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!

 

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.

 

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!

A Book Review of Haunted House Ghost by James J. Cudney IV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James J. Cudney IV’s captivating mystery, The Haunted House Ghost is the 5th book in the Braxton Campus Mystery series.  The novel itself is a marvel of intricacy, very much like a corn maze, with dead-end paths just when you think you know who the murderer is and it leaves you guessing, and you forge ahead as the Protagonist, Professor Kellan continues to forge ahead to unravel the 50 year old mystery. Beyond the mystery are unique personalities that you get to know like family.

A fascinating aspect is that the writer deftly combines 50 years of mystery about the one murder discovered after 50 years, that brings new mysteries to be solved and solved they will be. Kellan, the brilliant one or so his grandmother Nana D. refers to him, is a very dedicated amateur sleuth that puts all the pieces of the puzzle together in very ingenious ways.

Imagine that it is approaching Halloween night in Braxton, Pennsylvania and you have just purchased a historical home with a storied history of a beautiful young woman named Prudence, who was married to Judge Hiram Grey. Prudence is said to have disappeared 50 years ago during the fiery Vietnam War Protest at Braxton Campus that damaged the oldest part of the Campus Library.

You are told that Prudence haunts her family’s ancestral home that was built before the Civil War in America, but you just shrug your shoulders because you don’t believe in ghosts, until suddenly you do.

Imagine in that same small town of Braxton, Pennsylvania,  a young male Army veteran just home from the war, named Ian, disappears on the same day during the fiery episode of the Vietnam War Protest in front of the College. Therein lies the heart of the mystery, but that mystery just opens up Pandora’s box to reveal hidden crimes of money, betrayal, love, and revenge that appears to have rattled the bones of everyone in town.

Imagine it is now the present day and the Board of Directors at the Braxton Campus decides to tear down the oldest part of the Library as they wish to upgrade the College Campus into a University. During the demolition of the more than 100 year old structure of the oldest part of the Library, it was a shock to find the bones of a human being with brutal injuries suggesting a murder had taken place 50 years ago in the Library.

The town’s older generation wonders, could it be Prudence or some other poor soul? Many people remember Ian, whose wife to this day is full of grief at the loss of her husband. Did he abandoned her when he was discharged from the Army or did he really make it back home and is it his bones at the bottom of the now hollow hole?

Professor Kellan, the grandson of a longtime resident of the small town of Braxton, Pennsylvania, Nana D., finds himself in the center of this mystery as he actually bought the Civil War era haunted manor.

Professor Kellan being an amateur sleuth, knew he had to find out the truth. He manages to convince April, the town’s new sheriff, to help with his informal investigation when they become aware of the strong chemistry between them. They both aim to discover who the bones belong to and who is the murderer. Kellan devises a plan to research and dig up the ugly truth, so that he and his daughter Emma may live there without being haunted in their newly renovated home that may still belong to the disappeared Prudence. Kellan decides to get the help of a psychic medium who warns him of the danger he is in.

During all of this upheaval the Halloween Festival must go on with horse drawn carriages, haunted hayrides, and the race through the spooky corn maze. Everyone was enjoying the Festival when out of the dark, something spooks the horse drawn carriage causing deadly damage to two people, Professor Kellan knows that this was no accident.

This brilliantly conceived mystery, Haunted House Ghost, is a superb story that is thrilling, captivating, fascinating, and a very satisfying read that surprises you when you least expect to be surprised. This novel is the kind of thrilling mystery that you will want to read again and again. 5 stars

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS

James J. Cudney IV

 

Websites & Blog

 

Website: https://jamesjcudney.com/

Blog: https://thisismytruthnow.com

 

Amazon: http://bit.ly/JJCIVBooks

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/jamescudney4

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JamesJCudneyIVAuthor/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BraxtonCampusMysteries/

Pinterest:  https://www.pinterest.com/jamescudney4/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jamescudney4/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/jamescudney4

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamescudney4

 

About James J. Cudney – Author, Book Reviewer & Blogger

 

James is my given name; most call me Jay. I grew up on Long Island and currently live in New York City, but I’ve traveled all across the US (and various parts of the world). After college, I spent 15 years working in technology and business operations in the sports, entertainment and media industries. Although I enjoyed my job, I left in 2016 to focus on my passion: telling stories and connecting people through words. My debut novel is ‘Watching Glass Shatter, a contemporary fiction family drama with elements of mystery, suspense, humor and romance. My second novel is Father Figure, a contemporary drama about two young women’s journeys on a college campus filled with secrets and tragedy. My third, fourth, and fifth novels are a new mystery series focusing on Braxton Campus. To see samples or receive news from my current and upcoming books, please subscribe with your email address at my website: https://jamesjcudney.com and you can buy the books via Amazon.

 

 

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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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.