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

 

 

Three Secrets to Great Storytelling!

Whispering

 

 

 

3 SECRETS TO GREAT STORYTELLING as presented on Writer’s Digest. I found this article by Steven James helpful in forming the structure of scenes.  (this is a re-blogging from 2014 but I thought it deserved a revival now, because it is simple, straightforward, and to the point.)

As a novelist and writing instructor, I’ve noticed that three of the most vital aspects of story craft are left out of many writing books and workshops. Even bestselling novelists stumble over them – Steven James But they’re not difficult to grasp. In fact, they’re easy.And if you master these simple principles for shaping great stories, your writing will be transformed forever. Honest. Here’s how to write a story.

Secret #1: 
CAUSE AND EFFECT ARE KING.

Everything in a story must be caused by the action or event that precedes it.  As a fiction writer, you want your reader to always be emotionally present in the story. But when readers are forced to guess why something happened (or didn’t happen), even for just a split second, it causes them to intellectually disengage and distances them from the story. Rather than remaining present alongside the characters, they’ll begin to analyze or question the progression of the plot. And you definitely don’t want that. When a reader tells you that he couldn’t put a book down, often it’s because everything in the story followed logically. Stories that move forward naturally, cause to effect, keep the reader engrossed and flipping pages. If you fail to do this, it can confuse readers, kill the pace and telegraph your weaknesses as a writer.

Secret #2: 
IF IT’S NOT BELIEVABLE, IT DOESN’T BELONG.  

The narrative world is also shattered when an action, even if it’s impossible, becomes unbelievable. In writing circles it’s common to speak about the suspension of disbelief, but that phrase bothers me because it seems to imply that the reader approaches the story wanting to disbelieve and that she needs to somehow set that attitude aside in order to engage with the story. But precisely the opposite is true. Readers approach stories wanting to believe them. Readers have both the intention and desire to enter a story in which everything that happens, within the narrative world that governs that story, is believable. As writers, then, our goal isn’t to convince the reader to suspend her disbelief, but rather to give her what she wants by continually sustaining her belief in the story. The distinction isn’t just a matter of semantics; it’s a matter of understanding the mindset and expectations of your readers. Readers want to immerse themselves in deep belief. We need to respect them enough to keep that belief alive throughout the story.

Secret #3: 

IT’S ALL ABOUT ESCALATION.  

At the heart of story is tension, and at the heart of tension is unmet desire. At its core, a story is about a character who wants something but cannot get it. As soon as he gets it, the story is over. So, when you resolve a problem, it must always be within the context of an even greater plot escalation. As part of the novel-writing intensives that I teach, I review and critique participants’ manuscripts. Often I find that aspiring authors have listened to the advice of so many writing books and included an engaging “hook” at the beginning of their story. This is usually a good idea; however, all too often the writer is then forced to spend the following pages dumping in background to explain the context of the hook.

IN CONCLUSION

By consistently driving your story forward through action that follows naturally, characters who act believably, and tension that mounts exponentially, you’ll keep readers flipping pages and panting for more of your work.

 

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

Why You Should Never Stop Reading Fairytales!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never Stop Reading Fairy tales! by Karen DeMers Dowdall

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

 

 

New Novel by Karen DeMers Dowdall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon to be published, this historical time-slip paranormal fiction novel, begins with Sara Windsor Knightly, a modern day Wiccan (a mostly herbal witch), who inherits a 17th century colonial manor in a small colonial town in Connecticut. She turns the manor into a bed and breakfast Inn. Sara discoveries that the house is also haunted by Scottish ghosts who mostly behave themselves.

There is also a ghost witch who was burned at the stake, in 1690, and the ghost witch, a long dead relative of Sara’s, Alice Windsor Hall, wants Sara to rescue her small daughter, Clara, from terrible danger created by a wicked Alchemist posing as a minister, by going back in time to 1690. Sara believes she can’t change the past and will not agree to that request. Soon, however, Sara finds herself transported through time with Captain Christian Windsor-dead for 325 years.

Captain Windsor was a gentleman farmer from 1690, who was also a British Captain in the British Colonies of America during wartime. Captain Windsor was killed in the war of 1690 in Colonial America. He was in charge of a British Brigade during King William’s War of the League of Augsburg against the French occupation of land in British Colonial in America. The French, with the assistance of the Abenaki Indians from Maine, who were against the British for taking their ancestral lands in Maine, chose to fight with the French against the British Colonials in America.

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Cold Water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a reblog from February 28th, 2015 and it is something I wrote years ago, it is loosely based on a true story. 

The Indian summer began like any other when I was twelve years old growing up in the small colonial era farming community of Granby, Connecticut. The last fields of the summer harvest had been shorn of their corn, alfalfa, hay, and tobacco. The wet smell of fresh cut hay filled the air as well as the mingling aroma of tobacco fields that now lay bare of their crops. The large tobacco leafs would hang neatly from wooden poles to dry underneath white-sheeted tents. The smell of tobacco, sweet and pungent, hung in the air. It was a grown-up smell, a smell of intimacy and secret goings-on. My cousin Garrett and I would sometimes sneak up behind the white-sheeted tents and listen. Giggles, laughter, and strange noises were not unfamiliar sounds to our ears as we listened. More than tobacco leafs nestled under the white-sheeted tents.

Not far from the tobacco field was an ancient apple orchard that looked like something out of a wicked fairy tale. Walking through its darkly gnarled wood was a rite-of-passage experience for anyone under the age of twelve. To this day memories of Canton road, where I grew up, float across my senses.  I envision its tar paved darkness as it crosses over Salmon Brook, cuts through McLean’s game preserve, wanders by weird old Stewart Duncan’s farm, and the said-to-be-haunted Sperry colonial homestead. Canton Road weaves it way over-laying the swell of land occupied for ten thousand years by the indigenous people like the Massaco Indians who were a part of the Algonquian tribes. Evidence of their habitation is still visible by those who know what to look for.

Spirit Pond is one of those places. There are sightings by the locals of ghost warriors that still drink the dark cold waters of Spirit Pond and are not as rare as one would like to believe. Spirit Pond is a large spring fed body of water surrounded by tall reeds and weeping willows. Its dark cold water and deep recesses still hold untold secrets as well as the body of Minnie Brogan. My rather strange cousin Garrett was drawn to the story of Minnie Brogan and I followed suit. Young Minnie Brogan lived in a small dwelling at the edge of Spirit Pond in 1680 not far from our home in the Salmon Brook Settlement.  She was said to have met with a ghastly end. It is a haunting legend of sorts and the story appears in the town’s tourist pamphlets as a way of advertising its colonial history to visitors.

It was said that young Minnie Brogan lived a solitary existence in her meager dwelling on the edge of Spirit Pond and tended a few chickens and a vegetable garden. She also grew medicinal herbs. In colonial times, a female living alone who also concocted remedies was sure to raise suspicions of witchcraft. Yet, Garrett and I doubted this explanation and we would often sit by the edge of Spirit Pond trying to envision that long ago crime. Minnie Brogan was dragged from her thatched hut. She was bound by her hands and feet and thrown into the spring fed pond. We wondered how scared she must have been as she slowly sank into Spirit Pond’s cold dark waters. I personally believe there was more to it than just medicinal herbs. Minnie was young, alone, and was said to be hauntingly beautiful. She was accused of conjugating with evil forces. As a six grader, I had no idea someone could actually be murdered for not knowing how to conjugate a verb (although there were times I was sure by teacher at thought of it).

So, it was in winter when Spirit Pond was frozen-over that Garrett and I would go ice skating and just as often we would look to see if Minnie Brogan’s ghostly apparition would rise up from the ice. Although we never actually saw her ghostly-self rise from the pond, we imagined what she would look like if she did. I wonder about Minnie Brogan’s secret hopes and dreams that vanished into the dark cold waters of Spirit Pond one nefarious moonless night long ago. Sometimes I even imagine I can feel her presence as I dip by fingers into the waters of Spirit Pond. It is though the earth remembers her and still holds her secret longings. I, too, will always remember Minnie Brogan.

A Witch’s Sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://scvincent.com/writephoto-photo-prompt/thesign

A Witch’s Sign

Ye are welcome here,

All Ye Witches, Wizards, and Sorcerers,

Yet, leave ye magical spells at our door,

Here we serve only frogs, spiders, and toads,

On our table of incantations and spooks.

Once ye pass our door, beware,

For ye might be mistaken for lunch or dinner,

Should ye look too tasty to our clientele,

Of Ogres and Dragons abiding here,

Ye thus enter at ye own risk,

Yet ye shall find a plenty, fun to be had,

Though ye may stay forever.