A Simile By Any Other Name Would [Possibly] Smell

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

working-on-saturday-meme-21This is Saturday! Not only that, it’s my Saturday to find a topic related to our writing process to explore. I think K. R. Brorman and S. A. Young would agree with me that Saturday’s are getting tougher and tougher to drill down and unearth something to blog about that may hold your interest long enough to read a few hundred words. Sigh. My turn to try.

These days, I’m working on crafting the opening chapters of Winter’s Thaw. Oddly, I have a great deal of the book written – not edited, mind you, let’s not get too excited – but not the beginning. That oh-so-important part of the book that must grab the reader’s imagination and not let go. The part where the main characters are introduced, including the Big Bad1, and the plot is launched.

We three are new at this, but have studied the craft of fiction writing in parallel with our own writing. Kind of like changing a flat tire on a vehicle driving down the interstate at 70 miles per hour. One of the fundamental style elements that is very hard to explain, is “showing, not telling”. The way I’ve interpreted that requirement for myself is to try to paint a picture for the reader, using the characters’ points of view (aka limited omniscient point of view) rather than the third person omniscient – or God-like – point of view. My focus more recently has been to try to enrich the description in my writing. In my opinion, I have relied too much on dialogue to carry this weight.

Two of my favorite writers – Karin Slaughter and Diana Gabaldon – are really excellent at adding vibrant description that makes characters’ actions come to life on the page. One of their techniques for this is the skillful use of similes and metaphor.

Here are a couple of examples from Slaughter’s latest Will Trent novel, The Kept Woman:

Will blindly reached for the round door handle, which was roughly the circumference of an M&M. The door popped back on its hinges. Hot air rushed in. Atlanta was at the tail end of the hottest, most humid summer on record. Going outside was like walking straight into the mouth of a yawning dog.

 

Amanda was already walking toward the building. Will had to trot to catch up with her. She had the quick gait of a Shetland pony.

“They both signed in with the uniformed officer in charge of access to the crime scene. Instead of going inside, Amanda made Will stand just out of reach of the shade so that the sun would turn his skull into a kiln.

 

I absolutely love the scene in Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn when Willie, the adolescent Earl of Ellesmere, gets dumped head-first into the privy.

I held my breath; Lord Ellesmere’s struggles had stirred up the contents of the privy, and the reek was enough to sear the cilia off my nasal membranes.

“…[Young Ian] sidled toward the pit and, leaning over, yelled awkwardly, ‘Hey! I’m glad ye didna break your neck!’

“Jamie gave him a look that said rather plainly that if necks were to be broken…but forbore further remarks in the interests of extracting William promptly from his oubliette. This procedure was carried out without further incident, and the would-be marksman was lifted out, clinging to the rope like a caterpillar on a string.

“…Lord John stood for a moment on the path, wiping his hands on his breaches and surveying the encrusted object before him. He rubbed the back of a hand over his mouth, trying either to hide a smile or to stifle his sense of smell. Then his shoulders began to shake.

“’What news from the Underworld, Persephone?’ he said, unable to keep the quaver of laughter out of his voice.

One of my all-time favorite lines. Pardon me while I roll around laughing for a minute.

lolOkay. I’m back.

So, with this kind of inspiration, I’ve been taking a fresh look at my opening scenes from Winter’s Thaw with a view toward adding more description. Screwing up my nerve to put a bit of it out into the world, risking your critique, I offer the following scene –

before…

I feel just awful,” Candace murmured to no one in particular.

“Why would you?” Frankie asked. She placed a comforting hand between her friend’s slumped shoulders.

“Wallace collapsed after I laid out some troubling information about a company Henneby Industries is in the process of acquiring.”

“How troubling?” Lucius Chaerea turned toward the two women. Their small group had moved to a quiet corner of the waiting room, out of the way of the dozens of hurt and worried patients and families, milling around, waiting just as they were for help, information, possibly hope.

“Seriously, I’m afraid. Bad enough to possibly derail the transaction. It’ll certainly defer it for a significant time.” At his raised eyebrow, she added, “Bribery scandal involving the Italian Armed Forces. While Vann-Guard is a UK company, a US company acquiring an enterprise that’s known for bribery is just asking for the SEC to climb all over it. And that’s before I’ve been able to pursue a rumor one of my sources in the US Attorney’s office heard about illegal arms trade.”

She had his full attention, now. “Vann-Guard…not familiar to me.” For now, he thought, but I’ll remedy that. “Spell it?”

Kenna rubbed a hand up and down on Candace’s arm. “This isn’t your fault. It’s nobody’s fault.” She exchanged a look with Lucius, concern had etched deep lines next to his taut mouth. She wanted to kiss them, no matter the inappropriate timing or audience. “Has Wallace ever had anything like this happen before?” she asked him.

“Never. For his age, he’s always been one of the most robust men I’ve known.”

And like a father to you, she thought.

He walked toward a floor to ceiling window near the ER entrance, unseeing of an ambulance sitting there with lights still flashing, and pulled out his phone. “Vann-Guard in the UK. Bribery, illegal arms trade, find everything,” he texted.

“On it.

 

…and after:

I feel just awful,” Candace murmured to no one in particular. Her face was tight with worry, her soft lips rolled between her teeth as if to hold back harsh words of self-blame.

“Why would you?” Frankie asked. She placed a comforting hand between her friend’s slumped shoulders and circled her palm over knots of tension the size of walnuts.

“Wallace collapsed after I laid out some troubling information about a company Henneby Industries is in the process of acquiring.”

“How troubling?” Lucius Chaerea turned toward the two women, riveted by her tone.

Their small group had moved to a quiet corner of the waiting room, out of the way of the dozens of hurt and worried patients and families, milling around, waiting just as they were for help, information, possibly hope.

“Seriously, I’m afraid. Bad enough to possibly derail the transaction. It’ll certainly defer it for a significant time.” At his raised eyebrow, she added, “Bribery scandal involving the Italian Armed Forces. While Vann-Guard is a UK company, a US company acquiring an enterprise that’s known for bribery is just asking for the SEC to climb all over it. And that’s before I’ve been able to pursue a rumor one of my sources in the US Attorney’s office heard about illegal arms trade.”

She had his full attention, now. Lucius mused, “Vann-Guard…not familiar to me.” For now, he thought, but I’ll remedy that. “Spell it?”

Kenna rubbed Candace’s arm as if she could make her words sink in. “This isn’t your fault. It’s nobody’s fault.” She exchanged a look with Lucius, concern had etched deep lines next to his taut mouth. She wanted to kiss them, no matter the inappropriate timing or audience. “Has Wallace ever had anything like this happen before?” she asked him.

“Never. For his age, he’s always been one of the most robust men I’ve known.”

And like a father to you, she thought.

He walked toward a floor to ceiling window near the ER entrance, unseeing of an ambulance parked there with lights still flashing, the rear doors open, or the haggard man drawing deep on a cigarette as though he could suck courage in with the smoke. He pulled out his phone. “Vann-Guard in the UK. Bribery, illegal arms trade, find everything,” he texted.

“On it.

Not much difference, but better?

I’ll keep working on it.

quote-a-simile-committing-suicide-is-always-a-depressing-spectacle-oscar-wilde-2781371 “Big Bad” comes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is a term novelists have adopted to refer to the primary antagonist or villain of the piece.