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.

Why You Should Never Stop Reading Fairytales!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never Stop Reading Fairy tales! by Karen DeMers Dowdall 

I thought it would be nice to re-post one of my favorite posts about fairy tales. Considering that I am really into fantasy, paranormal, fairytales, and witches, this new blog title suits me to a T…Once Upon a time…. It is far better than just my name (it is way too long). This new blog title really makes me happy. I love fantasy stories that begin with Once Upon a time…Madeleine L’Engles, A Wrinkle in time, however, does not begin Once upon a time…it begins with, “It was a dark and stormy night”…that works too.

I have collected volumes of fairy tale books, everything from all of Hans Christian Anderson to all of the Grimm’s Fairy tales, Scotland Folk Tales, Irish Myths and Folklore, among many other volumes of Fairy tales. Perhaps, one could say, I live in a fairytale world of my own making. So true. I can’t think of a better place to live…especially in the world as we live in today.

Also, my collection of books includes my favorite books of tales about Princesses, Dragons, Monsters, and of course…Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and all his friends, too. Less I forget to mention, my love of everything in King Author’s Court and the Knights, especially, the Wizard Merlin, and also,the Hobbit’s Gandalf the Grey. So many magical creatures that do often represent the best and the worst of humanity.

These stories tell me that most, that perhaps all of humanity is redeemable, because we are not given an instruction manual for raising babies, toddlers, and especially teenagers – God love them, one and all. Oh my goodness, it can be a real juggle out there for those growing up and with our delicate egos at risk…anything can go wrong.

Perhaps, that is why I love Fantasy, Fairy tales, Paranormal, Greek Mythology, and Science fiction too. Quoting the famous words of Albert Einstein, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Well…perhaps it doesn’t work with everyone. I am still learning.

I will add to that quote, if I may, my own philosophy:  “Never stop reading fairytales. No matter how old you are! We are forever learning, and not much teaches us more than a good Fairy tale!”

by Karen DeMers Dowdall June 4th, 2019

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Thematic Concepts in Fantasy Fiction

Sad Little GirlFantasy for children is especially important during heart rendering and traumatic events in a child’s life. Fantasy and fairy tales do many things emotionally and psychologically to help the child to understand the world in a broader sense. Fantasy teaches and the individual learns about the world and life itself.

An example of a thematic concept or theme, as depicted in the fictional novel: Delphi Altair, Strange Beginnings, is presented when twelve-year-old Megan Donnelly’s mother has recently passed way. Megan, devastated by the loss of her mother, receives a mysterious package to be opened on her thirteen’s birthday. Inside the package is a very old leather-bound journal with mysterious symbols on the cover.

Megan begins to read the secret journal about a young girl named Delphi Altair and discovers that Delphi has suffered the loss of both of her parents. Megan can now relate emotionally, and with empathy, to Delphi’s grief and a bond of understanding is created.  However, before you begin to read the secret journal, writes the author of the secret journal, you must put aside the world as you see it because things are not at all, what they appear to be.  This statement suggests that although death seems final, a belief that life and death are not simple concepts, that there is, perhaps, and a reason to believe that “all is not lost”.

When a child is suffering a traumatic loss, such as the loss of a much-loved parent, the need to remain close to the lost loved one is paramount to healthy healing. By providing a tangible source of comfort, such as a fictional companion to create empathy and understanding, her mother keeps her child engaged in the present as well as the future in a way that will help to heal her child’s heart.

 

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!

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The Captain’s Witch – A New Historical Fiction

Lost in the Annals of Time: A Story of Love and War

The Captain’s Witch is a hauntingly beautiful story of love that transcends time. Sara Windsor Knightly was born into a family with generations of witches. She inherits Windsor Manor a colonial era manor built in 1680. She had no idea that the Manor is haunted by Jacobite ghosts, and a ghost named Christian Windsor. Christian Windsor is a gentleman farmer who is also a Captain in the British Brigade in the year 1690 in Colonial Connecticut during King William’s war with the French and the Abenaki Native Indians.

To complicate matters, a White Oak Tree on the property of Windsor Manor is haunted by the ghost of Alice Windsor Hall. The White Oak Tree was once a sapling on the grave of Alice Windsor Hall, one of Sara’s distant relatives who was falsely accused of witchcraft in 1690 and burned at the stake. Alice has haunted the White Oak for more than 300 years and she has plans of her own that sets everything in motion.

Alice spins a spell that sends Sara and Christian to the year 1690 to save her little girl, Clara, from the hands of Reverend Baron Warwick, a Puritan Zealot who has diabolical plans for the child. Alice promises to return Sara and Christian back home as soon as Clara is safe from harm. Alice’s promise sends Christian back to war and certain death. A brokenhearted Sara is sent back to the present day to Windsor Manor. Sara is, quite by accident, sent once more back in time to revisit a very different Christian, who has no memory of Sara, putting her in great danger of being accused of witchcraft.

Now Available on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle)