Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, twitter pal Tawna Fenske just snorted and said, “You said hard. Heh.”
Sorry to disappoint you, but ‘hard’ in this blog post refers to ‘challenging’, ‘arduous’, ‘demanding’, even ‘Herculean.’
And somewhere in New York, author Sean Ferrell just snorted and said, “That’s what she said.”
Difficult! That’s the word, people! I’m talking about difficult writing tasks. For some people, it’s writing sex scenes that fills them with dread, for others, it’s dialog, and for pretty much all of us except the Wonder that is Jeff Somers, it’s writing query letters.
I have a long list of writing challenges that I’ve decided to address as part of my 2011 resolutions. I’m writing more short stories because brevity is one of those challenges. Writing riveting opening scenes is another one. But this week on Twitter, tweeps Jessica Lemmon (@lemmony), Patricia McLinn (@PatriciaMclinn) and Heidi Betts (@HeidiBetts) helped me analyze a real thorn in my side.
The problem? Describing the silent laugh people do when something is NOT funny. It’s a “Yeah, right” laugh, full of sarcasm but no mirth. Is it a “snort?” Is it a “snork?” Perhaps it’s a “chortle?” I don’t know and I can’t stand it anymore!
Here are some ways I’ve treated this problem:
- “You’re right,” she shook her head and laughed once. “You always are, even when you aren’t.”
- “Yeah. You would think that.” His face warmed and he managed half a laugh.
- “I love him.” She finally admitted it with a shrug and a soft laugh, a sound that screamed pain.
Why does this bug me so much? I suppose it has ties to my issues with brevity. Why isn’t there a single word that conveys the sort of sarcastic, unhappy, embarrassed anything-but-happy laugh I’ve tried to describe? Why must I use a phrase – indeed, an entire sentence, to describe a single expression?
I’m frustrated. But, as Heidi pointed out, it’s creative writing so we’re allowed to be creative. I’ll continue in my quest to find the perfect way to show the emotion I’m looking for. Meanwhile, are there any parts of writing challenge you?
‘Fess up. I promise I won’t laugh, snort, chuckle or chortle.
I’ll do my best.
Set in Britain and narrated by “Kathy,” one of three friends raised at a desirable boarding school called Hailsham, the story’s flashbacks seem to indicate the book is about the friendships forged when Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were young students. And it’s true…. to some extent.
I feel like a deranged infomercial host with this… “But wait! There’s more!” A lot more. But Ishiguro never actually tells us the more part. Instead, we’re left to figure it out for ourselves along with Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. When I figured out what was really going on at Hailsham, I kept waiting for the characters to rebel, to run away, to raise a little hell because what’s really going on at Hailsham is pretty damn dark.
I suppose it’s a coming-of-age story but NEVER LET ME GO is more a subtle commentary on the scientific debates we’re already having, the ones where we weigh the ramifications of playing God. The story merely removes the what-ifs and presents an alternate reality in which science fiction is now fact, only nobody truly questions anything… except us, the readers.
I found myself wishing for more to happen – something big, something explosive that would change Kathy’s world. It never happened.
Maybe that was the point all along.
Please check out the rest of Book Hungry’s reviews. Click a link from the list at the right.
I’ve been thinking a lot about setting lately. Setting is a critical story element. It has the power to transport readers to a particular time and place, like the dry dusty circus where Sean Ferrell’s Numb first wandered. Yet setting gets little attention in the how-to-write-fiction world compared to say, character development. Done right, a novel’s setting pulls you into the story by all five senses. You can smell Ruby-Jean’s coffee in one of Bill Cameron’s books, taste the Say-I-Love-You fried chicken in Cynthia Reese’s Where Love Grows, even feel the sticky under you, as you crawl through New York-in-ruins with Jeff Somers’ Avery Cates. Jeff is arguably a master at developing settings that don’t exist.
“Okay,” you may argue. “I’m not writng sci-fi, so I don’t have to worry about setting to that extent.” Yes, you do. Setting in many stories is as important – if not more – than character. Can you imagine Harry Potter in public school instead of Hogwarts? Lord of the Flies on a playground instead of an island? Setting shapes our characters’ decisions, puts limits on their abilities (ever see Captain Kirk fight that giant lizard?), even lets them rise above the circumstances we’ve established for them.
I, like many other writers, tend to set my stories in my own neighborhood. It’s basically an application of the Write What You Know maxim. In 2011, I want to develop better settings, settings that pull my readers into my stories by strong jaws and then thrash them around a bit.
Have you ever been inspired to use a place you’ve visited as a story setting? Or the inverse: visited a place simply because you read a great book set in that place? What fictional setting do you wish were real? Tell me in the comments how you develop your settings.