edison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”
 Robert Frost

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often times writers get writing blocks resulting in a temporary lost of self-belief in their writing, especially if their much loved published book doesn’t get much attention/sales. Well as Robert Frost says, “life goes on”;  Thomas Edison says, “I just found 10,000  ways that don’t work” (well, maybe); Yet, Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “You have already accomplished the greatest of challenges – you are still you!

Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – Book Marketing – Radio or Podcast Interviews – Grab the opportunity by Sally Cronin

Having a live Interview is definitely important for marketing you and your book.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

I was very lucky to be a radio and television presenter from 2004 – 2012 and in that time I interviewed many authors about their books. The key to an interesting interview for the listeners or viewers is in preparation and research, not just by the presenter but by the author too. The purpose of the interview is to encourage people to buy your book and read it, and that is a key element you should keep in mind when answering questions.

This week a look at how you can prepare for you interview on radio and next week on camera.

Wonderful news, your hard work in promoting your new book on social media and locally has paid off and you get the call or email. An invitation to do an interview on a radio station, television show or author promoting podcast.

Getting an interview on a radio show or…

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A New Book Review for Garrett’s Bones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Garrett’s Bones” by Karen Demers Dowdall caught my attention immediately and drew me into this story focused on two teenagers and a murder mystery. The narrator, the young lady, is clearly established and completely believable, and her emotions are strong and vivid. It is a classy piece of writing, with subtle touches and strong character portrayal. Karen Demers Dowdall shows a deft touch in bringing the reader into the story and making us care about the people in the tale. It is evocative and compelling. The relationship between Anna, the narrator, and Garrett, of the title, is developed carefully, and I cared deeply about what happens to these two-young people. The author carefully mixes hints of the supernatural with suspense and a love story to create a very well told story. Without speaking to anything that might be considered a spoiler, I will say that this book is an excellent read! I recommend this book highly!  5 stars  by an Amazon Customer

A Review of James J. Cudney’s Mystery Novel, Academic Curveball, Book 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author James J. Cudney’s mystery novel, Academic Curveball Book 1, of the Braxton Campus Mysteries, is the most incredibly intriguing mystery I have ever read, and it captivated me from the very first page. Yet, it is much more than a mystery. It is a community of perfectly drawn characters that you will soon think of as a part of your own family, your neighbors, and the people you may work with too. I feel as though I know them so well that I would like to invite them to dinner. I was swept up into their personal and professional lives as they all tried to help solve two murders at the Braxton Campus.

The narrator of this taut, crisp, pithy, funny, mystery, Kellan Ayrwick, captures your attention and never lets go, and now, I will let Kellan tell you his story when you meet him on his way to Braxton, Pennsylvania, settled between Wharton Mountains and the Saddlebrook National Park Forest.  This is more that a 5 star mystery – oh…it is an 11 star mystery.

 

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.