Grace's Mosaic Moments


Saturday, March 21, 2015

More on Settings

Riley, Cassidy & baby gator
We had a grand time last Saturday afternoon fulfilling a long-promised birthday present to Riley. We went airboating on the St. John's River, which included not only gators but two half-grown bald eagles, a myriad other birds, including egrets, great blue herons, and gallinules. There was also an amazing number of cows and calves grazing along the flood plain. We also visited a cypress swamp, a surprise as I had not known we had one here in Central Florida. All in all, a real treat. And, oh yes, Midway Airboat Rides (about ten miles west of the Kennedy Space Center) also has its own "zoo," including a pet pig named Porkchop who simply lay on the screen porch doing his best to keep visitors from closing the door without hitting his snout. As an extra added attraction, in the distance we could see the Blue Angels performing somewhere along the coastline near Titusville.



More Examples of Settings That Work

Grace Note:  All examples below are opening paragraphs.

 From Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne:

    The end of her own particular world arrived early on a Tuesday morning, wrapped in brown paper and twine, sealed with a blog of red wax. She found it at the bottom of the pile of the morning's mail.
   She sat at her desk in the library, pleasantly full of breakfast, opening letters, ready to be brisk with the contents. Camille Leyland—Cami—dutiful niece, British subject, codebreaker, French spy, read to deal with the morning post.
   The Fluffy Aunts didn't believe in opening mail at the breakfast table. "A barbarous custom," Aunt Lily called it.
   Books filled the room she sat in and most of the rest of the substantial cottage. They ran floor to ceiling along every wall of the front parlor, the entry hall, the back parlor, what had originally been a bedroom, and this little study at the back of the house. Books, plump with pages of notes and bristling with bookmarks, stuffed the shelves two deep and wedged in every available space on top.

 So what do we learn from the above? The author could have said merely that Camille Leyland, who lived with two ladies she called "the Fluffy Aunts," encountered her doom while opening the morning mail. A fairly dramatic opening without all the embellishment. But instead Ms Bourne brings the scene to life by mentioning such details as it being a Tuesday morning, how the item was wrapped & where she found it. She then introduces the main character by name and by revealing in just a few terse words that this is no ordinary heroine. And then a dash of dialogue from "the Fluffy aunts." Followed by a description that leaves no doubt that Camille is not the only intellectual in the house. Ah-ha. It would seem the aunts might not be so fluffy after all. Colorful description and character introduction - and all in four very short paragraphs. 

And let's not forget the Paranormal. 

From No Ghouls Allowed by Victoria Laurie: 

   "This is where you grew up?" my boyfriend, Heath, asked me as our van came to a stop.
   I stared up at the large plantation home of my childhood and tried to see it through Heath's eyes. The stately six-bedroom, five-bath home sat atop a large hill that I used to roll down when I was little. I had found such joy rolling down that hill. And the grand, ancient sixty-foot oak tree that dominated the far right side of the yard, where I'd had a swing that I used to ride for hours. And the long wraparound porch where I'd spent lazy summer days cuddled up with a good book and glass after glass of pink lemonade.
   Of course all of that was before my mother died. Before all the joy went right out of my life and right out of that house.

Here we have a classic house description, yet it doesn't linger on details - just enough to paint a picture of a plantation house not much different from everyone's vision of Tara. We learn that our heroine has a boyfriend, she had a happy childhood, and then the zinger about her mother makes it clear this is not a simple romance and that her mother may possibly play an important role in this tale of the paranormal. In addition, those who have read the previous books in this series instantly recognize that her boyfriend could also be a problem as he comes from a much more humble background. An amazing amount of information in six sentences.

From T's Trial by Kay Sisk:

   It was the music. Always the music. It started somewhere deep in his soul and coursed through his body in a mad rush to explode on the surface. He had felt it as a small child, this urgent need to touch the piano keys, to hear the notes, to reach inside the old upright in his grandmother's parlor, close his eyes and feel the strings and make the vibrations. To release the music from within himself and then take it back inside, remold it and start all over again.
   He felt it now. Eyes closed, hands splayed on a keyboard, his foot pumped, his head moved, his body swayed. He felt the music, was the music and both started and stopped with the music. Smoke, lights, crowd, video screens, revolving stage—all enhanced his music, helped others feel it. But no one knew the music as he did. No one was the music as he was. 

This is a different kind of Setting. A Character Introduction that is also the Set-up for the Plot and the Set-up for an entire Series.  In the next few paragraphs things go rapidly downhill, projecting "T" and readers into one of my favorite series, tales of a Rock Band vs. a downhome Texas town, stories rife with humor, anguish, and love. 

Although the opening rock concert setting above is not used again, the powerful description of how much music means to "T" is the driving force behind the book. Therefore those opening paragraphs set the tone for the book, making them a different kind of "Setting."

From The Hot Zone by Jayne Castle*:
   *aka Jane Ann Krentz

    The dust bunny was back.
   Sedona heard the soft, muffled chortle and rushed to the barred door of the small, windowless chamber. The lab was deserted for the night but there was ample illumination. The Aliens had vanished a few thousand years ago but they had built their maze of underworld catacombs to last. And they had left the lights on. The quartz walls of the small cell and the chamber that housed Dr. Blankenship's research equipment glowed with an acid-green radiance.
   Because of the constant light it was impossible to tell whether it was day or night up on the surface, but she was pretty sure it was night because Blankenship's two seriously bulked-up assistants had left a while ago, talking about dinner.

In these opening lines of yet another book in her Ghost Hunter/Rainshadow/Arcane series, Ms Castle immediately mentions one of the series' favorite characters, a dust bunny, catching readers' attention whether they know what a dust bunny is or not. She then offers hints that our heroine might be in trouble, while at the same time sketching in a brief background of the far away planet now inhabited by humans that has been the setting for her multiple SF series.  And as in T's Trial, this opening scene is highly significant to the plot. And again, Ms Castle does all this in just a few sentences.

SETTINGS SUMMARY

As you've seen in the two blogs on Setting, a Setting can be more than a simple description. My editing clients and those whose contests I've judged already know that I'm a great believer in Identification, in making sure you give your readers the classic Who, What, Where, and When right up front. (You can, however, take the rest of the book to explain the Why.)

Below is a list of four types of opening Settings. There are more, of course, such as the all-action-explain everything-later scene and the all-dialogue-explain-everything-later scene. Frankly, most of the time these openings make me gnash my teeth in frustration. I don't like not having the slightest idea what is going on, not knowing who these formless people are, etc. Use these opening approaches only if you can do it really well and don't drag the confusion out too long. Personally, I recommend one of the following Settings to open your book.

1.  Paint a Picture. This covers the WHERE and WHEN. Using color and style, offer readers enough description to intrigue their interest but not overwhelm them.

Note:  This kind of description can also occur anywhere in a book where added color will enhance the story without slowing it to a crawl.

2.  Setting with Character Introduction.  This is the WHO, an absolutely vital ingredient in any story. Ideally, the opening paragraphs of a book provide both physical setting and at least a peek into the personality of one of the main characters. 

Note: Opening a book in the Point of View of a secondary character almost always leads to disaster.

3.  Setting with Plot Hint.  This is the WHAT.  You see an example of this in Ms Laurie's No Ghouls Allowed

Note:  The best openings usually include a combination of 1 and 2 or 1 and 3. (Or as in the Jack Higgins' example from Settings #1, all three of the above.

4.  Setting with Ambiance (Atmosphere).  This is also a WHO. In the case of T's Trial, we see straight into the hero's soul. Though the description is amorphous, it provides an atmosphere intriguing enough to inspire readers to keep going in search of more concrete details. In only a few paragraphs, this scene sets up everything that happens, not only in this book but in the rest of the books in the series.


So what does an author need to do to create a good Setting? 

Create the Setting that feels right for you, but as you do it, ask yourself: 

Have I  identified where my characters are, and indicated when? (Painted a colorful but not lengthy sketch of the backdrop & set it into the proper time-frame.)

Have I identified who my characters are? (No talking heads against a blank backdrop, please.)

Have I given a hint of personality about at least one main character?  (More Who.)

Have I given a hint of the plot? (Not absolutely necessary to include the What in the opening paragraphs, but great if you can get it in there.)

Have I written a great action scene but left my readers totally confused without so much as a hint of Who, What, Where, and When?

Have I written a lot of clever dialogue but left my readers totally confused about the W-W-W-W?

~ * ~

I hope these two blogs on Setting have been helpful. If you have any questions (or arguments), please don't hesitate to Comment.


Thanks for stopping by.

Grace
 
For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.






 





 


Saturday, March 14, 2015

THE DEMONS OF FENLEY MARSH

A couple of years ago, when looking around for a new twist for my next book, I decided to hark back to the Gothics of the mid-20th century for inspiration. To the Victorian-set novels of Victoria Holt and the contemporary novels of Mary Stewart. Both presented dramatic tales of suspense from the sole point of view of intelligent, courageous, but beleaguered heroines. The result was Brides of Falconfell, which I thoroughly enjoyed writing. And which, fortunately, readers seemed to enjoy reading. Naturally, this prompted a second Regency Gothic, The Mists of Moorhead Manor, and now number three, The Demons of Fenley Marsh. Demons was, however, the easiest setting to write about, as southern Lincolnshire bears a surprising resemblance to my old stomping ground, Cape Cod, and the concept of low-lying flat land and drainage ditches was very familiar from right here in Florida. (There are drainage ditches within a half mile of my house, to both west and north. Much of Florida, from Orlando south, would be "Everglades" if it weren't for the drainage ditches. The water system for South Florida's famed Everglades begins in the lakes and marshlands of Central Florida.)


Below are the cover and blurb for The Demons of Fenley Marsh. Amazon has its usual "peek" inside the book, and a 20% free read can be found on Smashwords.



When the widowed Miranda Tyrell escapes a dire situation in Kent by accepting a position as governess in Lincolnshire, taking her young son with her, she never dreams she is jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Instead of peace and safety, Miranda discovers the flat agricultural plains and salt marshes are rife with tales of mysterious fires, gutted animals, strange sights and sounds in the night. Her new charge is a disturbed nine-year-old known as the Demon Child. In addition, rumors supported by the local curate claim that her employer, a badly scarred veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, is a demon. And those are only the beginnings of her troubles as she attempts to teach two fatherless boys and deal with her wayward heart, which she swore would never love again.

Grace Note: The heroine of Demons has a few more flaws than your classic Gothic heroine. I hope you'll like her anyway. 


Demons on Amazon                        Demons on Smashwords

~ * ~

Next week: More examples of well-done Settings.
 

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace
 
For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Settings & More

Scanned from The Orlando Sentinel, March 5, 2015
I'm sure most of you are wondering why an Orlando newspaper would post a picture from Texas. Well, that's because long before Disney discovered Central Florida, it was a rural area of orange groves and cattle ranches. A bad freeze in the '80s put paid to most of the orange groves (I recall the horror of driving I-4 and seeing mile after mile of dead trees). But the cattle ranches still thrive. They've just become overshadowed as Orlando transformed from a sleepy cow town to the resort capital of the world. The photo above is of a father and sons whose family has been working a Brahmin cattle ranch here in Central Florida since the 1930s. And are still at it. 

While we're on the subject, the Deseret Ranch (southeast of Orlando and owned by the Mormon church), is the largest cattle ranch in the United States. (According to Wikipedia.) When I was growing up, I was told the largest was the King ranch in Texas, followed by the Parker Ranch in Hawaii.) Whichever way you count, ranching is alive and well in Central Florida. We even have rodeos!



SETTINGS

 A few weeks ago, Regency Researcher made a comment about Settings that set me to thinking the topic needed elaboration, so I'm going to attempt to make sense out of something that is approached so differently now than in the past. Not an easy task as I hadn't really stopped to think about it beyond recognizing that we can no longer start books with page after page of description, no matter how well done it might be. Modern readers want to plunge straight into the story, just as our Kindles open to Chapter One instead of having to plow through page after page of Copyright, Reviews, Acknowledgments, and (most idiotic of all) an index of chapters. (A few publishers still haven't got the message - they should see my scowl as I page through all that junk trying to find Chapter One!) So, yes, I'm as impatient as all the rest.


Setting the Scene at the Opening of a Book:

Amazingly, within a day or so of Regency Researcher's plaintive comment, I began a book by Jack Higgins that did everything an author should do when starting a book. And because the book was part of long-running series, he also managed to re-introduce some of his main characters - an absolute "must" for series authors.  I am going to reproduce the opening below as an example of both Setting and Character Introduction. Please note he begins with a Location line.

From The Judas Gate by Jack Higgins:

Washington, D.C. 
The Oval Office

    The Washington day in August had been almost subtropical, but by late evening an unexpected shower had cooled things.
    The Hay-Adams Hotel was only a short walk from the White House, and outside the bar two men sat at a small table on the terrace, a canopy protecting them against the rain. The elder had an authoritative mustache and thick hair touched with silver, and wore a dark blue suit and Guards tie. He was General Charles Ferguson, Commander of the British Prime Minister's private hit squad, which was an unfortunate necessity in the era of international terrorism.
    His companion, Major Harry Miller, was forty-seven, just under six feet, with gray eyes, a shrapnel scar on one cheek, and a calm and confident manner. A Member of Parliament, he served the Prime Minister as a general troubleshooter and bore the rank of Under Secretary of State. He had proven he could handle anything from the politicians at the United Nations to the hell of Afghanistan.
    Just now, he was saying to Ferguson, "Are you sure the President will be seeing us?"
   Ferguson nodded. "Blake was quite certain. The President said he'd make sure to clear time for us."
    Sean Dillon stepped out onto the terrace, glass in hand, and joined them, his fair hair tousled and his shirt and velvet cord suit black as usual.
    "So there you are."
    Before Ferguson could reply, Blake Johnson appeared from the bar and found them.
    He wore a light trench coat draped over his shoulders to protect a tweed country suit. He was fifty-nine, his black hair flecked with gray. As a boy, he'd lied about his age and when he'd stopped out of the plane to start his first touch of Vietnam, he'd been only eighteen. . . .

For other examples I went no further than the current pages of my Kindle. As a direct contrast to the Thriller pages above, here is the opening of a Regency Romance.

From  The Mudlark by Delle Jacobs:

    When the sun came out from beneath dense clouds, Izzy Daventry threw her shawl over her shoulders and set off from the manor across meadows that were slick from the last downpour. Within moments, the collection of children commonly known as Izzy's Urchins gathered around her, warbling like the first larks of spring, eager to see what adventure she had prepared for the day.
    She had plenty of time before her father arrived from Town. Even though he was expected by supper, Izzy knew her miscreant parent well. At his best, he wouldn't arrive before midnight. And even at that, he would need no more than the mere mention of Arthurian manuscript unearthed in Wales, and he would be off in that direction, forgetting he had ever meant to come home.
    Today, she proclaimed to her followers, was the first day of polliwog season. With the practiced eye of an expert polliwog hunter, Izzy paced along the bank, searching for a quiet pool with the characteristics for the proper breeding of tadpoles. Finding her spot, she set the children to searching the water.

Grace Notes:
I believe, in both cases above, you can see how the author uses bits of description to add color to the scene. In Judas Gate - the hotel, small table, canopy protecting against the rain, personal descriptions, etc. In Mudlark - sun, children, warbling, father's idiosyncrasies, polliwogs, quiet pool.
 
All the above work together to build a picture that creates a Setting. Little bits and pieces that fit together to make a portrait readers can visualize, rather than simply reading dialogue and action set against a blank canvas. (No hotel, no canopy, no children, no polliwogs, etc.) Without these descriptions, The Judas Gate would open with nothing more interesting than a group of men discussing a potential visit to the White House. We wouldn't know who they are or where they were. 

If the opening of The Mudlark had been less skilled, we might have assumed the girl was sitting quietly in a drawing room, wondering when her father was coming home. There would be no indication of either the father's whimsical nature or her own. In short, the scene would be dull as ditchwater instead of offering readers an intriguing look at an unconventional heroine, as well as giving us a peek into her father's temperament.

Did either author go on at length about Washington or about the country setting in England? No, but they got in enough essentials to draw a sketch that helped readers see the scene. Just a sketch, mind, not a full watercolor or some heavily framed 19th c. oil painting. Just enough to spark readers' imaginations and let them "see" that Setting. Yes, each reader will probably see something a bit different, but that's okay. 


A Setting within the body of a book: 

There are also moments within a story where an author can add to the overall impact of the book by including a bit of description not directly related to the plot. Enough to paint a colorful picture for the reader without bringing the story to a standstill or straying too far from action that moves the story forward. 

While doing a final edit on The Demons of Fenley Marsh this morning, I encountered the following passage, which I realized was a good example for this blog. 

Grace Note: the story is being told by a young widow, the mother of Chas, age eight. Nicholas, allegedly a "demon child," is nine.) 

From Chapter Four of The Demons of Fenley Marsh by Blair Bancroft:



    On such a remarkably fine day in late June, it was impossible to find even a hint of the sinister at Lunsford Hall. Nicholas began our tour of the park by leading us out a door on the west side of the house, past the kitchen garden, through a door in a sheltering brick wall, and into a garden where I simply had to stop and stare. In full bloom, it was magnificent, the borders and beds glowing under the summer sun, the sweet scent filling the air around us. Iris, lupine, poppies, peonies, delphinium, dianthus, roses of every variety and color, as well as flowers I could not name if my life depended on it. Though relatively small, it was simply glorious, far better than anything I had managed in Kent.
    Nicholas, with something between a sneer and an apology, addressed a remark to Chas out of the side of his mouth. “Ladies always like this sort of thing.”
    Chas, his face puckered in the guise of wise old man, stuck out his lower lip and nodded. To me, Nicholas added rather grandly, “Lunsford has tolerable gardeners. They do it all, you know. Mama and Grandmama don’t know one flower from another.” I had to turn my face away to hide my amusement. So far, the only wicked thing about Viscount Kempton was his unruly tongue.
    With a vague wave of his hand, Nicholas indicated that the stables and other outbuildings lurked behind a thin stand of middling-sized trees on the far side of the garden. And just beyond that, he warned, was a deep drainage ditch, straight as a die, leading to the salt marsh on the south. As we circumnavigated the house and walked along the great loop of the front drive, Nicholas pointed out a much broader ditch that ran parallel to the road that led to the village. We turned south toward the marsh, the hard-packed sand of the road soon dwindling into nothing more than a path. Lunsford Hall, it seemed marked the end of local civilization.
    To our right, however, was a low line of brilliant color, although we had to walk a good fifty yards, the path gradually descending toward the great salt marsh, before I could identify the source. The long splash of color came from a low-lying barricade of lethally spined wild roses which seemed to extend the entire southern width of the park, their single-layer blooms in red, rose, and white set against an impenetrable hedge of dark green leaves. When I finally raised my gaze from the colorful sight, nothing but salt marsh stretched out before me, with a thin blue line in the distance that might have been the sea, but which blended so well with the horizon that it was difficult to tell.
    I assumed this was the end of our tour, but Nicholas motioned us forward, plunging down a path so narrow between the short, sharp spines of the wild rose branches that we were forced to walk single-file. The sand softened, giving way with each step, our feet leaving great amorphous gouges as we plowed through it. And there it was—a vast expanse of sea grass and sand, marked by rivulets of water, some even broad enough to be called channels. Myriad small creatures scuttled across the exposed patches of sand. Tiny mounds of excavated grains marked dark holes where miniature crabs, and who knew what else, made their homes. Chas stared, eyes wide, mouth agape, clearly fascinated by this new world.

Grace Note:  Please note that in spite of fairly detailed descriptions of the garden and the salt marsh, the narration doesn't stray far from the story. We have dialogue from the boys, introspection from the heroine, and a picture of an area (the salt marsh) that is going to play an important part in the plot.

~ * ~
More setting examples in two weeks - after Mosaic Moments features the cover and blurb for The Demons of Fenley Marsh (March 14). 

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace
 
For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.




Saturday, February 28, 2015

Two Offbeat Books

A weird weather year - icy cactus in Texas - posted to Facebook by Texas Hill Country

Two Unusual Books

I avoid writing reviews - it's time-consuming, and frequently I know the authors personally and don't want to fall into the trap of favoring one over the other. But this week I have to mention two books I stumbled across, thanks to Amazon blurbs, that were so unusual they managed to distract me from the turmoil of re-plumbing and living in chaos until my bedroom finally had a carpet again, and the zillion books, too many clothes, and various oddments could be restored to their rightful places and my house begin to look normal. (Truthfully, all the books are still in ten blue trash bags in the garage, waiting to be re-shelved, while I write this blog, but we're getting there, looking infinitely better than yesterday at this time.)

Both books are magnificent examples of the art of Characterization and should be read for that, if for nothing else. One is a Romance, the other - for lack of a better word - Women's Fiction. And both are examples of books written by authors with special knowledge. True Pretenses by an author with an understanding of Judaism. The Disenchanted Widow by an author familiar with Ireland during the Troubles.



True Pretenses by Rose Lerner. 

 As an author of multiple Regency novels, I can only say that this one is truly different. Yes, we all strive to come up with a new angle, a new twist, a fresh bit of dialogue in a genre with thousands of facets, but this one actually does it. Your classic beleaguered Regency heroine is paired with a con artist of Jewish heritage who, though he has not practiced his religion in years, has not forgotten his roots. 

This is a tale not only of romantic love but of desperation, devotion to family, loyalty, redemption, and hope. As a character study, as a love story, as a peek into the lives of people who are not titled members of the ton but a thief and a young woman of the gentry struggling to find their places in the world, I cannot recommend this book too highly.


The Disenchanted Widow by Christina McKenna.

The title sounds like a traditional Regency, right? Well, it's about as far from it as you can get. The setting is Ireland in the Eighties, when the Troubles in Northern Ireland were at their worst. (As there was a flurry of the old troubles the night before I arrived in Belfast many years later, I got a taste of what that era was like. We didn't even venture out of the hotel to try out the inviting-looking pub across the street - with a strapping security guy constantly guarding the door. The next day, after a bussed tour of the town, where, among other things, we saw chainlink fences three stories high, topped with barbed wire, around the schools - and only when we were about to head south out of town past the gun emplacements in the hills - our guide told us we'd just spent the night in the most bombed hotel in Europe! ) 

This then is the setting for The Disenchanted Widow, a woman, wounded to the soul, who has suffered two generations of alcoholism and abuse, and now finds her life threatened by an IRA enforcer. She takes her eight-year-old boy and runs from Belfast, ending up in a small town peopled by an absolutely astonishing variety of characters. And where she finally discovers there are good men who think of others besides themselves. (The why and wherefore of shoppers suddenly finding themselves surrounded by the bomb squad is simply too good to be missed.)

If I found the book a bit long at times, when I put on my editing hat and asked myself what I would cut, the answer was "nothing." The picture of rural Ireland was too priceless to pare down to just a tale of what happened to our heroine and her son. The "hero," by the way, is a small-town-boy-made-good, now an art restorer in Belfast and also threatened by the IRA. (Secondary characters include a transvestite mechanic, a hopefully singular priest, and a loquacious countrywoman of a certain age.)

If you require an HEA ending, then perhaps this book isn't for you. But if you'll settle for hope for the future, for using your imagination and a bit of "what if," don't miss this one. It's priceless.

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace
 
For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.
  
 




 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

WRITING WORKSHOP 7


 
It finally happened - Hell froze over.


  
Why anyone would leave Florida for Minnesota in February . . . but I'm glad to see the old coat getting some use. (That's fake fur, I hasten to say. It's been hanging in the closet since 1982! It was 2° F. outside when this photo was taken.)

WRITING WORKSHP 7 - Narration

Narration. Well-written narration is essential to creating a good book. And yet in the past decade or so Narration has been getting short shrift, with writers advised to use dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. Keep in mind, however,  that Dialogue only shows the surface. (Think of a swimmer - what you see on the surface is far less than what's under water.) Unless you let your readers know what your characters are thinking, we will never see anything but those few words on the surface (which might be the opposite of what your character is actually thinking). The reader also wants to know what actions are happening while the characters are talking. Just as readers don't want characters to be undeveloped stick figures or to talk - no matter how brilliantly - against a blank canvas, they do not want your characters to stand there, like great lumps, talking and talking without doing anything! And describing action is one of the many aspects of Narration. As is describing such vital ingredients as characters and setting. Narration provides color, atmosphere, breathless moments of joy, sorrow, sex, and death. 


Narration provides setting, description, backstory, action—all the color and drama a book needs to grab readers in ways Dialogue never can. (Consider the unseen shark cruising in on the kicking body underwater. Readers need the whole story, not just a description of the swimmer's head bobbing along against a blank blue ocean. Narration can reach inside your characters' heads and reveal what they are really thing. Narration is what penetrates your hero's and heroine's brains and reaches your readers' hearts.


Caution about writing action. Action does not necessarily mean some big battle scene. Writing action can be as simple as mentioning that the hero, shoulders, slumped stared out the window. And do not make the mistake of inserting action for no reason except that someone said you should. The action must make sense. It must add to the plot, reveal character, etc., not detract from what is more important. Conversely, if a villain is droning on and on, boring everyone to death, and he suddenly picks up a bat and whacks someone over the head, it is the action that is vital to the scene, not the words that were spoken. They were just a smoke screen.


Another bit of advice: try to keep your paragraphs short. (No longer than a third of a page, if possible.) The old days of page-long paragraphs do not fit the tempo of modern readers. Do not, however, write a whole slew of one-line paragraphs. Save these for emphasis. If you use a lot of them, the whole point is lost.

Grace note: many, many years ago when I was first looking for an agent, I recall one scrawling across the page that she wasn't taking new clients, but one look at my manuscript told her that my paragraphs were too long. (And this was more than twenty years ago. So take heed, keep some white space on those pages.)

Above all, never forget that Narration presents your reader with the whole cake. Dialogue is just the frosting.   


Writing Exercise - Character Description:
  
Grace Note: I would like to see the romance publishing industry allow authors to "tell" us about their characters, as Nora Roberts did in her famous introduction of Tucker Longstreet in Carnal Innocence. With so many indie authors out there, all I can say is I encourage you to consider "telling" us about your main characters when they are introduced. This is heresy, however, so all I can say, don't forget to describe both main and secondary characters when they are first introduced. Give readers some idea of how you picture them in your head and try to work in some personality traits if you can. The "modern" rules of romance require this to be done almost exclusively through the eyes of the hero and heroine seeing each other, rather than through the eyes of the author. 

Only you can decide if you feel you must bend to New York print house rules or if you would like to be daring and do for your main characters what Nora did for Tucker.  Always keep in mind, however, that most "rules" were made for a reason. Many readers may not want to plow through a description that goes on for two pages, no matter how well done it is. 

 However you approach the problem, don't settle for talking heads against a blank canvas or for characters who stand there and do nothing while they talk.

Exercise: Create a new character, or select one from a book you are currently working on. Tell your readers about this person, make him/her come alive. Read it over. Is it too long for always-in-a-hurry readers? Is it just straight facts, or did you work in a peek into your character's mind? Is it you, the author, who is telling this? Or did you go for New York mode and let a character in your book create the description?

If you feel you've nailed it (in whatever mode you choose), I'm sure other readers of this blog would like to see it. Please share by posting to Comments.

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace
 
For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.