Let's talk about the pleasures and puzzles of the smaller mystery--mystery novels and other fiction--and the bigger one--life.
Soon. Too soon, too.
Morning AllTemp's 55 and it's not 4am yet.Winter's not slid our way yet. No hurry.Yesterday was one of those days that reminds me why I teach. Our reading teacher has been trying to get the kids to do some descriptive writing. So in the 11th-12th grade room I talked a little about the novel I'm writing. I told them it takes place in a town like ours, with kids like them, and partly at a school like theirs. When I asked them to describe the high school for me--boring was what the first guy said. But when I asked them to tell me what I'd see when I went through the main entrance, the great details came flying. Security guards on mountain bikes (one of the biggest schools in the nation) with throngs of kids in the hall. And when I asked them to tell me about the cafeteria the description of the groups--goths, "Mexicans", blacks, preps and Muslim girls in Burqas was fascinating.We had so much fun. They were hilarious and quite insightful.So my question to you guys today--Who is an author with great descriptions in their writing?
No kidding, Paul. We're heading for a low of 18 tonight, 16 tomorrow. That's so obscene I know the Supreme Court has declared it unconstitutional.Brrr morning all.
Lisa, go back to sleep! (that shold work ... I've found that teachers instinctively respond to direct orders).
Andi--LOL.It takes me longer to adjust to time change than most.I think Americans need siesta time or at the very least tea time. Way too much hustle bustle.Envy you and the dogs on your treks.
Who is an author with great descriptions in their writing?The sort of fiction I tend to like is the sort that other people tend to think is much too cerebral, and so what I think counts as "good detail writing" is often not what other people think counts.For example, I probably would have used that one kid's "boring" answer as a point of departure in a group exercise about metaphors because it had the resonance of truth to it and made me grin. I am usually a lot less interested in the physical details that are materially present in a given setting and a lot more interested in the characters' various reactions to them: what emotions do the details evoke and why; what other unique memories or imagery are brought to mind via those details -- the less directly related to the context, the more interesting; how do these various object relations play into the characters' motivation or state of arousal, etc.I personally find the most delight in the sort of descriptive narrative that induces the mind to find unusual perspectives on the various mundane components that compose ordinary settings. One of my favorite authors in this regard is Jeanette Winterson (although I'm a little behind on her work and haven't yet read her most recent releases).
I love great description! One of my favorite descriptive writers is Ray Bradbury. His words are always evocative and concrete...but yet, always leave it all open to interpretation. It's a skill that I hope to keep honing.Ditto, Neil Gaiman, Tony Hillerman, Dana Stabenow, Laura Lippman and our own Ms. P. I'm sure if I were anywhere near caffeinated, I'd think of a few more. :)I just finished reading a debut YA novel set in San Antonio, one of the cities of my heart and history (in fact, that's the reason I bought the book). I very much enjoyed the characters and plot, but re: SA - not so much. Frankly, it could've been set in any city/town. There was absolutely no sense of place. The few location names dropped seemed to be just that, clunkers dropped in to seem as if she knew the city. Good, descriptive language should support the narrative and anchor the story. Conversely, overwhelming descriptors can subsume the characters and story. It's a delicate balance, but oh so necessary.
I personally find the most delight in the sort of descriptive narrative that induces the mind to find unusual perspectives on the various mundane components that compose ordinary settings.This is a goddess sentence, Jen. Every once in a while you say one of the smartest things I've ever heard. Same might be said for "descriptive conversation," as well.
Regarding the S.A. YA novel, Maria, I like to think of setting as one of the characters when I read. I want setting fully developed (if not always described in detail) and that includes backstory. :-)"Midnight if the Garden of Good and Evil" comes to mind as exemplary of fully developed setting. Nancy does terrific work in developing setting frontwards, backwards and inbetween in "Virgin," too. It is always a special treat when an author weaves in folklore and history in a forward-moving story... and makes them count.
When I think of setting it's scifi and fantasy that come immediately to my mind--first, Harry Potter pops up, and then The Sparrow, as examples of books that create whole new worlds. The detail in HP is astonishing and always fun, and never boring to me.If ya want an example of over-doing it, I always think of P.D. James. I know many love her use of settings, but I swear, if you wiped descriptions of room decor from that woman's brain you'd get much shorter books, which would be an improvement. Gah! Furniture, drapes, carpets. . . major reasons I stopped reading her.
Careful, Nancy, P.D. James is going to row her ass to Kansas and kick your butt. :-) In all honesty, over descirption is a sign of amateurism when telling a story and/or an obvious and banal method of padding out pages when what really works falls short of commercial-length pagecount. And there is more than one author I have stopped reading because of this.Some live nearby, so I won't mention names. I don't have much butt left to be kicked.
lol, Ghost. You'll notice I picked on an author who lives far away from me. Although now I'm dying to see her row across the Atlantic. "Pull," PeeDee, "pull" ::dances on shore, taunting author::
I wish blogger allowed for editing comments. I'd kill a certain couple of stray quotation mark. ::squashes them with her big feetsies::
Pull, PeeDee, pull. LOL, Nancy. Btw, when it comes to setting, I like to see your 5-senses rule being used.
Jen--What a great take on boring.I agree with your thoughts. But my objective yesterday was physical details. You have to introduce kids to the concrete concepts which in reality aren't that concrete and then move them to the abstract.You are talking about two different skill sets. BOTH very valuable. And I'm often at the most abstract end of the spectrum in my class. My students are the least effective learners thus the behavior problems to camouflage their weaknesses. I have to start very basic at times and then we move quickly to more of the analysis skills. They are also very reluctant risk takers in the classroom. If I get them to begin giving answers they are comfortable are "Correct", they will begin stretching for me.As usual you guys/gals give me great ideas for the classroom. Maria, thanks for the suggestions.Nancy you and Ghostie are here too but no time to read. Later Gaters.
Thanks Ghost. ::blush::example of over-doing it...stopped reading herI can't read Nathaniel Hawthorne for the same reason. I know people love him but every time I pick him up I feel like I'm stuck in traffic on a hot day with no AC, bombarded with undesired, unpleasantly arranged stimuli.Lisa, I wasn't criticizing your pedagogical approach. :) Was just using the context as a ramp to talk about my own pov re: your question.
Just finished Diana Gabaldon's latest in the Outlander series, and was struck by the detail she uses to ground the reader in the scene. Her books are long, but a lot happens. And she weaves in all of the senses so subtly. Only problem is, I spend a few days in their cabin on the Ridge, and then have to come back to my duplex in North Idaho - quite a letdown. Morning, all. 39 here at 7:30 - and snow on the way tomorrow. This time last year I was in Florida, enjoying the warmth and the beach. ::scratches head, wondering why she's still here::Hope your days go easy today.
Me, too, Ghostie, me too.Lisa, re: your students:" If I get them to begin giving answers they are comfortable are 'Correct', they will begin stretching for me."I love this, Lisa. So wise. And kind.
"detail she uses to ground the reader in the scene."The point of it all, yes. That, plus enjoyment. Like salt. Too little, book doesn't have any taste; too much, book is inedible; just enough, book is good to eat.
For me, I know an author is doing description right when I don't notice that s/he has done it. I want description to be written in service to the story and the characters. For example, one of the reviews of VoSP said Kansas was another character in the book and I think this really gets at what I'm trying to say -- Nancy integrated the physical description of place so thoroughly into the narrative flow that it couldn't be separated from it.
Lisa, what a great experience. And what a great topic. I too think Nancy did an excellent job with descriptions in Virgin - I could see it, feel it and iirc at times even smell it. But Nancy I confess I AM one of those persons who loves PD James for her descriptions. :)I loved Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine partly because he took me into that town and made me see and feel it. I agree that Harry Potter also has wonderful description.My favorite novelist is Dorothy Dunnett and her 600 page novels would be shorter by about 200 pages if there were no description. But she was also an artist (a portrait painter) and had an eye for detail and so she paints you a picture of Renassaince Europe.
I very much enjoyed the characters and plot, but re: SA - not so much. Frankly, it could've been set in any city/town. There was absolutely no sense of place. The few location names dropped seemed to be just that, clunkers dropped in to seem as if she knew the city.Mornin' all, just in from the doctor's office for my biannual checkup. Definitely missing KB at the moment.I've always wondered how important it is to travel to a place that you're writing about (or planning to write about), to get a real feel for the place. I've always figured if I wrote something about Paris (don't matter whether France or Texas), people who have been would toss the book aside in disgust. I suppose that's an advantage of F&SF; you get to create your own place, or re-create an existing one, from scratch.
I met a writer this spring who was signing her latest book, which takes place in Montana. I was excited to find someone who knew "my" part of the world, and asked her when she had been to MT. She said, "Never." And lost SO much in my eyes. I read the book anyway, and even though it was a fictional town, it could have been anywhere. Maybe if you've never been to MT you wouldn't know, but I thought, "How hard would it be to spend a few days in MT and make sure she has the details right?" And why pick a place you've never been? I don't know that I'll buy any more of her books, for that simple reason.
I have mixed feelings about the idea of place and whether an author has really gotten the feel of a place into a book in part because what one thinks as the soul of a place can vary enormously from person to person. I have seen the same author both praised as getting someplace exactly right and called out for clearly not understanding what that place is about. Same story, same setting, different readers, different results. It is a confoundment.
Jen--didn't take your words in anyway critical. Think of me as that RCA dog with the head twisted sideways just a bit. Thinking wow what a neat OTHER way to do a lesson.I tend to say what I think and come off abrupt sometimes. I just finished with the 7th grade which was like trying to herd cats. Don't get to do many neat lessons with that group. Just getting them settled down and working is a trial. I have them after lunch. Where is that duct tape when you need it?Still no time to read all entries. After while crocodile.
Here's the secret to writing about places you have never been:Lie. "Have you spent a lot of time in Montana?""Not nearly as much as I'd like to! I fell in love with it, and I wanted to create the Montana that lives in my imagination. I've researched everything I could find out about it. I think I've earned a doctorate in Montana by now, lol. I hope to go there to do some more research very soon.""Where did you go in Montana?""Well, Helena is a favorite of mine, and Butte. What are your favorite spots?"_____There wouldn't be a word of it that wasn't true, lol. : D
Points to self.>>>Fiction writer<<<<<
Exactly, Nancy!! That would have satisfied me. :-) She was the woman we met in May, BTW. The book wasn't bad...just...well.On the other hand, I started to listen to a book and the person reading it kept pronouncing the name of a town (where I used to live) wrong. After 30 min, I turned it off - even tho the author had the town down perfectly, the person reading it screwed it up for me. :-) Guess I'm picky.
the person reading it kept pronouncing the name of a town (where I used to live) wrongWait until you open the pretty package with the audio recording of your novel and the person reading it mispronounces your NAME. Oh, well, say it wrong, say it right, just say it, eh?
Oy, Nancy. Okay, that beats everything. See why I'm thinking of changing my name to Jones? Eesh.
Your last name *is* going to be a challenge, Beth! Maybe it will be enough of a challenge that people who have to say it will actually ask. : DOr, yeah, Jones is good, lol.If only the k in my last name were another c.
Really? I'd think after Captain Pickard, they'd know exactly how to say it. Unless they weren't Star Trek fans....I'll let an agent decide if I should find an easier name. But with the friends I have all over the world, I'd like to use my own. Heck, my friends can't even say or spell it! :-)Got a quick rejection from the agent I told you about, btw. I'm thinking it's not a good time for me to be rejected by anyone else, after the last few weeks, so might hold off for a while. Actually thinking of heading to FL after TG - maybe I'll pass through KC, depending on the weather.
Lisa, what an interesting combination of students in your school. And security guards on bikes?! Wow, THAT is a big school. You know you ask a specific question and as much as I read, I just went blank and can't think of a single author. I'll think on it. (And what's a buttermilk pie?)Early winter, indeed. Another lake effect snow warning has been issued here. Forecast is 1' - 1 1/2' of snow by Sat. Has anyone seen the Farmer's Almanac for this winter? Is this supposed to be a big snow year? :-/
Beth, I'm sorry you received another rejection letter. :-(And, I'm jealous you might make it to FL after TG. lol
Thank you, bono. Rejection is part of the process, but it's still not a ton of fun.Snow - ick. We're supposed to have a "normal" winter, after the 14' last winter. I hope the storm doesn't materialize for you!
Finally got to sit and read. Fascinating discussion. Setting as character. Nancy, I like the salt comparison. I'm with you. Too much and I get a bad taste and start looking for the tv control.Jen-- Love the stuck in traffic with no AC in hot weather idea.I've been dinged for not enough detail so that's a piece of the writing puzzle I'm still decoding.Bono--Buttermilk Chess Pie. Chess pies are a Southern specialty that has a simple filling of eggs, sugar, butter, and a small amount of flour.It was my grandfather's favorite. Went like wildfire. Not many cooks in the group.
Thanks, Beth. So far, so good. It's snowing but not accumulating. :-DLisa, I've never heard of that type of pie. Is it a Southern specialty? Sounds good.
Hi all. It was snowing and mid 20s here ealier.It was the the late Tony Hillerman's descriptions of southwestern landscapes that got me interested in travelling there. He had a way of painting a landscape, if you will.
Bono, I grew up in Michigan. "Lake effect snow" is something many adults dread hearing but the kids rejoice!Bummer about rejection #2, Beth. Do you think you'll swing by the manor for a night or two on the way? No rejection here.
Thanks, Farf. I think I'll probably just post positive stuff re agents from now on! :-)Not on the way down, but I'll be heading to NC in Jan, so will def talk to you beforehand and make a stop at the Manor, even just for a quick visit if the guest room is occupied. Looking forward to it!
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