Tag Archives: emotion

Nothing Up My Sleeve

As writers we do our best to create stories that will capture our readers’ attention and hold it, hopefully so well that they have a hard time putting the book down to do all the other things clamoring for their time.  It’s like a magic act:  we create something from nothing, and sometimes that something is so powerful that it takes on a life of its own and fans start creating their own stories set in your universe.

How does that magic happen?  In some ways writers are both magician and their own audience.  The trick is as much a mystery to us as it is to our readers.  If it wasn’t, if there was a formula that guaranteed success, we’d follow the recipe every time.  Every book would be a bestseller.  Computers could be programmed to do it.

I recently read a couple of paranormal romances that were good enough to finish (with limited time, I’m rather picky these days), and that I learned a few things from, but ultimately, didn’t satisfy me.

One seems to have everything going for it.  It opens with the hero rescuing strangers and segues into a battle, but I didn’t care.  I even considered putting the book down, but the premise intrigued me enough that I kept reading.  But why didn’t I care?  The author seemingly did everything right:  she established the  hero as sympathetic, and opened the book in media res.  The heroine is facing a dilemma of protecting a loved one at the expense of the many. As the second book of a series, the author didn’t bog down the action with an info-dump, but instead doled out background only as the reader needed to know it.  Nevertheless, it was only about page 40 that I started to connect with the the principle characters, and even after that my commitment was iffy, since most of the tension rides on the heroine keeping information from the hero.

The other book has the opposite problem.  It too starts with a battle and then moves on to cultural conflict.  I was immediately engaged. But then, as the hero and heroine travel together to his homeland, the tension fizzled out.  The heroine is a reasonable woman and lets her experience convince her that her prejudice against the hero is unfounded.  (This is a good thing.  I hate contrived conflict.)  Some of the problem was that too much of the author’s research found its way into the book.  The world buiding captured my imagination, there was just a little too much detail.  But mostly it seemed as though there was nothing at stake.  Everything came a little too easily to the heroine until the very end.

These authors didn’t set out to write anything less than their best.  By at least three measures they succeeded:  their books were published, I bought them, and I finished them. But given my limited time and book budget, I may not buy their other books.  The magic failed.

As serious authors we go to conferences, we take workshops, we learn from our peers, all so we can saw the woman in half and make the audience exclaim, “Oh!  How did she do that?”  In the end though, even if we’re masters of the mechanics, our success depends on the real thing:  Magic.


Filed under Book reviews, writing

Poetry Monday: “The Trap” by William Beyer

The power of William Beyer‘s poem “The Trap” comes as much from what he doesn’t put on the page as from what he does. He uses wonderfully evocative language to describe a fox escaped from the old man’s trap:

“. . . He must have ripped his foot
From the cold steel.
I saw him early this morning,
Dragging his hurt leg,
Bleeding a path across the gold wheat,
Whining with the pain;
His eyes like cracked marbles.”

More than that, it’s a story of a man who does what he must to protect his livestock, but doesn’t much like it.

Thinking something grave for a long moment,
He stared out of the bright window.
“He won’t last long with that leg,” he said.
The old man turned his head
To see if his wife was listening. . .

. . .”Guess I’ll ride into the back field, first thing.
Some mighty big corn back there this year.
Mighty big corn.”

It’s also a story of a long marriage and the understanding that comes of it.

His wife looked up from her work,
Smiled almost secretly to herself,
And finished packing the ripe berries
Into the pale crust.

She knows her husband’s trip to the back field has nothing to do with the corn, and everything to do with him hoping to end the fox’s suffering, but none of that is stated explicitly.

This poem is a great example of what can be accomplished through inference.  A writer has to be careful, though, that the implication is clear. The more abstract the words, the greater the risk the reader won’t see what the writer intended. The writer’s eternal challenge is to get what’s in her head down on the page, but how that’s done is quite variable.

Sometimes it’s a question of genre. In writing, my inclination is to be terse, to imply the emotions as Beyer does here, but over the years I’ve learned that in romance I’ve got to be more explicit in my descriptions. Too much subtlety isn’t rewarded.

That’s why this poem is so interesting.  It shows how you can say something clearly without saying it at all.


Filed under poetry, writing

Poetry Monday: What poetry does better

I remembered today what I knew back in high school:  that poetry can be a better outlet for difficult emotions than prose.  Prose is linear, but poetry speaks in images, in snapshots of emotion.

I wrote the first poem I’ve written in years today.  It’s probably no better than what I wrote back in high school, but it did what I wanted it to do: express an emotion and an experience directly, without explanation or exposition.


Filed under poetry, writing